Forklift Engine Types – Advantages and Disadvantages

forklift engine options, lpg, diesel, electric
September 19, 2018
Posted by: Justin Engel

Modern forklifts are available with a number of different engine types and power sources including diesel, LPG and electric. Ultimately, your choice of engine type depends on your needs, application and financial situation, with each power source providing different benefits and disadvantages according to its characteristics.  What follows is a brief summary of each forklift engine type:


Electric Forklift Engines

Electric forklifts are an ideal solution for indoor application, particularly in more hygienic or sensitive applications such as the pharmaceutical, food and beverage industries. Compact, unobtrusive and highly maneuverable, these forklifts are purpose built for operations in and around large facilities such as warehouses, factories and manufacturing plants. Among their notable characteristics and features, the advantages of electric forklifts include:

  • Emissions-free power – these forklifts are battery powered and produce no harmful exhaust fumes or emissions. This makes them an ideal fit for indoor applications.
  • Cheaper power – by recharging during off-peak hours, electric forklifts can provide significant savings in terms of power/fuel vs internal combustion engines.
  • Low noise operation – with fewer moving parts and less vibration, electric forklifts produce less noise pollution than internal combustion units.
  • A compact chassis – a high density battery serves as a compact counterweight on electric forklifts. As such, these units have a smaller turning radius and are more maneuverable than IC models.  This is maneuverability is further enhanced with three wheeled models, which have an even smaller turning radius.
  • Easily available power – unlike internal combustion engines, no revving is required for fast lifting and or starting from a standstill on a ramp or grade.
  • Customizable output – advanced electrical controllers allow for customized operation such as lift and travel speeds, etc.


Electric forklifts aren’t without their drawbacks, however, as the disadvantages include:

  • Higher initial investment – electric forklifts generally retail for 10-20% more than internal combustion units. However, they make up for this initial investment with decreased maintenance costs and a longer lifespan.
  • Reduced flexibility – electric forklifts cannot be operated while their batteries are charging. To get around this limitation, you could purchase additional batteries that can be changed out for charging or utilize a fast charging system.
  • Less capable of handling intensive use – frequently driving over step grades may drain the battery faster than expected.
  • More difficult maintenance – maintenance, particularly DIY in nature, is more difficult with electric lift trucks than internal combustion models due to the complex electric systems involved.


Diesel Forklift Engines

Forklifts with diesel engines are ruggedly built lift trucks that are ideal for use in tough outdoor environments. Given the exhaust fumes and emissions produced through the combustion of diesel fuel, diesel forklifts are intended for outdoor use and provide a number of unique benefits including:

  • Fuel efficiency – diesel engines are more efficient than LPG engines. In fact, a 50L tank of diesel will last much longer than an 18kg tank of LPG fuel in like-for-like usage situations.
  • High power output – diesel models tend to have higher torque compared to both LPG and diesel models with comparable lift capacities. This extra torque allows diesel models to perform better on gradients and while towing.
  • Improved performance – diesel engines offer improved performance relative to an electric alternative and demonstrate better acceleration and lift speeds.
  • More adaptable – unlike electric forklifts, where additional attachments and/or accessories tend to drain battery capacity, diesel forklifts have ample power to run things such as rotating clamps, fork spreads, and more.
  • Lower maintenance costs – diesel forklifts are cheaper to maintain and service than LPG/gas engines. This is mostly because of their rugged construction and the fact that diesel engines operate at lower RPMs, which places less strain on components.
  • Higher residual value – since diesel forklifts are placed under less stress during operation, they tend to retain their resale value better than both LPG and electric forklifts.


As with electric forklifts, diesel engine models are not without their disadvantages such as:

  • Noisy operation – it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that diesel engines produce a lot more noise than LPG or electric alternatives. However, this noise isn’t as big of a problem in the outdoor environments these units are usually found in.
  • Thick and noxious exhaust fumes – obviously, these emissions make it exceedingly difficult to operate a diesel forklift indoors, as this would require a substantial investment in facility ventilation.
  • Larger chassis – diesel models tend to be larger in size and, as such, require more room to operate in.
  • Moderate purchase price and maintenance costs – while diesel forklifts retail for less than electric forklifts, they do cost slightly more than LPG models. The opposite is true for maintenance costs, where diesel models are cheaper than electrics but more expensive than an LPG model.


LPG Forklift Engines

LPG forklifts occupy a moderate middle ground in-between electric and diesel powered models. Here are some of the key advantages to operating an LPG forklift:

  • Flexibility – while LPG engines still produce exhaust fumes and emissions, the levels produced are moderate and easily addressed with facility ventilation. As such, LPG forklifts may be used both indoors or outdoors, depending on the application and need.
  • Low initial purchase price – retail prices on LPG forklifts tend to be the least expensive of the three options.
  • Moderate noise and emissions – when compared to diesel engines, LPG engines produce less noise and exhaust fumes. This is due, in part, to the higher efficiency of catalytic converters at higher temperatures.
  • Superior performance – LPG powered lift trucks generally perform better than either electric or diesel powered units. Performance metrics such as travel speeds, acceleration, and lift speeds are usually better with LPG engines because they have more optimized power to weight ratios and more responsive engines.


With an internal combustion engine, LPG forklifts run into some of the same issues as diesel models including:

  • More expensive upkeep – while cheaper in terms of retail pricing, LPG forklifts tend to cost more in   terms of maintenance and fuel than either diesel or electric models.
  • Lower residual value – of the three options, LPG forklifts tend to be the worst at retaining their value for future resale. This should be considered when accounting for the initial investment required to purchase a forklift.
  • Can run out of fuel – unlike electric and diesel forklifts, which have a fuel/charge indicator in their instrument panel, LPG forklifts tend to have one (if they do) on their fuel tank. As such, they are prone to running out of fuel, which can happen far away from the refueling station or tank storage area.


As you can see, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages for each forklift engine type. Ultimately, you’re model choice will depend on your application, needs and financial situation.  For help deciding what engine type best suits your needs, contact your local Stärke dealer today!


Justin Engel

Justin Engel is the marketing specialist at Stärke Material Handling Group. In addition to content development, he also handles graphic and website design, SEO, PR and strategic planning.

1 Comment

  • Penelope Smith

    I liked that you pointed out that you should think about the fuel for the forklift. It seems like you would want to get a forklift that is easy to find fuel for. That way, you can use the lift whenever you needed it.

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