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About Warehouse Forklifts


Forklift Rental Guide E-Book


All About Warehouse Forklifts

CAT Electric Forklift

Warehouse forklifts are a necessity for transporting pallets and heavy materials in every warehouse location.

A warehouse forklift is best for indoor work on a stable, even surface. It can raise and transport items over small distances without damaging them. Forklifts are essential for a business that owns a warehouse or has a large number of items in its inventory.

Warehouse forklifts help workers handle a variety of products. They offer an efficient, safe way to transport inventory. These machines are especially useful on uneven surfaces or in narrow aisles. The average warehouse forklift has a loading capacity ranging from 1 to 5 tons. Pallets at this weight can't be handled with manual pallet jacks or other nonmotorized warehouse equipment.

There are two primary types of warehouse forklifts: cushion-tire forklifts and pneumatic-tire forklifts. Different wheels and tire types can impact the way a forklift handles. Before you decide which forklifts your business should use, think about the tasks warehouse workers will be doing. Also, consider the conditions they'll be working in. Different models have varying capabilities. Here's some more information about forklifts and how to choose the best options for your company's needs.

The History of Warehouse Forklifts

Forklifts are also called lift trucks, fork trucks, or fork hoists. They are powered industrial vehicles used to lift and move objects over short distances.

The warehouse forklift was designed at the beginning of the 20th century by many companies. These companies included Yale & Towne Manufacturing, a hoist maker, and Clark, a transmission manufacturer. After World War II, the warehouse forklift expanded to all parts of the world. Forklifts are indispensable in warehousing and manufacturing. Hundreds of thousands are sold every year.


The predecessors of the modern warehouse forklift were manual hoists for lifting loads. The Pennsylvania Railroad started using platform trucks for luggage transport at its train station in Altoona, Pennsylvania, in 1906. These trucks were battery-powered. In the United Kingdom, different equipment was developed to make up for widespread labor shortages after World War I.

Early Warehouse Forklifts

The Towmotor Company started selling lift trucks in 1919. Yale & Towne Manufacturing began designing forklifts in 1920. The first electric forklifts were developed in the 1930s. Standard pallets helped make warehouse forklift trucks more popular around the same time.

Warehouse forklifts were used heavily in World War II. Many warehouses switched to more maneuverable forklifts with higher reaches. This change eventually altered the layouts of warehouses, leading to tighter aisles, taller stacks, and increased storage capacity.

Modern Warehouse Forklifts

Increasing heights and capacities made operator safety a more pressing concern. Many manufacturers added safety features such as load backrests and cages or overhead guards for operators. During the late 1980s, ergonomic designs improved operator comfort, reduced injuries, and increased productivity. During the 1990s, emission standards were put in place for manufacturers of forklifts in many countries. Recent refinements include AC-powered forklifts and fuel-cell technology.

Patents Related to Warehouse Forklifts

The first portable elevator, one of the forerunners of the forklift, was patented back in 1867. In 1887, a new patent let the elevator move horizontally as well. There are many different types of warehouse forklifts available. According to OSHA, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there are seven classes:

  • Class I forklifts are called electric motor rider trucks.
  • Class II forklifts are electric motor narrow aisle trucks.
  • Class III forklifts are electric motor hand trucks or hand/rider trucks.
  • Class IV forklifts are internal combustion engine trucks.
  • Class V forklifts contain internal combustion engine trucks with pneumatic tires.
  • Class VI forklifts are electric and internal combustion engine tractors.
  • Class VII forklifts can work on rough terrain.

In 1917, Clark started making internal combustion lift tractors in their factories in the United States. However, they still had to be loaded and unloaded manually because the platform for products couldn't move vertically. The brand name was Tructractor. The first one was shipped out of the United States in 1919. In 1922, Clark patented the Truclift, the first internal combustion platform lift truck that used hydraulics to lift a load. A similar forklift called the Tructier was patented in 1928. The company introduced the first Class I electric forklift in 1942.

