Forklift vs Telehandler: Choosing the Ideal Material Handling Equipment for Your Project
Despite both being material handlers, the way they handle materials is completely different. Because of their differences, forklifts and telehandlers aren't interchangeable for all tasks.
Both forklifts and telehandlers are lifting machines that transport loads from point A to point B, but their structures are quite different. Understanding the machines, their lift capacity, reach, and operations will help you choose the best-performing machine every time.
Overview of Telehandlers
Telehandlers are four-wheel drive machines with a sealed cabin, two outriggers, and a boom attached to their back end, which reaches over the front of the machine.
Telehandler Types and Operating Capacity
There are three main types of telehandlers: light-medium duty, heavy-duty, and high-capacity. Light-medium duty telehandlers can lift between 5,000 and 9,000 lbs. Heavy-duty telehandlers can lift anywhere from 10,000- 12,000 lbs, while high-capacity models can lift 14,000- 24,000 lbs. It's important to note that there are no electric telehandlers, as all models are diesel-fueled.
Amongst all telehandler models, the lift capacity at maximum reach ranges from 1,555 to 15,500 lbs. For more information on telehandler specs, check out our in-depth telehandler spec guide.
Telehandler capabilities were first recognized in agriculture. These machines were mainly used for moving hay bales around farms. Due to their versatility, telehandlers have gained popularity in general construction and manufacturing spaces.
They help unload materials off of trailers and transport them around job sites, lift trusses on housing projects, plow snow, and clear debris. Depending on emissions requirements, smaller telehandler models can be used indoors to transport materials around warehouses. However, telehandlers are better suited for outdoor use due to their size and four-wheel drive capabilities.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The main advantage a telehandler brings to the table is their forward reach. A telehandler's boom allows it to lift loads forwards and backward, in addition to lifting up and down. The ability to move in multiple directions increases the number of tasks the telehandler can handle.
They can approach loads and unloading stations from multiple angles, making telehandlers the more versatile option for material handling. The forward reach of telehandlers ranges from 7'1''- 42''.
The downside of telehandlers is that's important to know the range of motion in which a telehandler can lift materials. Not all machines are the same and how much you can lift will depend on how high or how far out you are lifting. Some machines are equipped with outriggers to support more weight at further distances.
Another unique capability of telehandlers is frame tilting. All telehandler frames on a can tilt 10-15 degrees from the horizontal both left and right. This allows the operator to approach loads from different angles and improves visibility.
Because of their versatility, you get a lot of "bang for your buck" with a telehandler rental or purchase. The only downside to telehandlers is they can be too large for job sites with limited space and don't have many indoor operation options.
Overview of Forklifts
Forklifts are another lifting and material handling alternative to telehandlers. They have square frames, open cabins, and a fork attached to the front for lifting pallets and other uniform loads.
Forklift Types and Operating Capacity
Unlike telehandlers, forklifts come in electric and rough terrain models. The former is better for warehouse work, while the latter is best suited to outdoor job sites. In addition to electric and rough terrain, heavy-duty models are the third main type of forklift. Forklifts also come with either cushion tires, best designed for indoor use, or pneumatic tires, best for outdoor, rough terrains.
These machines are used to lift heavy loads up to higher elevations. Their forks, which extend as far as 8' in length, are better equipped to carry large quantities of material.
Counterbalance, side loader, and warehouse forklifts are other specific forklift models that are offered in the electric, rough terrain, and heavy-duty forklift categories. The operating capacities on electric and rough terrain forklifts typically range from 4,000 to 6,000 lbs. Whereas heavy-duty forklifts can lift anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 lbs!
It's common to see forklifts and telehandlers performing similar tasks on similar job sites. Forklifts are used for material handling in warehouses and manufacturing spaces. When working inside, forklifts unload and transport packaged goods onto shelves. While outside, forklifts can be found carrying pallets and bricks or clearing debris on-site.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The main advantages of forklifts are their lift capabilities and options for indoor operation. All forklifts, particularly heavy-spec models, have powerful lifting capabilities. They can safely lift heavy loads up to high elevations, without the risk of tip-over when operated properly. Forklifts don't have the reach or height capacities that telehandlers do but this also gives them the ability to lift heavier objects and materials.
Between the two machines, forklifts are the better option for indoor operation. Electric forklifts have net-zero emissions and tires designed to operate on finished surfaces. They're also more compact, so they can fit through personnel doors, narrow aisles, and gateways.
The main downside to using a forklift is that they can only lift loads up and down. Forklifts can't extend outwards or sideways, so they can't pick up loads located beside them. The operator needs to drive the forklift behind the load in order to pick it up, which is cumbersome and limits their lifting capabilities.
