Tom Haug


Forklifts are seen in almost every warehouse operation around the world and are one of the most widely used pieces of material handling equipment. There are many different forklift types each valuable to distinct jobs. Knowing the difference between each type can help you decide which one is best for your operations and whether to lease, rent, or buy.

Counterbalance Trucks

Counterbalance trucks are found both indoors and outdoors and can be powered by diesel, liquid petroleum gas (LPG), or electric. As the most commonly used and traditional forklift, this is the machine that most picture when thinking of a forklift. Counterbalance trucks have two forks at the bottom of the front-facing side of the truck. These pieces of equipment have four wheels and can be equipped with pneumatic or cushion tires. The driver of this forklift sits down and steers when in operation.

The name of this forklift comes from the counterweight that is placed at the back of the lift to keep the machine from tipping over when it is picking up weighted loads with the front fork.

As previously mentioned, counterbalance trucks can be battery-powered. These electric forklifts are known to have a counterweight that is smaller than those found in internal combustion (IC) counterbalance trucks because the battery is heavy enough to make up for some of the weight needed to balance the machine.

Rough Terrain Forklift

This machine is developed specifically for outdoor work and is optimal to maneuver throughout uneven surfaces lifting hefty loads. The rough terrain forklift’s pneumatic tires are larger than those of a traditional IC forklift and are threaded. These tires are comparable to those of a truck or car. These oversized tires allow the operator to gain control over the uneven bumpy, rocky planes, ultimately increasing productivity and saving you money.

The rough terrain lift can lift more than the standard counterbalance lift because they are fueled by either LPG or diesel. Diesel is commonly known to be the strongest fuel for any vehicle because of its increased torque, acceleration, and lifting rate. A diesel engine also tends to have a longer lifespan than both propane and electric engines. On the other hand, liquefied petroleum gas engines are the eco-friendly options that emit fewer emissions than a diesel engine.

You will find these sturdy forklifts in outdoor environments such as construction sites, lumber yards, and even military locations. Many rough terrain lift trucks have the additional capability of high reach. With a tall vertical tower, these machines can raise heavy loads upwards.


The telehandler is an optimal marriage between a forklift and a crane. This machine, also known as a telescopic boom, telescopic handler, or a boom lift, features a boom that extends the reach of the machine, allowing it to expand and lift a load to high places such as a rooftop. A telehandler is used in outdoor areas such as construction sites and the agriculture industry.

Side Loader

A side loader is a forklift that is designed to safely lift and move longer items, such as timber or pipes. The forks of this lift are suitable for narrow aisles in warehouses. The name “side loader” comes from the machine’s ability to load and then unload the pipes onto racks. Side loaders are generally found in industries such as steel and lumber. This forklift is generally equipped to be powered by diesel, propane, or electricity.

Three-Wheel Counterbalance Trucks

Like the traditional counterbalance trucks, the three-wheel forklifts are regularly seen in warehouses or outside unloading and loading pallets. These trucks are generally only battery-powered making these electric forklifts ideal for smoothly operating indoors where emission levels are a safety concern.

The three wheels allow the forklift to maneuver more easily through narrow aisles due to a smaller turning radius. Although the four-wheel counterbalance trucks are beneficial in moving heavier loads, it is more challenging to complete tighter turns.

Reach Truck

The reach truck is an incredibly useful forklift that is predominantly operated indoors for picking entire pallets from the racks of warehouses. This machine is not used outdoors because its smaller cushion tires cannot maneuver on surfaces other than smooth finishes. Cushion tires also create for a smaller under-carriage clearance, which can be unsafe when used outdoors. Because they are operated indoors, reach trucks are also electric forklifts because they produce zero emissions.

With its small turning radius, a reach truck is ideal for maneuvering through very narrow aisles of a warehouse. When lifting a pallet or a load, it sits back on the forks, allowing less of the load to jut out from the front of the lift. Because less of the freight is extending from the forks, it has more space to turn in restricted spaces.

Order Picker

Utilize most of your warehouse space with an order picker. This machine is designed for the use of picking specific orders, generally parts of pallets, from a rack of a warehouse. Like a reach truck, an order picker can maneuver through limited space, such as narrow aisles, and then securely remove items from shelving. However, an order picker has the added capability of selecting individual items, not only an entire pallet.

The most common use for an order picker forklift is for the operator to find the SKU of an order that a customer has requested, find and pick that distinct item(s) from the stock, and then set that order aside to be packaged and shipped to the end customer.


With this compilation of the most common types of forklifts, we aim to provide you with a greater and detailed insight into the varying forklift models that are distinctly beneficial for different jobs. It may seem complicated to choose between the immense number of forklifts for sale on the market today, but our material handling equipment experts are here to help. For a consultative discussion on which models will best suit your material handling operation, call +1 (855) 980-4578 or send an email to [email protected] for more details or to speak with a specialist.