How to Choose the Right Forklift Capacity

November 27, 2020

Forklift operator lifting a load within forklift weight capacity

Understanding forklift capacity is key to operating heavy machinery safely. Handling loads that exceed the load capacity can cause dangerous accidents like tipping.

In addition, buying equipment that has the wrong forklift capacity for your needs will limit what you can accomplish with the machine. Before you purchase a forklift, it’s important to know exactly what you’re looking for.

Forklift Inventory has you covered. We’ve created a guide detailing everything you need to know about forklift capacity. Access any of our free resources to find clear information on everything forklift-related.

Learn more about forklift load center and capacity today. Let’s get started.

What is Forklift Capacity?

Forklift capacity, also known as load or rated capacity, is an indicator of how much weight a particular forklift can lift.

Different forklift types have different capacities. In fact, this number can range anywhere from 3,000 pounds to over 50,000 pounds. For instance, a standard narrow aisle reach truck typically handles between 2,500 and 5,500 pounds, while certain industrial forklifts start at 30,000 pounds.

Keep in mind that a forklift’s rated capacity refers to the amount it can carry when the load is centered. If the load is not centered, the forklift cannot operate at maximum capacity.

What is Forklift Load Center?

The forklift load center is the horizontal distance between the vertical face of the forks and the load’s center of gravity. For the standard 48-inch by 48-inch pallet, the load center is 24-inches from the face of the forks.

Of course, oddly-shaped loads will alter this number. Load capacity decreases with longer objects and increases with shorter objects. Check the forklift capacity chart on the equipment to ensure that it can handle the load’s weight.

The forklift capacity chart, found on the forklift data plate, contains essential operational information. On the forklift capacity chart, you’ll see how capacity changes with load center. The forklift data plate also houses the operating weight, rated maximum capacity, model number, serial number, and any present attachments.

What Forklift Weight Capacity Do I Need?

It’s important to have an idea of the forklift weight capacity your operation needs before investing in equipment. Of course, this isn’t the only specification to consider. Before buying a forklift, ask yourself these 4 questions:

1. What is my typical load weight?

Use your typical load weight to determine the forklift weight capacity you need. Also, consider your maximum load weight. It won’t do you any good to invest in expensive equipment if you can’t use it to accomplish difficult tasks.

2. What does my typical load look like?

As previously mentioned, load weight varies depending on load shape and size. Consider your typical load. What is it’s load center?

3. Will my forklift be used indoors or outdoors?

This will help you decide what forklift tires and fuel type you need. It’ll also play a role in the type of forklift you choose.

4. How high do I need to lift my loads?

Lift height is another important factor when purchasing equipment. How high are the areas you need to access?

Forklift Capacity Calculator

Forklift capacity depends on a number of factors including load size, position, and weight distribution. Just because a forklift is rated to carry a certain amount of weight doesn’t mean it always can.

The number found on the data plate refers to capacity is at optimal carrying conditions. The standard forklift load center is 24-inches. This is based on a traditional pallet load. Of course, this load center will change as the shape and size of the load changes.

To find the load capacity of a non-standard load, you’ll need to utilize the forklift capacity calculator. Divide the load center as stated on the data plate by the actual load center. Then, multiply this result by the rated load capacity.

The forklift capacity calculator computes something called the “load moment”. The load moment is calculated by multiplying the weight of the load by the distance of the load center. In other words:

Load Moment = Weight x Distance

Let’s say a forklift is rated to carry 4,000 pounds at a 24-inch load center as listed on its forklift capacity chart. Using this calculator, it’s load moment is 96,000 inch-pounds (4,000 pounds times 24 inches). Increasing the number of inch-pounds would risk the safety of the operator and the reliability of the equipment.

However, you can enter this number into the forklift capacity calculator to alter the distance variable and determine a safe operating weight. In this example, if we change the load center to 36-inches, the maximum weight the forklift could handle would be 2,666 pounds (96,000 divided by 36).

It is important to understand how load capacity can change. Simply following the number on the data plate is not enough. Also, if you plan on using attachments make sure you know exactly how they’ll affect capacity.

Counterbalance forklift parked among warehouse aisles

Purchasing Equipment with the Right Load Capacity

Not sure where to look for a high-quality forklift? Turn to Forklift Inventory. Simply select the load capacity and lift height you need from this form and we’ll match you with pricing on forklifts near you.

We partner with pre-screened dealers to collect the largest inventory of equipment nationwide. Compare your options to find the best deal on an industry-leading forklift in your area.

Find Equipment with the Lift Height & Load Capacity You Need.

Compare Forklift Prices

Forklift Inventory has the largest online selection of forklifts, aerial lifts and construction forklifts. Compare new and used forklifts to get the lowest prices available.


Countries Served

Contact Us


*Savings claims are based on used forklift prices when compared to new inventory prices. Savings is not guaranteed and is subject to change.