Forklift vs Reach Truck

Understanding the difference between a forklift and a reach truck is incredibly important, whether you are planning on getting some heavy lifting done or getting into your operator training. 

Not many people know this, but forklifts are a bit of a catch-all term for a variety of lift and load vehicles that are made for specific jobs. Every type of forklift has a specific method of operation.

Two of the main types of forklifts include: Counterbalance Forklift Trucks and Reach Trucks

Our goal here is to help you understand these two lift trucks better so that you can pick the right one for the job on hand. 

Continue reading to learn more about these two pieces of machinery.

What Is A Forklift Truck?

When we talk about forklift trucks in this article, we are going to be referring to a counterbalance forklift, as it is what most people picture when they begin to think of a forklift truck. Counterbalance forklifts have large forks protruding from the front, a small cab for the operator to sit in, and small tires. 

The fundamental job of a counterbalance forklift is to lift and move large and heavy items, such as pallets.

Reach Truck vs Forklift

We refer to them as counterbalance forklifts because they use counterbalance weights that stop them from tipping forwards when a heavy load is sitting on the forks. In terms of the overall design, forklifts are fairly compact. They are great for small warehouse spaces and can get close to large loads that they need to be able to lift.

Counterbalance forklifts, which can only move large items up or down, should not be confused with telehandlers either, which can move items forwards and backward as well.

Lastly, it is worth noting that forklifts are great for both indoor and outdoor use. 

What Is A Reach Truck?

Reach trucks, otherwise known as reach forklifts, are a completely different type of truck altogether.

A reach truck has an extended reach, hence the name, when compared to a counterbalance forklift.

This means that a reach truck is used to reach out deeper into racks to load large items that might be out of a counterbalance forklift’s immediate reach.

A reach truck uses stabilizing legs that act as a counterbalancing weight, rather than an internal weight. 

reach truck

Thanks to the legs, they don’t need a counterbalance weight inside at all, which is what provides them with a bit more material handling flexibility.

If your material handling operation requires you to lift and load over 10m into the air, a reach truck might be best for the job. Any operations that require objects to be lifted higher typically require reach trucks. Reach trucks are best for material handling on even surfaces or indoor warehouses where there are not any potentially damaging uneven surfaces that could hurt the low undercarriages.

It is important to note that there are different types of reach trucks as well:

Pantograph Reach Trucks

Pantograph reach trucks come with a unique scissor design that extends the lifting mechanism forward to reach deep into warehouse racking. Racking configurations should be arranged without a bar on the bottom level and bottom pallets should be loaded directly onto the floor when a pantograph reach truck is used, as these particular reach trucks are made to drive into the racking to load pallets.

Moving Mast Reach Trucks

Hydraulic systems are the main focal point for moving mast reach trucks. This hydraulic system is based on rails and allows the mast to move forward. The main disadvantage of a moving mast reach truck is that it cannot handle double deep racking unless you have an attachment, such as a fork extension.

Moving mast reach trucks have much better ground clearance thanks to their wheels, which are much larger in diameter, making them great for operating in different environments. 

What Are the Seven Classes of Forklifts?

When it comes to forklifts, it is worth knowing that there are seven different classifications. Each of the forklift classifications is given to the vehicle depending on the amount that they are able to handle.

Here are the seven different forklift or lift truck classifications:

  • Class I: Electric rider lift trucks
  • Class II: Electric powered narrow aisle trucks
  • Class III: Electric powered hand truck
  • Class IV: Internal combustion engine, cushion-tired
  • Class V: Internal combustion with pneumatic tires
  • Class VI: Electric motor/internal combustion engine tractors
  • Class VII: Rough terrain trucks

Bottom Line

As you can see, each of these large industrial trucks has their own unique advantages and disadvantages.

If your operations are indoors and require intricate movement, reach trucks are the best choice. When handling robust inventory, we recommend getting a reach truck that has an LCD camera installed, as it can provide your operator with another set of eyes.

For tackling traditional material handling solutions and scenarios, forklifts can get the job done.

Whatever conclusion you come to for your operation, know that both of these vehicles can make wonderful additions to your fleet of industrial vehicles!

Tim Postlethwaite

Tim Postlethwaite // Staff Writer