The Different Types of Forklifts: Classes I through V

The Different Types of Forklifts the Complete Guideline
Sawyer McGuire

Sawyer McGuire

Marketing Coordinator at Hy-Tek Material Handling

With a large number of forklift types and a wide selection of brands available, finding the right lift truck for your application can be quite the challenge. Luckily, you’re in the right spot. This article is here to break down the different types of forklifts within the five main forklift classes recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Forklift Classifications:

  • Class I: Electric Counterbalanced
  • Class II: Electric Narrow Aisle
  • Class III: Electric Motorized Hand Trucks 
  • Class IV: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks – Cushion Tire
  • Class V: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks – Pneumatic Tire

Forklift Classifications Chart

Class Load Capacity Application Power Type
Class I
2,500 - 12,000 lbs
Indoors, Manufacturing Facilities & Warehouses (Avoid Freezers)
Electric: Lead Acid, Thin Plate Pure lead, Lithium-Ion & Hydrogen Fuel Cell
Class II
1,500 - 5,500 lbs.
Large Storage Warehouses, High Shelves & Narrow Aisles
Electric: Lead Acid, Thin Plate Pure Lead & Lithium-Ion
Class III
2,000 - 10,000 lbs.
Loading Areas, Indoors & Long Distances
Electric: Lead Acid, Thin Plate Pure Lead & Lithium-Ion
Class IV
3,000 - 15,500 lbs.
Indoors, Smooth Floors & Loading Docks
Diesel Fuel, LP Gas, Gasoline & Compressed Natural Gas
Class V
3,000 - 36,000 lbs.
Outside & Inside, Lumberyard, Construction Sites & Warehouses
Diesel Fuel, LP Gas, Gasoline & Compressed Natural Gas

Class I: Electric Counterbalanced

Electric counterbalanced trucks have both sit-down and stand up forklift options that come in 3-wheel and 4-wheel models. The term counterbalance means that the truck frame gains stability by having weight (usually a conventional battery,  thin plate pure lead or a lithium-ion battery) towards the center or rear of the forklift. 

Watch a Video on Forklift battery Types Here

Both of the 3-wheel and 4-wheel electric forklifts have options for cushion or pneumatic tires

The 3-wheel electric forklift is ideal for indoor, smooth floor factory applications that require tighter spaces and a higher turn radius. This is one reason why you see lower load capacities for the 3-wheel models. Generally, the 3-wheel range for load capacity is 1,500 – 4,000 lbs. While the 4-wheel electric forklift is more suitable for rough terrain and outdoor applications. Thus, these models run higher in their load capacities, anywhere from 3,000 – 12,000 lbs. 

The dual forks in the front half have several attachments available; however, they are most commonly used for moving and lifting pallets onto shelves. 

Class I: Electric Counterbalance
The different types of forklifts: Class I
The Complete Breakdown on Class 1 Forklifts Here

Class II: Electric Narrow Aisle 

The electric narrow aisle forklifts consist of order pickers, reach trucks, and turret trucks. All three of these truck types run on large conventional, thin plate pure lead, or lithium-ion batteries and range from 1,500 – 5000 lbs. in load capacity. 

Order pickers and reach trucks are built to perform the same task, lifting pallets to the top of racks and shelves.  Thus, class II machines are kept indoors and are the best fit for warehouses with a large number of materials stacked on shelves. The difference between the two lies in how the operator uses the truck.

Reach trucks have dual forks in the front that rise while the operator stays on the ground level, whereas order pickers have a platform that rises with the forks so that the operator can be eye to eye with the pallets he is moving. In the image below you can see how an order picker is most often used. 

Learn about Class 2 Forklifts
Class II: Narrow Aisle Truck
The different types of forklifts: Class II

Class III: Electric Motorized Hand Trucks

While the electric counterbalance or ICE forklifts are the most well known, the electric motorized hand trucks are the most used, specifically the pallet jacks and tow tractors (also called tuggers). The other class III machine is called a pallet stacker.

Pallet jacks and tuggers are made to unload and horizontally transport pallets or carts around warehouses quickly (speeds up to 9 MPH). Options available include both manual, walk-behind or “walkie” models and ride-on pallet jacks (also called end riders). The most common use for these trucks is unloading semi-trailers and moving pallets to a staging area where a standard forklift or a very narrow aisle truck will be used. Pallet jacks range from 4,500 – 10,000 lbs. in load capacity and while tuggers do not lift materials they can pull 10,000 – 15,000 lbs.

Similar to pallet jacks and tuggers, pallet stackers lack load capacity and maneuverability. However, pallet stackers have much higher lift heights, reaching up to 125 inches (approximately 10 ft.) The load capacity ranges from 2,000 – 4,000 lbs. 

The Class 3 Forklifts Full Guide
Class III: Electric Motorized Hand Trucks
The different types of forklifts: Class III

Class IV: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks (Cushion Tire)

Internal combustion engine (ICE) trucks are commonly referred to based on their type of tire. Class IV forklifts are called ICE Cushion trucks. They are designed for indoor use with cushion tires and an internal-combustion engine that runs on diesel or LP gas. 

Very narrow aisle trucks and electric motorized hand trucks are great for specific tasks, but the ICE trucks can handle a wide range of tasks. Common load capacities range from 3,000 – 15,500 lbs, lift heights go up to 130 inches (approximately 11 ft.), and travel speeds top out at 14 MPH. 

More and more companies are shifting towards electric forklift types due to sustainability movements and social responsibility, however, ICE trucks do not need to be recharged, saving valuable time and warehouse space. 

Class IV: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks - Cushion Tire
The different types of forklifts: Class IV

Class V: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks (Pneumatic Tire)

Unlike Class IV forklifts, Class V are built for outdoor use, but also can also be used indoors. Aside from the tire differences the chassis design, load capacities, lift heights and features are very similar. Pneumatic tires are either air-filled or solid and they have tread which allows these forklifts to work in tougher environments, like lumberyards and construction sites where grip is needed.

ICE Pneumatic tire trucks are available in single wheel and dual wheel configurations. The load capacity ranges from 3,000 – 36,000 lbs. with some custom forklifts running up to 55,000 lbs. The Class V lift trucks are also designed to travel much faster than other forklifts. They can reach up to 20 MPH top speed and lift objects up to 147 inches (about 12 ft.). 

Class V: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks - Pneumatic Tire
The different types of forklifts: Class V


Whether you are shopping for a single forklift, an entire fleet of lift trucks or looking to learn more, I hope this outline of the five warehouse forklift classifications helps you in your search. 

Continued Reading for the Overachievers 


Most frequent questions and answers

Forklift weight depends on the class of forklift and the load capacity, however, most forklifts weigh between 7,500 lbs and 12,000 lbs. with the average forklift weighing 9,000 lbs. This is 3X the weight of the average car. 

On average an industrial truck or tractor driver makes $18 per hour. Based on a full-time schedule this equals an annual salary of $37,440 before taxes.

OSHA does not require that workers have a valid driver’s license in order to operate a forklift. However, workers are required to have training and certification to operate industrial trucks in the workplace and that operators pass a performance evaluation on provisions of 1910.178 (I) (3) every 3 years. 

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that to drive and operate a forklift you must be 18 years of age or older. 

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. AffiliateLabz

    Great content! Super high-quality! Keep it up! 🙂

    1. Sawyer

      Thank you! 🙂

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