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Fuel Types

Forklift Fuel Types

fuel types

There are three main types of fuel for running a forklift: Diesel, Electric and Gas. It is a common misconception that the only major differences between fuel types are: initial investment; running costs; and environmental impact. Of course, both cost and environmental impact certainly play a big part in deciding which fuel type is right for the forklifts your business will be using. But did you know that the fuel type you need could depend entirely on the kind of business you run?

This article will give a brief overview of the benefits and drawbacks of each fuel type. We will look at the kinds of businesses that might require a certain fuel type over the other alternatives, and hopefully we will help you to work out which forklift fuel type is best for you and your business.

Benefits & Drawbacks

The tables below will help you to compare a few of the main benefits and drawbacks of the three main fuel types. Note that although some differences may make one fuel type more preferable to another – for example, noise is not the most attractive of qualities – you might have minimal choice in which fuel type you need because of the kind of business you run:

*There are two main types of gas – liquid petroleum gas (LPG) and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). Most of the pros and cons here apply to both.Cheap to buyIncreased risk of explosion due to pressurized gas (if using CNG)
Fast refueling processSignificant fire hazard if there is a fuel leak (if using LPG)
Longer engine shelf-life (up to twice that of other fuel types)Most expensive fuel and servicing costs

Lowest running costsLong battery recharge periods (up to 16 hours)
Low environmental impactLong battery change time (around 45 minutes)
Great maneuverabilityUnsuitable for wet environments or rough terrain
More stable at increased heights

More simple internal design (easier to fix when broken)Noisy
Easier to driveHigh running costs
Longer usage between charging/refuelingEmits pollution & requires good ventilation
Fast refueling processRequires more regular servicing and parts replacements
More torque for handling heavier loads

Which Fuel Type Should You Choose?

For many purposes, all three fuel types will be appropriate (even if not ideal). But many environments will not be able to use certain types of forklift fuel types – for example, churning out diesel fumes in a small enclosed space is never a great idea!

To give you as good an idea as possible as to the types of environments best suited to the different fuel types, we’ve summarized the three most common environments below:

  1. Indoor & small spaces (e.g. small and medium warehouses)

For solely indoor use, then the best choice by far is an electric forklift. Generally this will apply to small and medium warehouses or storage facilities. There are a number of reasons why an electric forklift suits this kind of business best:

  • Enclosed spaces require clean air – electric forklifts emit no pollution at the place they are operated. They are by no means free from environmental impact – the fuel being burned to generate the electricity often generates its own pollution; but in terms of the health and safety of your workforce, you will be ensuring the air they are breathing is cleaner and more pollution-free.
  • Warehouses often stack shelves high – electric forklifts are usually the best suited to lifting at heights, and even though diesel-powered reach trucks do exist, on average, the reach heights of electric forklifts are greater (25 feet would be considered very high reach for a diesel-powered forklift, whereas many electric reach trucks can achieve even greater heights
  • Small spaces require greater maneuverability – electric forklifts are normally more lightweight, require no complicated driving (just an accelerator and brake), and are generally better suited to turning tight corners and travelling in narrower spaces
  1. Outdoor & large open spaces (e.g. docks, construction sites, industrial)

If you run a large, open site; or if you run a business that requires a lot of heavy, industrial lifting: you may need to choose a diesel-powered forklift. Remember that a diesel-powered forklift tends to be more complicated to drive, tougher to maneuver, and gives off a lot of pollution due to its combustion engine – if you are not using it outdoors, then the indoor space you work in should be very large and extremely well ventilated (otherwise it could pose a risk to your employees’ health).

Diesel forklifts generally have a higher maximum lifting capacity in terms of the range of models on offer – for example, while it is entirely possible to buy an electric forklift and a diesel forklift that have the exact same maximum load capacity, you will find that most ranges of electric forklift offer a maximum lifting capacity of up to 11,000lbs (this is extremely high for an electric forklift), whereas a similar range of forklifts but powered by diesel might offer closer to 15,500lbs.

Although some electric forklifts can be used outside, their tires are generally less well-suited to rough floor conditions, and they should be kept indoors in wet conditions.

  1. Indoor & outdoor combined

If you have a mixed requirement for using your forklift both indoors and outdoors, then a gas-powered forklift truck might be a good compromise. Although gas-powered forklifts do emit pollution (and therefore you will still need to ensure indoor areas are ventilated), the pollution is much less offensive than the emissions of a diesel engine, making them more suitable for indoor use. On top of this, they can be used more freely outside than an electric forklift, as wet conditions are less damaging.

But remember that although a gas forklift is very versatile, and normally the cheapest to buy outright, they often carry the highest running and maintenance costs – not only is gas the most expensive fuel, but similar to a diesel engine, you will need regular servicing which can really add up.


There are three fuel types – gas, electric and diesel.

Sometimes you can use all three to do the same job, but each fuel type has its own benefits and drawbacks, and certain fuel types are better suited to certain roles.

As a general rule, electric is the best choice for smaller enclosed areas requiring greater maneuverability; diesel is best for heavier lifting and rough floor surfaces outdoors; gas offers great flexibility and is the cheapest initial investment.

If you’re still trying to find the right forklift, you can visit our Quote tool to compare models and get direct prices from suppliers.