In 1951, George Raymond Sr. and Christian D. Gibson of Raymond Corporation patented the first Class II lift truck. This electric narrow-aisle lift truck could fit in corridors less than 7 feet wide. It let businesses fit more products easily into the same warehouse space. Clark patented the GEX20/30 electric lift truck in 2006. It has pneumatic tires and no turn radius for outstanding maneuverability.

Komatsu Forklift U.S.A., Inc. patented the world's first hybrid electric forklift in 2008. In 2016, Google patented an autonomous forklift robot. This machine would be able to load, unload, and transport cargo short distances without any help from a worker. However, the company hasn't started working on a prototype yet. Many other patents exist for safety restraints, roll bars, GPS systems, and other forklift accessories. Some of the newest internal combustion forklifts use hydrogen fuel cells. Most models use petroleum, compressed natural gas, gasoline, or diesel fuel.

Manufacturers and Popular Models

Quality forklifts are better suited to harsh conditions. They are more technologically advanced and can last longer in the workplace. Hyster is one of the world's largest forklift manufacturing companies. It was founded in 1929 and specializes in high capacity forklifts.


Hyster 36-38T

Hyster 36-38T

The model with the highest capacity is the Hyster 36-38T Heavy Duty Forklift Truck. It has multiple brakes for extra reliability. A range of different carriage, fork, and front-end attachments are available, including container spreaders and coil rams. Load-sensing hydraulics, RPM management, and alternate engine idle speeds reduce fuel consumption. However, these models still give users plenty of power when they need it. There's also a comfortable chair for the driver with excellent visibility.


Toyota 3-Wheel Electric Forklift

Toyota 3-Wheel Electric Forklift

Toyota has offered forklifts for about 50 years. In fact, the company has manufactured over 500,000 forklifts in the United States alone. Toyota's headquarters are in Columbus, Indiana. It sells counterbalance forklifts, reach forklifts, heavy-duty trucks, and more.

Toyota's 3-Wheel Electric Forklift has two front wheels and one back wheel to save space and make turning easier. It has some of the fastest travel speeds and lifting or lowering times in the industry. This allows workers can complete their tasks more quickly. There's also a “short” model for narrow aisles. Toyota's System of Active Stability or SAS uses rear stabilizers and mast controllers to prevent tipping accidents.


CAT Electric Forklift

CAT Electric Forklift

Cat Lift Trucks is a division of Caterpillar. Caterpillar is one of the best and most well-known makers of material handling equipment. The company's headquarters are in Houston, Texas. Cat offers a wide range of forklifts with lifting capacities from 2,500 to 36,000 pounds. Electric, propane, diesel, and gas models are available. All are made with the latest fabrication processes and techniques.


Komatsu 20 BX50

Komatsu 20 BX50

Komatsu is a world leader in equipment design. It's the second-largest manufacturer in the world with 25 plants. The company was founded in 1921 in Komatsu City, Japan.

The internal combustion BX50 series includes maneuverable cushion tire models for indoor use and pneumatic models for outdoors. The Komatsu Komfort Zone system minimizes engine noise, vibration, and heat to keep workers comfortable. These forklifts also have sophisticated suspensions, power steering, and excellent visibility. The Komatsu Operator Presence System locks out controls if the warehouse forklift operator leaves the seat for more than 3 seconds. Angled exhaust ports keep fumes away from workers moving in reverse.


Nissan Cushion Tire Forklift

Nissan Cushion Tire Forklift

Nissan Forklift is part of Nissan Motor, and this Japanese company started exports to the United States in 1965. Like Toyota, it's one of the largest auto manufacturers in the world as well as being a major forklift manufacturer since 1957.

The Nissan AC Electric Reach Truck is part of the Platinum SRX Reach Truck Series. It's ideal for manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution. You can choose a single-reach model that can carry 3,500 to 4,500 pounds or a double-reach version rated at 3,000 pounds. A double-reach forklift has forks that can reach forward as well as up for more precise control. Sitting and platform models are also available.

