Should I Buy an Electric or Internal Combustion Forklift?

While there are several different kinds of forklifts for all different functions, the two main types are electric or internal combustion. These names have to do with the type of engine is in the forklift. Both can power a forklift effectively, it all depends on your type of work situation, load size, and your budget. We have some basic information about each of these types of forklifts and the best applications to use them for.

Internal Combustion

Internal combustion forklifts run on fuel. This can be gasoline, diesel, liquid petroleum or natural gas. Even though they do use gas, they can be used indoors if you follow certain safety precautions. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of internal combustion forklifts.

Why you should purchase an internal combustion forklift

  • The initial cost is lower than an electric forklift. Internal combustion models can be ideal for smaller businesses or if you’re on a tight budget.
  • Internal combustion models can have a higher load capacity. This is because the fuel tends to give the machine more power.
  • If you are working outdoors, internal combustion models are great for these applications and in varying weather conditions. You don’t need any additional protective equipment for the forklift either. The emissions from the fuel are best to be used outside but can work inside too if you follow OSHA’s safety protocols.
  • Internal combustion forklifts can be refueled quickly if you’re working in a space where you can’t wait for a machine to charge.

Drawbacks of internal combustion forklifts

  • These models aren’t always safe to use in indoor applications as it can have emissions and indoor air quality hazards. Only duel fuel system models can be used indoors that can switch between liquid petroleum and gasoline.
  • These forklifts can have a higher overall cost as you’re using fuel every day that costs money. As fuel prices increase, the overall cost will also increase.
  • Extra training may be needed for operators to handle fuel leaks and changing fuel tanks. If they aren’t properly trained, this can cause accidents or machine damages.


Electric forklifts require a charged battery to operate. Usually, the battery needs to be re-charged at the end of each shift. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of electric forklifts.

Why electric forklifts may be the best option

  • The overall cost is less over the life of the forklift. You don’t have to pay for fuel, besides for backup tanks, and the only other cost will be maintenance.
  • Electric forklifts are better for the environment. You don’t have to constantly buy fuel and there are no emissions. This also improves the air quality for drivers.
  • If you have a small warehouse, electric models are important because internal combustion models can’t be used in confined spaces due to emissions.
  • Electric forklifts are significantly less noisy which reduces safety hazards and overall improvement in the workplace.

Cons of electric forklifts

  • Electric forklifts are initially more expensive than internal combustion models.
  • If you need a forklift for outdoor use, electric forklifts require special protection for the machine’s battery so it doesn’t short out from moisture.
  • Recharge times can impede productivity. Typically, an electric forklift will be less productive once the charge runs out and it takes time to switch batteries and charge the machines. You may need to keep extra machines on hand to make up for this downtime.

About the author: Adrianna is a guest contributor from SCMH, a forklift sales and solutions company in Southern California.

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