Forklift Capacity: What Your Business Needs To Know

January 24, 2023 - Last modified: February 3, 2023 @ 4:52 pm

Forklifts come in every shape and size. Choosing the right equipment for your warehouse or loading dock requires that you know the demands you will place on your trucks. How heavy are the loads you need to move? How high are your racks? What forklift capacity will you need? Once you've answered these questions, you'll have a solid idea of which forklift will suit your business needs.

What Is Forklift Capacity and How Is It Determined?

Forklift lift capacity is a rating that tells you how much weight a specific vehicle can lift, as well as how high the forklift load can be lifted under certain conditions. Each forklift is assigned a lift capacity rating, from 3,000 pounds and up. Some of the heaviest-duty forklifts can hoist up to 70,000 pounds.

The forklift weight capacity of any given vehicle isn't an absolute number. The highest weight capacity will be for the lowest lift height and does not consider any attachments you may add to the forklift. When you look at the data plate for the vehicle, you will often see different weight capacities listed for various heights or mast stages. Height is one of several considerations in determining actual lift capacity.

Load Center and Balancing

When the forklift load is properly balanced, you will be able to safely lift more than if the load is off kilter in some way, such as too far forward on the forks or leaning to one side. The center of gravity of your load should be over the load center for the most stable movement.

On most forklifts, the load center is 24 inches out from the mast and 24 inches up from top surface of the forks, centered between them. This is because the standard pallet is 48 inches square. The load center is printed on the data plate for the lift truck, along with the forklift capacity for the vehicle.

Lifting a smaller than standard pallet is generally not a problem, because you can still place the center of gravity over the load center, or a little closer to the body and weight of the truck. A small load will remain stable as long as it's centered on the forks.

Trying to lift a larger-than-standard load moves the center of gravity away from the forklift, creating an unstable and potentially dangerous situation. When the weight of the load is too far out from the vehicle, it can cause a tip-over or a loss of control over the load.

Always confirm that your load is balanced and that your center of gravity is over the load center before lifting. Large, awkward loads reduce both weight and height capacities.

Height and Distance

Other factors affecting forklift capacity are how high you need to lift the load and how far out from the body of the forklift you have to place it. If you are raising the load straight up, you only need to be concerned with height, but many forklifts also reach out to place or retrieve a load.

The higher you lift, the lower the forklift weight capacity. Similarly, the further from the base of the truck that you move the load, the more your forklift lift capacity is reduced. The weight of the forklift itself counterbalances the weight of the load, so materials that stay low and close to the vehicle can be heavier than loads that are a greater distance from the body of the truck.

Basically, it takes less lift capacity to raise a 3,000 pound load directly upwards 6 inches off the floor than it does to raise the same load 18 feet and set it two pallets deep on the racks.

What Capacity Questions Do You Need To Ask Before You Purchase a Forklift?

First, determine as closely as possible how you will be using your forklift. You'll need to have answers to these forklift capacity questions before you start shopping for a lift truck:

  • What is the weight and size of a typical forklift load in your facility?
  • Do you ever need to lift larger loads?
  • How high will you need to raise materials?
  • How deep is your racking?
  • Will you add any attachments such as an order picker or a side shifter?

While you're considering forklift weight capacity, keep the future growth of your business in mind. A typical forklift will be in operation for 10,000 to 12,000 hours. If you operate your forklift a full 40 hours every week, you'll put about 2,000 hours on it each year.

Under most working conditions, a lift truck will still be operational for at least five years, and a good deal longer if it is maintained properly and used less than full-time. Will you need more forklift lift capacity in three years than you do now?

What Do You Need To Consider Besides Forklift Capacity?

Once you've determined how much weight you'll need to lift and just how high, there are several other important features to ponder for your new lift truck.


Forklift attachments add some weight and reduce capacity, but they can also be a game changer in efficiency. If you are going to need attachments, it's best to purchase them at the same time as a new forklift or to purchase a used vehicle that already has the features you need.

Aisle Width and Wheel Type

Measure your aisles. Many modern warehouses have narrow aisles for maximizing floor space. Ensure that your new truck can maneuver in your aisles. Select appropriate wheels for the surface where you'll operate the truck.

Fuel Type

Forklifts run on electricity or combustible fuels. Combustion-engine-powered trucks are less expensive to purchase but generally cost more to maintain. Electric vehicles don't produce fumes and are quieter.

Where Do You Find the Forklift Capacity and Other Features You Want in a Lift Truck?

You've done your research and you know what you're looking for in your new forklift. You've decided on fuel type and attachments and you know the forklift capacity you'll require. Compare available equipment and pricing from dealers in your area. We'll help you find the forklift you need.

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