Electric vs Propane: Which Forklift Is The Best Fit For Your Business?

Mar 10, 2019

When you’re considering new forklifts there are a lot of options to consider. One of the most basic is how a forklift is powered. Should you buy gas, diesel, propane or electric?

We’ll skip the evaluation of gas and diesel options and assume that you’ve already narrowed your choices to the cleaner, greener, quieter alternatives of propane or electric.  So which one is best? 

In some cases you don’t have a choice. Some industries like food and pharma require electric vehicles. Also, if your facility doesn’t have adequate ventilation for combustion options (e.g. underground or cold storage) you’ll have to go with electric.

Likewise, if most of your forklift work is outdoors, you’ll probably be forced to go with propane. Most electric options are not designed for heavy, routine outdoor operation.  In addition, applications where forklifts must operate at longer distances from their base facility may be more suited to propane, since an electric can’t get too far afield from its charger. 

So assuming that you’re in an industry and facility that doesn’t require electric, and most of your work is indoors, how do you decide?  Let’s break down some of the factors you should consider:

  • Cost: electric forklifts cost more up front, but they cost less to operate over the long term. In general, it takes about two years to make up the initial cost difference between electric and propane, and over the longer term electric operational costs are quite a bit lower.
  • Noise: propane forklifts are much louder than electric. If noise in your warehouse is a concern, then electric is the way to go.
  • Emissions: while propane is a cleaner burning fuel than gas or diesel, it does still create emissions that are not safe for applications like food and medicine. Electric forklifts have zero emissions, making them the clear winner in this category.
  • Fuel Cost and Safety: propane costs are subject to greater fluctuations than electricity since it’s a non-renewable. In addition, propane is a highly flammable, explosive substance that must be handled and stored carefully. Although batteries also produce potentially explosive hydrogen during charging cycles, propane is probably the more dangerous of the two options.
  • Operational Environment: if you’re going to be operating your forklift outside in dirt, gravel, rain and snow, propane is definitely the way to go. On the other hand, if most of your forklift traffic is between the loading dock and warehouse aisles, either option will work.
  • Refueling: this is where propane shines in certain circumstances, especially for multi-shift operations. Swapping out batteries that weigh thousands of pounds requires special training and equipment. In contrast, changing a propane tank is a simple task that takes a couple of minutes. However, if you’re not running a multi-shift operation, battery swaps are not a concern (you just charge them overnight).Furthermore, new charger technologies have made fast charging and opportunity charging a viable option.
  • Maintenance: electric forklifts have fewer moving parts and require less maintenance than propane.Electrics are cheaper and more reliable from a maintenance perspective.

Find Out More

If you’d like assistance in evaluating your forklift options, speak with an expert at Raymond West. Call us today at 562-944-8067.