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Propane Forklifts

The Pros and Cons of Propane Forklifts

Pros and cons of propane

If you are considering adding a forklift to your operation or if your lease is expiring and you want to explore alternatives one of your first considerations will be deciding between electric driven lifts or forklifts powered by propane. Each has its pros and cons and until recently it looked like propane trucks were destined to disappear because of the fluctuating and upward trending cost of fuel.

That trend however, has reversed itself.

Thanks to horizontal drilling and fracking the U.S. is now awash in natural gas and oil and it is estimated the country will be totally energy self-sufficient by 2022. The retail price of propane has fallen 40% from January 2014 to January 2015 which is especially significant given January is a peak demand month for propane burning associated with home heating.

It appears that the cost of fuel can be taken off the table when considering electric versus propane lifts.

Major manufacturers seem to agree with that outlook and most continue to manufacture internal combustion engines fueled by propane. That said, propane forklifts are not an ideal match for every application and your acquisition decision has to be based on how you plan to use the truck.

With that in mind let's take a look at:

The Pros of Propane Forklifts

Not everyone will agree that the items on the following list are advantages simply because the "advantage" is not relevant to their business. Generally speaking however, the leading "pros" of the propane truck include:

Continuous Operation. For operations that run a long first shift or have 2nd and/or 3rd shifts propane fueled forklifts have a distinct advantage over electric trucks. When propane powered units run low on fuel they can simply swap out empty propane tanks for full ones (a process that takes about 4 minutes) and they are good to go.

Electric units have a limited operating time before their batteries have to be recharged. Recharging on an expensive "fast charger" could take 2 hours while a standard charge could take 4 to 5 hours. If you only run the electric forklift 6 hours a day this isn't a concern (unless somebody forgets to charge the unit overnight) but if you have a busy facility you will need a supply of replacement batteries to keep the unit operational. Changing batteries is no simple task and can take 30 to 45 minutes to accomplish.

Versatility. Propane trucks can operate both indoors and in many outdoor environments. Electric trucks typically are constructed with a lower clearance than propane forklifts making them susceptible to being damaged by uneven pavement. In addition, electric forklifts should not be operated in freezing or wet conditions as they might damage the battery.

Space Saving. If you need to make room for more storage capacity consider this. The only space you need for a propane forklift is a spot to park it. Fuel is kept in a cage outside the facility. Electric trucks require a place to park, room for charging stations, and a place to store spare batteries. In addition that space has to be adjacent to a power source capable of serving all the chargers.

Lower Cost of Acquisition. As a general rule propane forklifts, both new and used, cost less upfront than comparable electric units.

The Cons of Propane Forklifts

Propane forklifts are not for right for every application and here are a few reasons why:

Emissions. Unlike electric models, propane lifts expel exhaust fumes. However, OSHA considers the propane trucks to be acceptable for most indoor applications if OSHA guidelines are implemented.

Noise. Propane is powering internal combustion engines and those engines make noise; much more noise than electric. In fact, propane forklifts can produce up to 92 dB of noise in the workplace; comparable to that of a table saw or jack hammer. Decibel volume of an electric forklift can range from 68 dB to 73 dB (roughly equivalent to conversation level).

Rear Field of Vision. When operating many models of sit-down forklift, backing can be challenging as the operator's vision may be partially blocked by the propane tank on top of the counterbalance directly behind the driver.

Life-cycle Repair Costs. When an electric forklift needs repair it's usually battery related and expensive. However, propane trucks need more frequent repairs simply because there are more parts to break down causing the overall repair and maintenance expense to be higher than electric. According to one asset management white paper, the maintenance cost for propane trucks averages $3.09 per operating hour versus $1.48 for electric forklifts.

Fuel Spills. There is always the possibility of a fuel leak on a propane truck. Operators require special training in proper fueling and inspection of fuel lines. Fuel storage is located outside the facility and represents the same liability as say a diesel storage tank.

Availability of Fuel. Price aside, if your business is located in a remote area you may not be able to get reliable delivery. If you are considering propane trucks it is best that you check out propane dealers in your area for availability and reliability.

Does the Type of Fuel Make a Difference in Performance?

If you are interested in a forklift model that is offered in both electric and propane there will be no difference in their "on the floor" performance. If the truck is rated at 6,500 lbs. load capacity the truck will perform with 6,500 lbs. loads regardless of the "fuel" used.

Keep in mind however, that heavier loads drain the electrical charge faster than lighter ones. In other words the electric truck will use more fuel moving loads near the top end of its capacity than a propane truck will.

Electric forklifts do have a performance limiting characteristic. If you have a requirement for super heavy loads, you won't see it offered in an electric model. Electric motors simply can't produce the power for the higher end load capacities.

Speaking of Performance

We've put together a chart that demonstrates basic specs for different propane fueled model lines from a few major manufacturers.

ManufacturerTypeLoad Capacity RangeTire TypeReach Range
NissanSit-down3,000 lbs. to 8,000 lbs.Cushion110" to 130"
ClarkTurret Truck1,500 lbs. to 6,000 lbs.Cushion144" to 268"
Cat LiftSit-down22,000 lbs. to 36,000 lbs.Pneumatic160" to 180"
ToyotaSit-down3,000 lbs. to 6,500 lbs.Cushion83" to 96"

Prices on new propane trucks are usually not published online simply because there are so many variations to a single model.

But a recent look at the used propane forklift market revealed these offers:

ManufacturerModelModel YearHoursTypeLift CapacityPrice
Toyota42-6FGCU2520092,400Tight Access5,000 lbs.$4,285
NissanMCP1F2A25LV20098,215Sit-down5,000 lbs.$11,400
ClarkGPS25I20029,054Sit-down4,000 lbs.$5,500
NissanCPJ020A20PV20007,150Sit-down4,000 lbs.$3,950

Are Your Ready for Propane?

If your business:

  • Requires your forklifts to be operational for 6 or more hours per day
  • Requires your forklifts to operate both inside and outside and in cold temperatures
  • Needs to create more space inside your warehouse or distribution center
  • Requires a lower initial acquisition cost than electric

Then propane may be your best pick.

With that in mid we recommend you visit our Forklift Locater Tool now to get the kind of detailed information you need to make a smart business buying decision.