When to Use Warehouse Forklifts

Warehouse forklifts and pallet jacks are both used for lifting, loading, and moving products around warehouses and construction sites. However, forklifts are larger. They can lift materials to higher places, and they can carry heavier loads. They're often used to move heavy objects on farms and during residential renovations. Storing materials on high shelves creates more floor space for forklifts and workers.

Before you decide when to use warehouse forklifts or choose which models you should use, do some research. Consider the size of your work area and the product you're moving. If your warehouse has lots of close-knit aisles and tight corners, you'll need a smaller unit. You may need to use a pallet jack instead of a forklift in some areas. If you're working in a larger, more open area where space isn't an issue, you can use a bigger forklift to move more product at once.

Make sure you have enough room for storage, maintenance, and refueling or recharging if you decide to buy a forklift. If you rent, you won't need space for these tasks and you can save money.

Electric Forklifts

Electric forklifts are often used indoors because they're usually quieter than other models. They're also smaller and more agile, and they require less maintenance. They don't emit carbon monoxide or other dangerous gasses like carbon monoxide. Because of this fact, you can use them indoors without adding additional ventilation. However, other types of forklifts can carry bigger loads. You'll also need a charging station or a place for charging your electric forklifts. Some models require separate charging stations that can cost thousands of dollars. Many business owners use electric forklifts in retail spaces as well as warehouses.

Diesel and Gasoline Forklifts

Diesel and gasoline forklifts are best for outdoor use, heavy loads, and rough terrain. They're also used in large warehouses to carry heavy merchandise. Workers can use the same gas or diesel forklift on multiple shifts. Refilling a fuel tank or changing a fuel cell is much faster than recharging an electric vehicle. Some models take 8 hours to charge fully, but you can refill an internal combustion forklift in less than 10 minutes. However, noise, fumes, and maintenance costs are higher with internal combustion models. For that reason, electric forklifts work better in small warehouses and storage facilities.

Pallet jacks don't have to be refueled or recharged. They can also be stored in smaller spaces than forklifts. However, they aren't able to handle as many types and sizes of objects. Four-wheel, three-wheel, and reach forklifts are also available.

Tire Types

There are three different types of tires available for forklifts for different applications and surfaces:

  • Cushion tires are solid rubber, so they're resistant to punctures and other damage. Most forklifts with cushion tires are electric, and they're usually used indoors.
  • Pneumatic tires are like the tires on cars and trucks. They're inflated with compressed air, and they work well on uneven terrain. They're usually powered by natural gas, diesel, or gasoline engines.
  • Solid pneumatic tires are a cross between pneumatic tires and cushion tires. They're suitable for preventing punctures from objects like nails or broken glass. These tires are often used on construction sites with rough terrain or lots of debris.

Why Safety Is Essential

If one of your workers is injured on the job while operating a forklift, you could have to deal with high legal expenses. Most states require workers' compensation insurance payments from employers. These payments will fund benefits for people injured at work. Knowing how to operate a forklift safely reduces your insurance payments. It also reduces the risk to your company and your workers. If your employees get hurt often, your fees will rise. You could eventually have to pay a large settlement or penalty.

Avoiding safety precautions and the proper training could lead to severe injuries. In that case, you'll have to do without a vital worker while he or she recovers. Alternatively, you will have to spend money to train a temporary or permanent replacement. Using a forklift correctly is much safer and easier than trying to move heavy items without any assistance.

Warehouse Forklift Safety

OSHA requires all forklift operators to be certified every 36 months. Workers will need to pass a short, multiple-choice test to show they can operate forklifts safely. In some states, there's also a driving test. Many employers are authorized by OSHA to administer both parts of the test after training.

Even experienced workers should get a day or two of training before starting a new job. Different businesses have varying rules and operate in different environments. Companies could be fined up to $10,000 if they let people operate forklifts who aren't certified.

Any employee who uses a forklift should be properly trained and supervised to avoid injuries. No one should operate a forklift without training, even if they only need the machine for a few minutes. Make sure workers wear the correct safety gear. This includes steel-toed boots, a hard hat where needed, and a high-visibility vest or jacket. Gloves and eye protection are needed when moving dangerous chemicals. Make sure your clothing isn't loose enough to catch on controls. Don't try to carry a load that's too heavy for the forklift you're using.

