The 6 Most Common Forklift Types and What They're Used For

Common forklift types in at a dealership

A forklift is a powered industrial truck to lift and move materials. They are essential in many industry settings like construction sites, storage facilities, and warehouses. There are many different forklift types, each with strengths and limitations. So depending on your business, the forklift type will vary depending on your needs. Here are the six most common forklift types and their uses.

What Are the Most Common Forklift Types?

1. Counterbalance Forklifts

Different types of forklifts are useful, versatile tools, but they have limitations. For example, if you try to use a forklift to carry a load that is too heavy for the weight it is rated for, the truck could tip over forward, a potentially dangerous situation. A counterbalance forklift is a smaller forklift with extra weight in the back to counteract the force that the load is applying to the front. This makes it possible for the forklift to carry larger, heavier loads than it could handle otherwise.

This type of forklift is typically used indoors in stores and warehouses. They are designed to operate on even stable surfaces, so they can be operated outside as long as the surface is suitable. There are two counterbalance forklift types distinguished by the number of wheels. Some have the standard four wheels, while others only have three. Three-wheeled models are appropriate for situations in which maneuverability is of primary importance.

2. Telehandlers

Most forklifts cannot lift a load much higher than the roof of its cab. However, you may need to lift a load up to a higher level. For example, you may work in agriculture and have to stack hay bales. In construction, you may have to transfer building materials to the top of the structure. In these cases, you may require a special forklift called a telehandler or telescopic handler.

A telehandler has a large boom extending over the cab's top. Typically, there is a fork at the end of the boom, but you can replace that with other attachments, such as a bucket, muck grabber, or lift table. The boom can extend up over the cab of the forklift to bring loads to a higher level than you can reach with other forklift types.

3. Side Loader Forklift

With most forklift types, the forks are in the front. However, this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to lift loads that are very long or wide. A side loader forklift has the forks to one side instead of the front, which makes it possible to lift loads that would otherwise be inaccessible, or at least awkward, to manage with some of the other different types of forklifts. Sheet materials, pipes, and tubing are all examples of things a side loader forklift is useful for transporting.

There are several different types of forklifts with side loader capabilities. A stand-up version is more suited to indoor tasks, such as transporting loads within narrow aisles. A side loader forklift intended to be used outdoors has an enclosed cab. A multi-way forklift can transport materials in any direction, with the load either to the side or in front, by rotating the wheels 90 degrees in either direction.

4. Rough Terrain Forklifts

It is common to have to operate a forklift over outside terrain that is rough or uneven. This happens a lot on construction sites. Such sites are constantly exposed to the elements, so the ground may be slippery because of ice, snow, or mud. Many forklift types cannot navigate such conditions, but there are models designed specifically for rough terrain.

Rough terrain forklifts are built to be more robust and durable. They have powerful engines so they can carry heavier loads. They are more stable because of the thick treads on their pneumatic tires. All these features give them greater maneuverability and make them better carry larger loads at faster speeds.

5. Narrow Aisle Reach Forklifts

Sometimes you have to load cargo to a height higher than most forklift types can handle, but not so high that you require a telehandler. When you have to store pallets at a significant height, you can use a reach forklift, the lift height of which is extended to be taller than other types of forklifts.

There are several types of reach forklifts. A stand-up truck is appropriate when you only have to load one pallet at a time into the bay because the fork size can accommodate it. However, if you load multiple pallets into a single bay, the standard fork size may be too short. In this scenario, you may benefit from a double-deep reach forklift. This is a similar machine with forks that are extra long to lift multiple pallets at a time. If you require greater ease of access and increased stability, you can grip onto the edges with a straddle truck.

You may have seen reach forklifts at the airport, frequently used to aid with aircraft cleaning and repair. These forklift types can allow you to maximize vertical space in a warehouse with high racking.

6. Large-Capacity Forklift

A large-capacity forklift is sometimes described as a cross between a warehouse forklift and a telescopic handler forklift. It gets its name because it can lift a larger payload to a much greater height and over much longer distances than other different types of forklifts. Loads you can carry with a large-capacity forklift include slabs of drywall, steel beams or joists, pallets of bricks, and large stones.

Another name for a large-capacity forklift is an industrial forklift. However, this name is arguably non-specific because all forklifts have at least some industrial applications.

How Do You Choose From the Different Forklift Types?

Which of the different forklifts is right for you? Manufacturers know that forklifts are used in many different situations. They intentionally design and build different types of forklifts to serve specific situations. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all forklift.

This specificity means that you can get the capabilities you need when choosing a forklift. However, it can make narrowing down the choices more challenging. Here are specific factors to consider when deciding on a forklift for your business.

Lifting Capacity

This is one of the most critical points to consider. A forklift that cannot lift the loads you require to be moved is worthless to you. Therefore, one of the first things you should do is to make sure the forklift you are looking at has the necessary capacity. If it does not, there is no need to consider it further.

Engine Type

Whether you need an internal combustion engine or an electric engine forklift depends on where you plan to operate it the most. If you intend to use the forklift indoors, an electric engine is the safer choice because of the lack of hazardous emissions. However, if you want to operate the forklift primarily outside and need to carry heavy loads, you may benefit from the extra power that an internal combustion engine can provide.


The height of the forklift is an especially important consideration if you plan to use the forklift indoors. You need to be sure that it can fit through the openings in your building. Height is a less important consideration when operating a forklift outside, but even then, there could be areas with low clearance that you need to navigate.


The terrain you intend to operate your forklift determines the number of wheels and the type of tires you need. If you are operating the forklift over a smooth surface, cushion tires are ideal, and three wheels can give you more maneuverability. Four wheels provide more stability on steep inclines, and pneumatic tires with heavy treads provide more traction on slippery surfaces.

Selecting the Right Forklift Types for Your Business

Because not all forklift types are the same, choosing the one that meets your needs is important. Once you know the equipment type, compare pricing and information with Industrial Forklift Truck. Simply let us know what you’re looking for, and we’ll send you pricing and specs on a variety of industry-leading forklifts that meet your needs.  

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