Selecting the Best Forklift for Your Application

Guest blog by MHI member company, MCFA/Jungheinrich

There are plenty of forklift types and features to choose from for your business. Having a bit of upfront insight and knowledge on the common types of forklifts can go a long way in helping you pick the most ideal forklift to maximize productivity.

Selecting the right lift truck for your company is all about finding the best forklift for your application. Below are many of the factors business owners must consider when choosing the right forklift for the job.

IC and Electric Forklifts

Forklifts can be divided into two broad categories – internal combustion (IC) and electric forklifts:

Internal Combustion Lift Trucks

Internal Combustion (IC) lift trucks are more often found in outdoor environments, as they hold up well to inclement weather and temperature changes. In general, they are better suited for lifting and moving heavy loads and offer reliable performance.

IC forklifts typically come with a lower upfront cost when compared to electric forklifts. Downtime is rarely an issue as they are quick and easy to refill and keep moving. If you need to use IC forklifts indoors, it is important to know the emissions of the IC forklift and the ventilation in your facility.

Electric Lift Trucks

Generally speaking, electric forklifts typically come with a bigger upfront cost when compared to internal combustion forklifts. This is offset with a longer operating life and lower maintenance costs. Electric forklifts are often ideal for indoor environments or enclosed warehouses as they have lower emissions than IC forklifts.

A big factor to consider for electric forklifts is their run times. Not all electric forklifts are designed the same, and forklift batteries with short run times can result in lost productivity while you are waiting for your batteries to re-charge. When choosing an electric forklift make sure that it is backed up with a long lasting run time guarantee, many of which come with a 2 shift 1 charge guarantee. This ensures at least 16 working hours on a single battery charge.

3-Wheel or 4-Wheel Lift Trucks?

Many business owners have the option to choose from three-wheel or four-wheel forklift models. There are several key differences that make each of them ideal for certain applications and environments.


The turning radius for three-wheel forklifts is smaller when compared to four-wheel forklifts. This makes three-wheel forklifts well suited for warehouses with tight aisles or other working environments with small spaces.


4-wheel forklifts are generally a bit “tougher” than 3-wheel forklifts. They generally have better gradeability, or better ability to travel on a ramp or slope, as well as on uneven surfaces. They typically offer more power, and offer higher load capacities. All of this makes four-wheel forklifts ideal for outdoor environments where space is more open and the ground may be an uneven surface.

Specific Forklift Types

Many of the features found on the specific forklift types below can be combined with one another. For example, many narrow aisle forklifts have moving mast features.

Order Pickers

Order pickers are used for warehouse order picking applications and are designed to make the order picking process as easy and cost effective as possible.

Operators are able to retrieve individual items from a pallet without needing to lower the pallet to the ground. This is because order pickers can lower or raise operators to the same level that the pallet is located.

Narrow Aisle Forklifts

Also known as narrow aisle order pickers, or narrow aisle reach trucks, this type of order picker is designed to work in warehouses with narrow aisle spaces. Some narrow aisle forklifts are either categorized as Narrow Aisle (NA) or Very Narrow Aisle (VNA).

Pantograph Reach Trucks

The forks of pantograph reach trucks are able to “reach” beyond their stabilizing legs to retrieve and place loads at high levels – making them well suited for warehouse applications. They typically have great maneuverability and have a small turning radius – similar to three-wheel forklifts.

Moving Mast Reach Trucks

Along with a mast that moves vertically, moving mast reach trucks have a mast that can move horizontally. This is ideal for warehouse situations where moving the base of the forklift may not be the most efficient way to retrieve loads from high heights. The horizontal movement gives operators additional control, allowing for faster fork placement and easier picking.

Turret Trucks

Turret trucks are designed for warehouses with very narrow aisles. The carriage is able to rotate a full 180⁰, so the operators can quickly and easily pick loads from warehouse aisles without having to turn the base of the turret truck.

Hand Pallet Jacks

Also known as manual pallet trucks, and pedestrian operated pallet trucks, hand pallet jacks utilize a manually operated hydraulic jack to lift or lower a pallet load. They are moved manually by the operator and are typically used in indoor warehouse applications.

Hand pallet jacks are operated at the ground level and are not designed for lifting pallets to high heights. They are small, easy to operate, and are practical for simple and easy applications.