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Forklift Fuel Options

Material Handling Best Practices, Tips, Information and More from Toyota

overview-6The great debate – electric forklifts versus IC (internal combustion) forklifts. This decision is not only for new companies. Established companies may also weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each fuel, especially if there is a shift of priorities to “go green.”

Electric Forklifts


The forklift industry has experienced a shift in sales, with electric forklifts now counting for nearly 60% of the forklift market.

Electric forklift advantages include:

  • Better for the environment: Electric forklifts have zero emissions, which eliminates an employee’s exposure to contaminated air and the need for warehouse ventilation. They use no disposal waste (i.e. engine and transmission fluid) and a high percentage of battery lead is recycled.

  • Operator ergonomics: Less noise and vibration is generated by the electric forklift, reducing operator fatigue.

  • Decreased repair costs: Electric forklifts have less moving parts to maintain and repair. AC motor technology further eliminates brushes to create no spark hazard and better speed control.

  • Lower long-term fuel costs: Batteries for the electric forklift can be recharged.


With these advantages come other factors to consider. Although electric forklifts have lower lifetime fuel costs, the initial cost is higher. In addition to the cost of the battery, an area for charging, watering and cleaning must be arranged. Electric forklifts are at a disadvantage when using the forklift in an outdoor application, especially if the environment is wet. Downtime can also be experienced if the battery is not charged or equalized properly.

IC Forklifts


DSC_8818-as-Smart-Object-1-copyThe market is still strong for IC forklifts. They account for about 40% of the forklift market and are dominant in outdoor, around-the-clock or high throughput applications.

IC forklift advantages include:

  • Flexible application: IC forklifts are good indoors and outdoors. They operate well in rain and other inclement weather.

  • Multi-shift use: The fuel savings associated with electric forklifts is greatly diminished or negated when multiple batteries are required to keep an operation running. Furthermore, IC forklifts have faster travel speeds and acceleration which can negate the need for additional equipment and personnel to move the same amount of product.

  • Lower initial cost: Only the investment of propane tanks and their storage area is needed to operate the forklift.

  • Easy to refuel: IC forklifts running out of fuel do not require a lengthy charging period. An operator can easily replace the propane tank in 5 minutes and then continue production. This is especially important with a multi-shift operation.


Other factors to consider when purchasing an IC forklift include providing ventilation in the warehouse due to emissions, operator fatigue due to noise and vibration and the physical requirements of changing propane tanks. Finally, if the operation does not require an IC forklift you should consider the lifetime costs of maintenance, repairs and fuel cost when compared to an electric forklift.

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