Diesel, Propane, or Electric: Which Forklift is Right for You?

Forklifts are the workhorse of the jobsite or warehouse. They have the power and efficiency to get the job done quickly and with ease. But not all forklifts are the same.

There are several types of forklifts, each with unique features. How do you decide if you need an electric, propane or diesel-powered lift? Each has unique advantages to it. Each works best in different situations. 

Consider your unique needs in regard to lifting. You should consider how you will use the lift, as well as where you will use it. 

Some, with less knowledge, might think, isn't a forklift just a forklift? That could not be further from the truth. Learn about the unique features that come with diesel, propane and electric forklift. Find the machine that will be the workhorse for your job site. 

Diesel Forklifts

Diesel forklifts offer some benefits to the other two power sources. They have more torque than their counterparts. Because they give off emissions that have a strong odor, they are used outdoors instead of indoors. They also tend to be noisier than either propane or electric. 

But the big diesel engine gives the diesel forklifts plenty of power.

They are good for rough terrain jobs outside where they can have the bigger tires. The fuel source also gives them more power for traversing uneven surfaces or climbing ramps. 

Diesel forklifts tend to cost less than their electric counterparts, but they are more costly than a propane model. Maintenance on a propane engine will cost more because it has a bigger engine than an electric model.

While their maintenance costs might be higher, they do last longer than a propane model. Diesel forklifts are made to be tough and to work outside on the larger jobs. 

Propane Forklifts

Propane powered lifts are somewhere between their diesel and electric counterparts in advantages and disadvantages.

Propane forklifts are recognizable by their tank, looking keg-like, on the back of the machine.

This power source allows the machine to go for 8 or more hours of work time without running out. This tank is also easily either replaceable or refillable. It is much quicker to just swap out the tank than having to charge an electric forklift. 

While a propane forklift does give off some emissions. it can be used inside compared to diesel forklift, which cannot.

The propane machine runs with cleaner emissions than a diesel or gas one. 

The propane forklift is the cheaper to buy as well. It can be used with more flexibility than diesel. It has more power than most electric models. However, it does typically have higher maintenance costs than either diesel or electric. 

Another advantage to propane forklifts are the possible tax incentives. Propane is considered a clean fuel. Your state government or federal government may offer tax incentives for using machinery running on clean fuel.  

Electric Forklifts

Electric forklifts are the most commonly used type of forklift. 60% of the North American market and 80% of the European market use electric forklifts. This makes an electric lift the most popular choice in the forklift market. 

Why is electric more used over their propane and diesel counterparts? There are a number of reasons electric is the chosen forklift. 

Electric forklifts are more compact because they don't have a large combustion engine. They are much quieter than their counterparts too. Electric machines also are more eco-friendly than those using fuel as a power source.

They are definitely more popular for indoor use because they do not give off emissions when they are running. 

The battery is one thing to consider with electric machines. While this makes them easier to maintain and offers typically longer life, they are usually more expensive too.  

An electric machine might have less torque than the fuel-powered machine. This type of machine will not work as well for long runs or up and down ramps. This type of work uses battery power more quickly. As battery power decreases, generally the power of the machine decreases.

If using an electric forklift, you need to plan for charging time. An electric machine will need an overnight charging. This is typically less expensive than the refilling fuel tanks. 

How Do You Decide What Forklift You Need?

With all these considerations, how do you know what machine you should choose? You need to factor in how and where you will be using the machine to make a decision about the best fit for you. Here are some questions to consider when selecting a machine.

  • Will you be using the machine inside or outside?
  • If outside, what surface will you be working on?
  • How much weight will you be lifting outside?
  • If inside, how will you be using the machine for distance versus just lifting?
  • Do you have a power source to charge an electric unit?
  • Do you have access to a fuel source, either propane or gas?
  • How big is your work area? Electric machines can be very small to fit into smaller spaces.  

Once you have narrowed down whether to choose electric, propane or diesel, there are other questions to consider. 

  • What surface will you be working on to help decide what tires you need?
  • How high do you need to lift?
  • What size pallets are you lifting so you know what size forks you need?
  • How big is the workspace so the machine can fit?
  • How much weight are you lifting?

Understanding your exact worksite and its needs will help you to find the best forklift for your job based on the answers to these questions. 

Best Types of Forklifts for Your Job

Forklifts are built to do your heavy lifting for you. But understand your needs on the job site, then consider what machine will work best for you. Different types of forklifts do different work. 

We are here to help you find the machine that is going to work best for you. We have six locations in the Carolinas ready to help you with your forklift needs. Contact us today to find a forlift that will help you on your job site.