Forklift Options: Should You Choose Propane or Electric?


If you’re shopping for your first forklift or adding forklifts to your fleet, there are several factors to consider when selecting the right model for your business. Will it be used indoors or outdoors, for example, and what’s your typical load weight?

One of the most important decisions you’ll face is which fuel source to choose. For many businesses, the choice comes down to electric or propane.

In most scenarios, propane forklifts prove to be the better option, offering more power and versatility at a lower cost, while also increasing productivity. Here’s how:

A Propane Forklift Saves You Money

Forklift prices are based on size and lift capacity. Propane models tend to be less expensive to purchase and set up compared to electric.

In addition to the cost of the machine, with an electric model, you need to factor in the cost of replacing a battery and possibly buying additional batteries to reduce downtime while recharging. Batteries range in price from $500 up to $15,000 for heavy-duty forklift models. Add the cost of additional charges, which can range anywhere from $500 to $3,000 each, and you are looking at expensive capital investment.

Keep in mind that the charging station will need to be hard-wired into the building by a certified electrician, bringing the total cost to about $1,000 per unit, including installation.

In contrast, when you purchase a propane powered forklift, a propane tank may be included with your lift. Businesses starting out using propane, can also purchase a few additional propane cylinders to conveniently have enough tanks on site and then fill them locally.

Pricing on forklift cylinders range from $250 for a steel cylinder to $400 for an aluminum cylinder.

As your business uses more propane and increases the amount of propane forklifts on site, there are refill service programs available from your local propane supplier.

Propane suppliers, under an onsite propane forklift exchange fuel agreement will provide cylinders and cages under a simple rental program. Cylinders can be conveniently delivered to your site at a schedule that meets your needs. Your propane supplier will simply exchange the empty cylinder tanks for full ones and fully maintain all the cylinders in safe working order.

Cylinders and storage cages are rented for only a few dollars per month. So, it’s easy to enjoy the power of propane and the convenience of cylinder exchange refill service.

While the cost of electricity to charge batteries will fluctuate, your propane rates can be locked in or left at a variable price depending on your budgetary requirements and business needs.

Propane Forklifts Increase Productivity

At the worksite, propane forklifts provide a consistent and reliable level of power. One tank typically lasts an entire eight-hour shift. Unlike batteries, there’s no need to worry about whether you’ve charged it or whether it might die partway through a job.

When a propane cylinder is empty, there’s less downtime involved in refuelling. You simply remove a couple of latches, replace the empty cylinder with a full one and secure it in place, a process that takes less than five minutes.

With an electric model, the battery begins to lose power instantly, reducing effectiveness right away. They also lose significant amounts of power when used outside, especially in cold weather. Replacing a battery mid-shift can eat into valuable work time.

The actual charging of a battery can take about 6 to 8 hours. That means lengthy downtime or the purchase of multiple batteries to keep the forklift operating the whole day.

Also adding to downtime is the recharge process itself, as water must be added to the battery after every charge to prevent its materials from becoming brittle. This is time-consuming and requires training for anyone performing this task.

Propane Forklifts Boost Performance 

Looking for power? Choose a propane model, which has better power-to-weight ratio, more driveline torque, and a more responsive engine compared to an electric model. Propane forklifts can also carry heavier loads, and take heavier loads higher.

A standard electric forklift can only carry 2,000 to 6,000 pounds on average. To lift heavier loads, you’ll need to purchase a specialized model. These tend to be bulkier in size and have larger, more expensive batteries and larger charging stations.

Propane Forklifts are Versatile 

Another limitation of electric forklifts is their low-grade ability and lack of versatility in the surfaces they can drive on. They don’t drive well on gravel, sand, rain or snow. Instead, they require a flat, firm surface, which significantly limits where they can be used. That’s why electric-powered models are recommended for indoor use only.

Propane forklifts give you more warehouse environments to work in, including both indoor and outdoor applications. They operate well in manufacturing facilities, warehouses, nurseries and any other application that requires lifting power in the yard. They are safe to operate indoors if the machines are well-maintained and used in a ventilated environment.

When a business requires forklifts to operate both inside and outside, propane is the only suitable choice.

Enjoy The Convenience of Propane Cylinders

An electric battery charging station must be located indoors and takes about 5 x 5 feet of valuable indoor workspace.

Propane cylinders, however, are stored outdoors in small cages at least three metres from a door, freeing up valuable indoor square footage.

The Greener Choice

Propane is also a wise choice because it’s a clean-burning, green fuel. While electric vehicles are often touted as a green alternative, manufacturing batteries for electric vehicles creates pollution.

Propane is non-toxic, easier on the environment, with fewer greenhouse gas emissions than other fuels.

Why Propane is a Smart Option

If your business needs the power to lift heavy loads or needs a machine that will operate effectively outdoors, propane forklifts are the right choice. They offer cost savings, performance, versatility, convenience and run on an eco-friendly fuel that won’t add to your carbon footprint. 

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