Comparing Forklifts and Telehandlers
Lifting Capacity and Height
The average forklift has comparable lift capacities to smaller telehandlers. They both can lift anywhere from 4,000 to 9,000 lbs. However, heavy spec-forklifts can lift more than high-capacity telehandlers can. The largest telehandlers can lift up to 24,000 lbs, while the largest forklifts can lift up to 60,000 lbs. When choosing between forklifts and telehandlers, look at the load's weight and the direction you're lifting in.
In terms of reach, forklift models can access elevations ranging from 6' to 15', while some high-elevation models can reach as high as 25'. Considering how much weight a forklift can carry, these elevations are respectable. Though telehandlers do have forklifts beat in the reach category. On telehandlers, vertical reach ranges from 13'3''- 56'.
Forklifts have no forward-reach capabilities. Light and mid-sized telehandlers can reach anywhere from 19'-42'. Heavy-duty models can reach up to 54' and high-capacity models can reach between 33' and 56'. It's important to note that forward reach typically decreases as lift capacity increases.
As stated, telehandlers have forward and vertical reach. Their booms can be raised up to a 70-degree angle and extend as far as 56' outwards. This allows them to pick up and transport loads to different areas without moving from a stationary spot. In comparison, forklift operators need to drive towards any load that isn't directly in front of them, as they only have vertical reach.
Maneuverability and Stability
Telehandlers are easily maneuverable on-site. Since telehandlers have four-wheel steering, they have small turning radii for their size and operate very well on rough terrain. This means they require less space to turn around so they can still transport loads on restricted job sites. The physical size of a telehandler's frame is pretty large. Larger models may have trouble fitting through gateways and making their way around objects.
Forklifts are also highly maneuverable machines that are easily driven around job sites. Most models can fit through narrow aisles and personnel doors. However, heavy-spec forklifts are wider, so any on-site machine width restrictions should be noted prior to the start of construction. For electric forklifts, access to charging stations is another maneuverability consideration.
Both telehandlers and forklifts are stable machines. Some telehandler models have outriggers, which are arms that stick out from the sides of a machine and onto the ground. They provide additional stability when the boom extends outwards. Whereas forklifts are more compact in stature. Unless they're carrying more weight than they're supposed to, there's a limited risk of tip-over.
Terrain and Ground Conditions
In general, telehandlers have greater capabilities outdoors than forklifts do. All telehandlers are rough terrain models that are well-equipped for operation on dirt, mud, and sand. They can operate on sloped, non-level ground, which the majority of forklifts can't safely operate on. Instead, rough terrain forklifts are better suited to level dirt and asphalt. It's best to choose a telehandler when working on rougher, non-level ground.
In contrast, forklifts have more models designed for indoor operation. Some electric forklifts come with cushion and rubber tires, which gain traction on flooring and concrete without marking these surfaces. There are no electric telehandlers available, making indoor operation fairly difficult.
Both forklifts and telehandlers have a variety of attachments that they're compatible with. Telehandler attachments enable the boom to pick up different types of material like gravel, lumber, pallets, and packaged goods.
These attachments include forks, grapple and material buckets, grapples, truss booms, and tire handlers, among others. The same principle applies to forklift attachments. These attachments include rotators, booms, pallet pullers, folding forks, and buckets, among others.
Maintenance for heavy equipment is mainly determined by the number of hours the machine has been in operation for. Forklifts and telehandlers will require quarterly and annual inspections along with routine inspections. The maintenance cost per hour on electric forklifts is $0.90 and $1.15 for diesel models. Since telehandlers have more moving parts and their construction is more complex, their maintenance costs may be slightly higher than forklifts.
Guidelines for Selecting the Appropriate Machine
The main factors to consider when choosing between telehandlers and forklifts are operating capacity, ground conditions, and whether forward reach is required. You should choose a telehandler over a forklift under the following circumstances:
- When forward reach capabilities are required
- When more than a vertical lift pattern is required
- When loads weigh less than 24,000 lbs.
- When operating on non-level, sloped terrain
- When access to heights over 25' is required
- On job sites with open space and limited machine width restrictions
Choosing the Right Equipment for Your Project
Forklifts and telehandlers shine under specific conditions where their strengths best suit the tasks at hand. For forklifts, this includes operating indoors, navigating restricted spaces, and lifting sizeable loads up onto shelves and other high elevations. Whereas telehandlers are used to the best of their abilities when accessing loads from multiple directions and transporting them on rough, outdoor terrain.
For your next material handling project, check out DOZR's equipment rental marketplace for telehandler and forklift rentals!