Forklift Classes Explained

There are seven basic types of forklift classes ranging from class I to class VII. We’ll walk you through each class and explain the differences between each.

It can be confusing trying to keep all the classes of forklifts straight. This is true whether you've been working in material handling your entire life, working on construction sites, or a novice forklift operator who has only used a few types of forklifts. If you are in the market for a forklift, this guide will help you determine which features are most important for your business or application. Below, we’ll walk you through an explanation of the high-level features of the seven classes of lift trucks.


There are seven different forklift classes ranging from category 1 to category 7. The classifications are based on the fuel type, application and features of the forklifts. Click the links below to learn more about a specific class:

Class I. Electric Motor Rider Trucks

A class I forklift has an electric motor and operators may either stand or sit when operating the truck. These forklifts have a heavy battery used to power the truck that also acts as a counterweight, which is why you will often find them referred to as counterbalanced. These trucks are extremely versatile and can have either cushion or pneumatic tires. The most common designs have three wheels, but they also come in 4-wheel variations. Models using pneumatic tires are designed for outdoor applications while cushion-tired trucks are best suited for flat, indoor surfaces. Additional benefits of class 1 forklifts include:

  • Quieter than internal combustion (IC) forklifts
  • Reduced fuel costs
  • Typically have low maintenance costs
  • Come in a wide variety of sizes for specific applications
  • Can be used in places with strict air quality standards

Class I forklifts are extremely popular for the reasons listed above, but they do typically come with a higher initial cost.

Some examples of class I lift trucks:

Class II. Electric Motor Narrow Aisle Trucks

Class II forklifts use solid, cushioned tires and are designed to work in smaller spaces. Many of these forklifts are designed to work with attachments that allow them to do highly specific jobs. Examples of class 2 forklifts include order pickers, reach trucks, side loaders and stand up riders. These types of forklifts are designed for efficiency of space and speed of operation.

Some examples of class II lifts:

Class III. Electric Motor Hand or Hand/Rider Trucks

These lifts are very commonly used for transporting materials that require low lifts. These trucks can easily move products around the floor of the warehouse without the need to place the product on a high shelf or rack. Hand trucks are often operated by a handle at the rear of the truck and a hand control is used to steer as the operator walks, or rides, it to its destination. There are also motorized pallet jacks in this category that have seats.

Some examples of class 3 forklifts:

Class IV. Internal Combustion Engine Trucks. Cushion Tires

The name of this forklift category sums up what you get with them. These are internal combustion forklifts that have cushion tires and run on diesel, gasoline, LP gas or compressed natural gas[LW1]. Some forklifts in this category are counterbalanced and can be used in both indoor and outdoor applications, assuming there are dry smooth floors. Class 4 forklifts stay low to the ground, making them good for low clearance applications and are often used to move items from loading docks to storage areas.

Some examples of class IV lifts:

Class V. Internal Combustion Engine Trucks. Pneumatic Tires

One of the most flexible classes of forklifts, class V trucks can be used inside or outside due to their pneumatic tires and have a wide range of capacities, making them a popular choice for warehouses of all shapes and sizes. For more rugged outdoor applications, these lift trucks can be outfitted with special solid pneumatic tires to reduce the risk of being punctured while on the job. Their internal combustion engines can be powered by compressed natural gas, diesel, gas and LP gas.

Some examples of class 5 forklifts:

Class VI. Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Tractors

Commonly seen at airports pulling luggage carts, a class VI forklift is used more for pulling than lifting. Class 6 forklifts are often referred to as “tuggers” and can be either internal combustion or electric.

Jungheinrich has released their first
class VI tugger, the EZS 7280NA

Class VII. Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks

These forklifts are heavy duty and usually have large tractor-like tires on them. These can be found at sites that require a lot of power like construction sites, auto recyclers, and lumber yards. Class 7 forklifts are almost exclusively diesel and come in both two and four-wheel drive options. These lift trucks can come equipped with different types of masts as well, sometimes including a telescoping mast to provide more reach. The main distinction with these forklifts are the large, flotation like pneumatic tires made specifically for outdoor terrain.

Hopefully this has helped you narrow down which class of forklift is suitable for your business. If you’re in the market to buy or lease a forklift, or have questions about which class of forklift is right for your application, contact your local forklift dealer today.

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