Definition of Forklift Classes

Forklifts, also called lift trucks, have a variety of everyday uses, from carrying industrial loads, to stocking the shelves at discount club stores, to making it easier to deliver loads of shipped goods. The Industrial Truck Association (ITA) breaks forklifts down into eight primary classes based on engine or motor type, type of tires used, and how the vehicle is steered or manipulated.

Electric Motor Forklifts:

Class I forklifts are standard electric motor lift trucks. These include the three-wheeled sit-down trucks you might see moving pallets of mulch at a home goods store. The operator either stands or sits on the truck.

Class II forklifts are narrow aisle electric motor lift trucks. These include side-loading trucks and forklifts with swinging masts that require less space to operate.

Class III forklifts are electric motor hand trucks. An operator either stands on the back of the truck, or walks behind the vehicle.

Internal Combustion Engine Forklifts

Class IV forklifts have internal combustion engines, much like a passenger car you might buy off the lot. They have solid, or cushion, tires, and are frequently counterbalanced, which means the rear of the truck is weighted to counter the weight of the load being lifted.

Class V forklifts also have internal combustion engines and are also typically counterbalanced. They differ from Class IV lift trucks in that they have pneumatic or radial tires.


Class VI forklifts are towing tractor lift trucks. They can have either electric motor or internal combustion engines. Class VI lift trucks are sit-down tractors that can pull loads over 1,000 pounds, in addition to being able to lift loads. OSHA requirements do not apply to these trucks if they are used on a farm.

Rough Terrain Vehicles

Class VII lift trucks are rough terrain forklifts. They are frequently used in logging, agriculture and construction, where the ground is usually uneven and foreign objects are often present. They typically have internal combustion engines and pneumatic tires. The operator sits on these trucks.

Manual Lift Trucks

Class VIII forklifts are hand pallet lift trucks, including personnel and burden carriers. The operator either pulls or pushes the vehicle, and the forks, which are hydraulically raised or lowered, typically have a low maximum lift height.