The Different Classes of Forklifts: Features and Optimal Uses

Forklift equipment has become a necessity in the modern industrial environment. With increasing demands for various goods and increasing amounts of inventory to meet those demands, warehouse workers need to be as efficient as possible. Only through optimization and efficiency do orders get filled on time and customers obtain the resources they need. But while it’s clear how essential these pieces of equipment are to the process, many overlook whether they’re using the right type of forklift for the job. Learn about the different classes of forklift and how each can be the most efficiently used.

Class 1: Electric Motor Rider Trucks

This class of forklift is one of the most common, and what ones tend to picture when thinking of a forklift’s appearance. This is especially the case with 3-wheeled forklift models. Electric motor rider forklifts typically involve sit-down operation and are best suited for environments that need to monitor air quality conditions. It’s for this reason that electricity-powered forklifts are the perfect option for indoor work as they don’t’ release any fuel emissions and they make less noise.

Class 1 forklifts are extremely versatile and can be used for every part of the inventory process. From lifting items into the shipping trucks to stocking things away in storage, their maneuverability lends well to various working environments and conditions. They’re also counterbalanced with the weight of their batteries to always keep them level while they’re in use. This makes it easier to transport heavier objects while preventing damage to the lit from the additional weight.

Class 2: Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks

Like class 1 forklifts, class 2s are also battery-powered and are more optimally used within a warehouse rather than out in the shipping yard. However, these models are specifically designed to be used in work areas that have less space to move things around. The smaller design and increased maneuverability of narrow aisle forklifts allow them to effectively reach tight areas and readily respond to unexpected hazards.

While forklifts in this class can also be used for a variety of tasks, they’re generally more suited for picking up and putting away pallets of inventory. While they can lift several times their weight, the maximum weight that they can hold is significantly lower than that of class 1 models. This is the biggest trade-off of reducing the size of a piece of equipment. However, what class 2s lack in lifting power they make up for in possibility. Reach forklifts exemplify these features as they can reach higher storage levels than standard models and have a better control response time.

Class 3: Electric Motor Hand Trucks

For parcels that aren’t large enough to warrant the use of class 1, class 3s can be used to quickly unload and move them throughout the warehouse. These models are known as hand trucks because they often don’t require the worker to sit in a control seat. Instead, they can simply steer their cargo as they would a shopping cart. Hand trucks are designed to only lift the cargo a few inches off the ground, so they aren’t meant to be carrying things for long distances or extended periods. Because of the nature of this class, these pieces of equipment are more often used in smaller warehouses and storage facilities.

Class 4: IC Trucks with Cushion Tires

Internal combustion engine trucks, or ICE, run on fossil fuels rather than electricity. This is a different class of forklift from the previous ones as these models are often better suited for outdoor use. However, class 4s specifically are often used indoors for short bursts to transport loads to and from the loading docks. ICE trucks are typically only permitted to work indoors if they are equipped with the right tires for smooth and slick surfaces.

Cushion tires are the best fit for indoor surfaces as they are better at keeping traction in areas that may be slicker and hazardous. They also rest low enough that they can meet clearance guidelines when passing through narrow or low areas. This makes class 4 models perfect for high traffic and hazardous areas of a warehouse.

Class 5: IC Trucks with Pneumatic Tires

The primary difference between this class and the models of class 4 are the tires that an ICE truck is equipped with. Class 5 forklifts are often fitted with pneumatic tires rather than a cushion to help them adjust better to rougher, outdoor terrains. These models can also run on compressed natural gas or gasoline to give their owners some versatility in how they are powered.

Class 5s are most useful for loading and unloading larger storage containers. Their increased size allows them to lift more cargo at one time and transport it into inventory more efficiently. The pneumatic tires add additional support for these tasks as they provide more surface contact with the terrain. As a result, they tend to be more balanced and can properly carry more without risking instability.

Class 6: Electric and IC Tractors

Class 6 models are often referred to as tow tractors and tuggers rather than lifts. They can be either electric or ICE, making them versatile when used in a warehouse setting. An alternative to class 3s, tuggers can pull large loads without requiring the equipment to lift it off the ground to do it. This class is most often used on high traffic sites such as airport landing strips and luggage collection as they are easier to maneuver than a full forklift.

Class 7: Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks

Rough terrain forklifts are used for areas that need the maximum amount of traction to safely transport inventory. Much larger than any of the other forklift classes, class 7s are almost exclusively used outdoors to carry the heaviest materials to the loading docks or storage. They’re also most commonly used at construction yards rather than warehouses as their size isn’t suited for everyday inventory.

Because certain loads may need to be scoped outwards by the machines rather than just lifted and dropped, workers may require additional training to properly handle them. This training will ensure that they know the clearance levels of the equipment and how to properly maneuver it in specific workplace scenarios.


No matter which class of forklift you need for your work, Toyota Material Handling Ohio can provide you with just what you need. Our stock of lifting equipment is diverse to cater to a variety of needs and our highly-trained professionals can answer any questions you have about our products.

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