Whether you’re starting a new business, upgrading your fleet or just replacing an old machine, picking the right forklift is important. Not only does it need to have the power and performance to do the task, but it also needs to be the most cost-effective option for you.
So, when you’re looking to buy a new forklift, what do you choose? Diesel, gas (LPG) or electric? To help you out, we’ve compiled the pros and cons of each, to help you decide between LPG, diesel or electric forklifts.
Diesel forklifts are powerful machines, ideal for outdoor use. On average, they have a higher torque than electric and better fuel-efficiency than LPG forklifts. Due to their noise and emissions, diesel forklifts best suit outdoor applications, and will generally out-perform both LPG and electric in that regard.
Consistent Power—the biggest benefit of a diesel forklift is the pure power they offer. Diesel forklifts will almost always out-perform similar electric and LPG models. This can become even more noticeable when you add in gradients, towing work or when using a bucket for scooping aggregates.
Ideal for the Outdoors—diesel forklifts, especially when compared to their electric counterparts, are the superior choice for outdoor situations. Unlike electric forklifts they can be used without worrying about rain or snow.
Cheap Fuel (sort of)—when compared to LPG forklifts, diesel forklifts are cheaper to refuel. But, there is still some debate as to whether diesel is more environmentally friendly than LPG or not.
Low Upfront Cost—diesel forklifts have a lower upfront cost than electric forklifts, making them an affordable initial investment.
Not Suited for Indoor Use—due to their emissions, diesel forklifts are not suited for indoor use. They also tend to be larger, bulkier and harder to drive than LPG and electric forklifts, which makes maneuvering them through tight and narrow spaces difficult.
Expensive Maintenance—while diesel forklifts are more affordable to purchase upfront, expensive maintenance and services costs make them more expensive than electric forklifts over their entire lifespan.
Carbon Emissions—the emissions from a diesel forklift not only make them unsuited for indoor use, but it can also be harmful to the environment. These emissions are definitely something to consider, especially for those who are environmentally conscious.
Fuel—while diesel will usually be cheaper than LPG, it is more expensive than electricity. So when it comes to fuel cost, diesel lands right in the middle. The other factor is the price of diesel may change dramatically over time, potentially raising (or lowering) the cost of use.
LPG (gas) forklifts are one of, if not the most, popular forklift on the market. They have a cheaper upfront cost than either diesel or electric, and are ideal for indoors and outdoors. They are capable of handling heavier and more demanding workloads than electric forklifts (usually), but are outperformed by the majority of diesel models.
Price—possibly the biggest selling point of LPG forklifts is their price. The initial upfront cost is much lower than diesel or electric forklifts, making them ideal for start-ups or new businesses.
Fuel (sort of)—Refueling an LPG forklift is a relatively simple affair. Just switch the cylinder over and you’re good to go. LPG cylinders will usually last a whole 6-hour shift, making them reliable in almost every situation.
More Power than Electric—while not as powerful as diesel forklifts in general, LPG forklifts are able to perform better than electric forklifts over longer periods and under heavier workloads and gradients.
Suitable for Indoor Work—one of the benefits of an enclosed fuel source like LPG gas, is that these forklifts are usually suited to indoor use—as long as they pass necessary standards and OH&S.
Price—similar to diesel forklifts, LPG forklifts may be cheaper upfront, but fuel, servicing and maintenance will cost you more over time. There’s also the added variable that fossil fuels and gas prices may rise in the future. Adding even more ongoing costs to an LPG forklift.
Performance—though more powerful and consistent than electric forklifts, LPG forklifts are usually outperformed by diesel forklifts. Especially when you need constant, high torque.
Fuel Availability—this won’t be a problem with careful planning, but LPG cylinders may not be readily available in some areas. So if planning isn’t done correctly, you may find yourself with no fuel to operate your forklifts.
Rearward Visibility—rearward visibility is generally restricted due to the location of the cylinder. This increases the chance of an accident and injury claims.
Health Risks—while avoidable, it’s important to note that LPG cylinders can leak. Potentially causing harm to the health of your operators and other staff. So it’s important to keep up-to-date on all safety protocols for LPG forklifts.