Inspect the Forklift

Each day, do a quick inspection to prevent mechanical troubles. This should be done before you or your employees start using a forklift for the day. Be sure you're familiar with the controls and check the wheels and tires to prevent poor handling.

Don't try to operate the forklift if you notice any issues. This includes missing bolts, exposed wires, bent forks, or problems with the engine. Repair any issues you find or use another unit until the first forklift is in good condition again. Have all your pallet jacks inspected by a professional at least every six months.

Check Your Route

Before you start moving your load, the route should be free from hazards and uneven surfaces. You should also make sure all loads are balanced correctly so they won't tip over or fall off the pallet you're using. Don't try to operate a forklift with wet or greasy hands. Always stand on the platform or sit in the operator's seat. Fasten your seatbelt, adjust the chair and mirrors, and always keep your head, arms, and legs inside the operating area.

If you're carrying a large load that obstructs your view, ask a coworker to act as a spotter. He or she can stand ahead of you and tell you where you should go to avoid obstacles. You can also operate forklifts in reverse if there's not enough visibility going forward. No matter how big your load is, go up inclines forward and down in reverse to keep it from slipping off the forks.

Use Caution

Don't stop, start, or change direction suddenly. Also, don't try to load or unload goods on a ramp or lift a load with just one fork. Always go slowly around curves and corners. Travel with the load tilted back and the forks as close to the ground as possible. If you need to, you can use ropes to secure loads. Don't exceed the weight capacity of a forklift. Watch for clearance height signs on doors to make sure that your load will fit through them.

Treat all wires as conductors and assume that electrical current is running through them. Using strict electrical safety protocols will prevent dangerous electrical shocks. Avoid bumps or potholes that could cause your load to shift, and watch for changes in your surroundings like debris. Use the horn when you're about to make a turn or when you're near other employees. Don't operate a forklift near any other heavy equipment being used at the same time. This precaution will reduce collisions and other accidents. Also, don't carry passengers or let anyone stand or walk underneath a load that a forklift is carrying.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Rent a Warehouse Forklift?

Visit BigRentz's website to rent internal combustion or electric forklift. BigRentz has more than 8,000 locations in the United States, so it's easy to find the equipment you need near you. Delivery and pickup are available for a small fee, and maintenance is free whenever you need it. BigRentz can also help you make sure that your employees can operate forklifts.

How Long Can I Rent a Warehouse Forklift?

BigRentz offers rentals from a day to a month long. One day is the same as one 8-hour shift over a 24-hour period. One week is five 8-hour shifts over seven days. A month is 20 8-hour shifts over 28 days.

Which Forklifts Are Available?

Cushion tire and pneumatic tire forklifts are available that can lift from 5,000 to 25,000 lbs.

What Makes Renting a Better Choice Than Buying?

A warehouse forklift rental is much more flexible than buying the equipment. You can get the tools you need in just a day or two instead of spending weeks to research the best purchase. Renting won't impact your company's credit rating as much as a buying an expensive item like a forklift. Also, you won't have to pay for storage while you're not using the equipment.

What's the Cost of Renting vs. Buying?

When you rent a forklift, you won't have to pay for maintenance, insurance, or most repairs. You also won't lose money when your equipment depreciates.

What Is Local Delivery?

If your job site is in BigRentz's local delivery range, you'll only need to pay a flat delivery fee. However, you would need to pay an extra mileage fee if your job site is outside that range. Typically, the delivery range is about 25 to 50 miles from the nearest BigRentz location.

Do I Have to Call When I'm Done With the Equipment?

You won't need to call unless you need an extension on your rental. In that case, contact BigRentz at least four hours before your rental expires.

With the right warehouse forklift, you can move a variety of big, heavy objects. This includes everything from safes to household appliances to pallets of goods. The largest forklifts can even move shipping containers. Call BigRentz at (888) 325-5172 for a forklift or any other type of construction equipment you need. We also offer expert help in choosing the best forklifts for your business.


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