Comparing Manual and Electric Pallet Trucks

May 16, 2019
Posted by: Justin Engel

If you compare manual and electric pallet trucks in terms of their basic function, that is, what each type of equipment was designed to do, there is very little difference between the two. In each instance, they allow an employee to lift and transport a heavy palletized load from Point A to Point B. However, a closer assessment quickly reveals some significant differences. If you’re currently trying to decide between a manual or an electric pallet truck, you’ll need a firm understanding of where these differences lie – and what the implications of these differences are – before making your choice.

The source of these differences is relatively simple in that an electric model features AC powered lift and drive functions while a manual model does not. The key here is how this difference impacts your potential application. As we take a look at the pros and cons behind each power source, there are a number of considerations that you should keep in mind. It’s essential that you take the relative importance of each factor for your application into consideration as comparing one option to the next isn’t as easy as it might initially seem. Some of the key factors to consider during your consideration process include:


Distance and Volume

One of the determining factors when choosing between a manual pallet jack and an electric pallet truck is the distance traveled between loads and the load frequency or volume. For instance, if you need to move a significant volume of pallets across a large distribution or warehousing facility, you’d be better off going with an electric model as this will spare your employees from difficult manual labor as well as increase your load efficiency (this is particularly true with ride-on models like our LiftMaxx PTR50). On the other hand, the maneuverability of a manual pump truck lets it excel in more confined applications where shorter load distances and lower volumes won’t have the same physical impact on your employees.

Unit Costs

The other factor to take into consideration is the substantial difference in unit cost, both in terms of purchase price and upkeep. Generally speaking, an electric pallet truck will cost around 8-10 times more than a manual model. There are also maintenance and upkeep costs that must be taken into account, as, unlike manual models, electrics require more frequent and intensive service and maintenance. Finally, electric pallet trucks will require additional training to ensure that your employees are able to safely and effectively operate these units. These extra upfront and on-going expenses create a substantial gulf between the total cost of ownership of an electric model vs its manual counterpart. However, this isn’t to say that the additional expenses associated with an electric pallet truck are not worth the trouble. In fact, an electric pallet truck will easily offset most of these costs through increased load volume and efficiency while reducing your labor costs to provide a positive ROI. Now that we’ve covered what factors you should consider while comparing the two, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each type.


Manual Pallet Trucks – Pros

Rugged and durable construction: manual pallet jacks are built for years of hard use. This creates a highly reliable piece of equipment capable of withstanding most industrial applications without breaking down or requiring repairs. At Stärke, we’re confident that our PalletBoss manual pallet jacks will hold up to years of rugged use with our machine welded C-channel construction and stand by this claim with a 7 year warranty on the pump assembly.

Simple design: with few moving parts and no electrical components, manual pallet trucks rarely require any maintenance or upkeep. Beyond greasing the unit – made easier with the 12 easy-to-access grease points on our PalletBoss pallet jacks – very little maintenance is required for manual pallet jacks. Design simplicity also makes it easy for a new employee to quickly learn how to operate these units. To lift and transport a load, simply slide the forks underneath the pallet, squeeze the handle and pump up the jack until the pallet is far enough above the ground to safety move.

Manual Pallet Trucks – Cons

Employee strain: as a manual piece of lift equipment, these units provide no assistance when lifting or moving heavy loads. As such, your employees must exert more energy and effort to lift and move a load in comparison to an electric model. The added strain this places on your employees may have a negative impact on the overall health and wellness of your labor pool if you’re not careful and ultimately off-set any savings a manual option provides.

Limited volume: as these units are 100% manually powered, there is a hard limit on the distance and volume they can move and the weight of your loads. In fact, it should be noted that the closer you get to the maximum capacity of a manual pallet truck, the slower your load times will be as the amount of effort needed to move a load increases.


Electric Pallet Trucks – Pros

Fully electric operation: with both a lift and drive motor, electric pallet trucks are able to efficiently transport loads over greater distances. This is important in higher volume operations, where ride-on options make the most sense. And, with the Curtis AC controllers on Stärke’s models, you can customize their operation to better suit your employees and application.

Reduced employee strain: in comparison to more physically demanding manual options – where your employees have to manually power the lift, push or pull functions – utilizing an electric model ensures that your employees are far less likely to experience physical strain or injury.

Electric Pallet Trucks – Cons

Cost: as mentioned above, the purchase price of an electric pallet trucks generally cost 8-10 times as much as a manual, as well as incur maintenance and upkeep costs. While this should be seen as an investment that will be recuperated over time, the additional costs still serve as a disadvantage. Fortunately, we also offer a more economical entry-level pallet truck in our LiftMaxx PT30-MINI.

Reliability: with a greater number of complex moving parts, a variety of components and an electrical system, electric pallet trucks are more susceptible to breakdowns and repairs than manual options.


Final Considerations

Ultimately, the choice between a hand powered or AC electric pallet truck depends on the distance to be travelled, the number and weight of the loads, and the layout of your facility. Using those factors, while keeping the information detailed above in mind, allows you to calculate which type of pallet truck is the most cost-effective for your needs and application. Obviously, the lower total cost of ownership for a manual pallet jack will be tempting if you’re operating with a tight budget. At the same time, your total cost per pallet moved will likely be lower with an electric model once you factor in the reduced labor costs and improved productivity in a higher volume operations.


To determine your total cost per pallet moved for each type of equipment, use the following formula:

Step 1: Calculate the cost of the equipment per pallet:

Annual equipment cost / the number of pallets moved on an annual basis = equipment cost per pallet

**be sure that you include maintenance and upkeep costs in addition to the purchase price or lease payments**

Step 2: Calculate your labour costs per pallet moved:

Annual labour cost / the number of pallets moved on an annual basis = labour cost per pallet

Step 3: Calculate the total cost per pallet moved

Equipment cost per pallet + labour cost per pallet = total cost per pallet moved


Calculating your cost per pallet moved will help you to determine which piece(s) of equipment will provide the most value to your current operations based on the volume of pallets moved per year. Now, if you plan on expanding or changing your facility set up sometime within the next year, it is a good idea to plan your equipment purchases using conservative projections to allow for a greater margin of error and flexibility. For assistance evaluating your needs and application or to get a quote on a manual or electric new pallet truck, contact us today and we’ll put you in touch with an authorized Stärke dealer in your area. 


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.


Leave a Reply