As of 2022, warehouses of at least 50,000 square feet numbered more than 160,000 worldwide. People all over the world need these central hubs to coordinate the storage and delivery of everything people use every day, from small meals to large vehicles.

All those warehouses need a lot of forklifts. To make it easy to find the right forklift for a given warehouse, manufacturers use standard forklift classifications. These classes come from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

If you’ve never seen a list of forklifts, though, those classifications can confuse you fast. Knowing the difference between a Class I, Lift Code 1 forklift and a Class VI, Lift Code 1 forklift can help you choose your next piece of warehouse equipment.

Want to learn why those classifications matter and what they mean for you? Keep reading to learn more about different classes of forklift.

History of Forklift Classifications

While the forklift and similar vehicles date back to the 1910s, OSHA didn’t set out industrial truck and forklift classes until 1971. Over 50 years, manufacturers made new types of lift trucks with different mechanisms. As the market changed, it became necessary to create narrower classifications.

As of today, OSHA uses forklift classifications 1-7 to specify different types of lifts and how to use them. As no two classifications have quite the same uses, operators must get forklift certification for each class.

Some training programs offer certification on more than one type of lift truck at the same time. If you expect to need lots of types of vehicles on your worksite, investing in multi-class certifications can help.

Class I Forklifts

When most people think of modern forklifts, they think of forklifts that fall under Class I. These forklifts use electric motors and allow the user to sit or stand during operation. The heavy battery at the rear of the truck serves as a counterweight for the truck’s largest loads, so some operators call these “counterbalanced” forklifts.

Class I forklifts, also called electric motor rider trucks, have earned popularity through versatile use cases, low fuel costs, low maintenance costs, and diverse sizes within the class. They also don’t release any toxic or noxious gas, so you can use them in areas where air quality matters.

All these upsides come at a cost. Class I forklifts tend to command higher prices than other lift trucks. Remember that you may recoup that investment with less money spent on fuel or maintenance, though.

Class II Forklifts

The electric motor narrow aisle truck joins the fray in the second of these seven classes of forklift. Like Class I forklifts, they use electric motors and cut emissions, but must use cushioned tires. They go into narrow spaces and often do the jobs that a larger truck can’t.

Examples of Class II forklifts include order pickers, reach trucks, and turret trucks. Each of these takes a different approach to operating in narrow spaces. Some include a forklift attachment, such as a platform where a second person can stand.

Class III Forklifts

Class III forklifts help with jobs like unloading trailers or moving pallets around a warehouse. Called electric motor hand trucks, they serve similar purposes to an old-fashioned hand truck but use electric motors instead of sticking to human power.

Some Class III forklifts include a mast that can move the load onto a higher shelf. Most focus on moving pallets and large boxes from one end of a facility to the other rather than hefting them.

The Class III forklift takes a few different form factors. Some need the operator to walk behind, while others allow riding.

Class IV Forklifts

Class IV forklifts use an internal combustion engine, unlike the previous electric motor vehicles. These bear cushion tires that allow for tighter turns but need even ground due to poor traction on uneven surfaces. As a result, you’ll want a Class IV forklift to spend the vast majority of its time on a smooth concrete warehouse floor.

If you want to choose a forklift for a well-ventilated indoor area like a loading dock, consider a Class IV truck. As they run on gas rather than electricity, they can save time and space in your warehouse. Many warehouses have switched to electric motor lift trucks as part of sustainability initiatives.

Class V Forklifts

Class V forklifts also use internal combustion engines like the ones in Class IV trucks but use pneumatic tires like those seen on street-use cars and trucks. As you’d expect from tires suited to outdoor driving, a Class V lift truck will do most of its work outdoors.

These forklifts tend to have higher maximum loads than other lift trucks. You’ll see Class V trucks at construction sites, lumberyards, and warehouses with large outdoor areas.

As with Class V forklifts, ventilation matters. An internal combustion engine produces a lot of fumes.

Class VI Forklifts

If you work at an airport or an assembly line, you may have seen a Class VI forklift. Also called electric or internal combustion engine tow tractors, these pull loads along rather than lifting them. Many users call them “tuggers” for this reason.

Class VI doesn’t specify an engine type, so know what you’re bringing into your facility when you choose your tugger. If you’re working on sustainability initiatives, get an electric tugger. 

Class VII Forklifts

Called “rough terrain forklift trucks,” Class VII forklifts work on some uneven terrain. Their large tires might remind you of a farm tractor, and the agricultural sector often uses Class VII forklifts. Lumberyards and construction sites also use these lift trucks a lot.

Almost all Class VII forklifts use diesel engines to output as much power as possible for heavy loads. Masts and form factors vary for specific industrial use cases.

Lift Your Forklift Game

These forklift classifications serve as a quick indicator of what a given forklift does best. You’ll need a forklift that suits your facility and loads, so check the class and follow up with good questions.

At Superior Industrial Products, we offer not only the forklifts themselves but also training for your employees. If you don’t know which vehicle will suit your worksite best, we’ll help you get the tools you need at a price you can afford. If you need to buy or service a forklift in Tennessee, Texas, or Indiana, contact us with any questions.