Diesel vs. Propane Forklifts: Which Is Best For Your Company?
When shopping for a forklift, choosing a power source is almost as important as choosing the brand and the loading capacity. How your forklift is fueled will determine a host of ways it can be used and offer different needs and opportunities for your business. So if you're looking at diesel and propane, what are the distinctions?
What Is Your Fuel Infrastructure?
The first place to start is the fuel infrastructure of your facility. Diesel-powered forklifts generally have a strong need for fuel and will have to be quickly and efficiently refueled in place. Ideally you'll have facilities available for the storage, pumping, and delivery of diesel fuel. These facilities should respect all building and safety codes. This may become expensive in of itself if you don't already have such infrastructure. Another consideration is that diesel prices tend to reflect those of oil markets, which may drive up the cost of operating your forklift over time.
Propane, on the other hand, has relatively simple fuel storage, so propane forklifts simply need to have fuel bottles swapped out. If you have facilities for the safe storage of flammable gas on-site, you'll likely already be in compliance with safety codes. You'll be able to simply keep propane bottles on hand. That said, propane prices tend to be higher than diesel, so you may have to factor that into budgets.
Indoor Use Or Outdoor?
Much also depends on whether you'll be using this forklift indoors or outdoors, or a mixture of the two. There are generally two major concerns here: the terrain you'll be taking your forklift over, and the air quality of your workspace.
Diesel fuel, for example, generally can't be used for indoor forklifts. Burning diesel in an enclosed space, even "clean" forms of diesel, can quickly fill the area with particulate matter and gases that will need to be vented. Generally, diesel forklifts should only be used outdoors and indoors for short times in well-ventilated or open-air structures. Propane, however, burns much cleaner and can easily be used either indoors or out.
That said, diesel provides more torque and more power overall for performing heavy-duty jobs. If you need to take a forklift over rougher terrain, lift heavier weights, or need a forklift that can travel relatively far, diesel will likely be a better power option. Diesel also has the advantage, when outdoors, of operating more efficiently in extreme cold. Propane forklifts may struggle depending on conditions.
A final concern is maintenance. Diesel forklifts tend to require more care than propane forklifts, for a number of reasons. One of the most common problems is that diesel fuel will, over time, leave deposits on key operating parts of your forklift. This can shut it down if regular maintenance schedules aren't followed. Propane forklifts have fewer parts and fewer deposits, making maintenance a simpler matter.
Before choosing any type of forklift, you should look at the full view. However, fuel source will often be a crucial factor in determining your needs. For a broader look at forklifts and which are best for your company, see our forklift buyer's guides.