The most modern version of the three, electric forklifts have come a long way since their first introduction on the market, and have proven to be just as good as their diesel or LPG counterparts in recent years. With a lower overall cost and good safety features, electric forklifts have quickly become the first-choice for many businesses.
Zero Emissions—probably the most obvious benefit of an electric forklift is the lack of emissions and exhaust. This is not only great for the environment, but it also reduces the risk of your employees coming into contact with exhaust during their shift, reducing the chance of health issues arising due to emissions.
Safety—an important safety feature of electric forklifts is the automatic braking. The brakes automatically kick in when you take your foot off the brake. This not only increases safety for you and others onsite, but also helps reduce the wear on the brakes, reducing maintenance. Electric forklifts are also quieter than LPG or diesel forklifts, making it easier to hear other machinery or people around you.
Fuel Costs—this probably won’t come as a surprise, but fuel costs for electric forklifts are almost non-existent. While it will cost you a little electricity, the cost of LPG or diesel is far above the price of electricity. In fact, a study in Ohio found that the annual fuel cost for an LPG forklift is about 4 times higher than a comparable electric forklift.
Maintenance—aside from lower fuel costs, electric forklifts are also cheaper to maintain and service. There’s a number of reasons as to why:
- No engine, radiator & transmission
- Automatic braking (which reduces wear)
- Longer component life
- Fewer waste fluids
This all makes it cheaper to maintain and service an electric forklift vs a diesel or LPG one.
Indoor Use—With no emissions, increased maneuverability and quiet operation, it’s no surprise that electric forklifts are a great choice for indoor operations. This is especially prevalent when it comes to food and produce handling, where zero carbon emissions is a substantial benefit. The lack of emissions also makes it safer for you and others on the site to be around, as there’s no risk of inhaling toxic fumes. Electric forklifts are smaller and more nimble than diesel or LPG forklifts. This means you can operate in tighter workspaces and maximise storage space.
Charging/Battery—possibly the biggest downside of an electric forklift is charging the battery. It will usually take about 8 hours for a battery to fully charge. Which, if you forget to charge it overnight, will render that forklift unusable for the day. Another downside is that you’ll need space to store the charger, any spare batteries, and the forklift while it is on charge itself. Not only that, but the space requires good ventilation to prevent overheating. This can add up to a lot of space if you have multiple forklifts.
Price—while electric forklifts are cheaper over their entire lifespan, they are the most expensive upfront. The initial purchase of the forklift will also need to include the battery and charger, which adds up. While this will be offset over time, it can be daunting to see the larger initial price tag.
Outdoor Use—due to their heavy reliance on electronics and their design, electric forklifts don’t suit outdoor use. They tend to struggle in outdoor situations with uneven terrain as this can affect battery performance. However, more recent models are starting to make up for this and it’s possible electric forklifts will perform just as well outside as they do inside.
Power—while they may have the power to get most indoor work done, electric forklifts still offer less in the way of consistent, high torque output when compared to LPG and diesel forklifts. Older models also suffer from performance issues towards the end of the day. This is because the battery drains and offers less power to the machine, reducing its performance. This is mostly resolved in newer models, but is something to look out for with older, second-hand purchases.
So, Which Forklift to Buy?
It all comes down to what’s best for your business. For long, high-powered outdoor use, a diesel forklift will be your best bet. While a food handling warehouse with limited space is going to benefit from an electric forklift. Or, if you need a mix of indoor and outdoor, an LPG will probably be your go-to pick. Your best option is to assess the workload, your current fleet and possible expansion, and get what fits your needs best.
Of course, finding an affordable forklift dealer is always a good start, so check out our new and used forklift listings to get started. You may also be able to find a great diesel, LPG or electric forklift at auction.
Think we missed something? Have your own preferred forklift? Leave us a comment below.
Sources: nmc-corp.com, tmhnc.com, bendigomitchell.com, industrysearch.com.au, certifyme.net, fleetmanconsulting.com, nfe-lifts.com