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The most common type of forklifts, 3- and 4-wheel forklifts are used in a variety of industries. Their rear counterbalance allows for both heavier loads and higher stacking, making them ideal for warehouse applications as well as in environments where space may be an issue but heavy-duty work still needs to be done. Both styles are quite versatile, with easy to operate controls and the ability to work indoors and outdoors. But while the two are similar and offer comparable features and versatility, that doesn't mean you should just pick any model and put it into use. A 3-wheel forklift might work just as well as a 4-wheel forklift for your needs, but you won't know if that is true until you do your research and consider which functions you will need it to perform. There are differences between the two that should be considered before any final decisions are made.
Perfect for indoor areas, particularly if you need a small footprint, 3-wheel forklifts have a small turning radius that allows them to maneuver through tight spaces more efficiently than their 4-wheel counterparts. These forklifts are most commonly used in indoor warehouses as well as retail and trade applications. They also generally come at a lower price. Though they are advantageous in smaller areas, they typically have reduced capabilities, particularly weight. With only three wheels, this type of forklift cannot typically handle loads larger than 5,500 pounds, and loads approaching this limit can cause instability. It should also be noted that 3-wheel forklifts are difficult to use on uneven surfaces, so they are not usually utilized for outdoor applications. If you need a forklift that moves between indoor and outdoor job sites, you probably don't want a 3-wheel model.
Unlike 3-wheel forklifts, 4-wheel machines are ideal for uneven or rough surfaces and provide a higher level of stability. These models also have a higher load capacity, with some units able to handle up to 17,000 pounds. However, 4-wheel forklifts have a larger turning radius, so there is a trade off between space and stability. They also have a higher cost, so it is important to be sure that a 4-wheel unit is what you need before making your final purchasing decision. As a general rule of thumb, to decide whether you need a 4-wheel forklift you need to decide if your business requires the higher load capacity and stability that they offer. For example, if you need to haul heavy loads up steep inclines or move large machinery (or other such heavy-duty applications), then this is probably the forklift for you.
Forklift Maneuverability Comparison
It is important that you think about the space in which you plan to operate the forklift, since the available space directly impacts whether a 3-wheel or a 4-wheel unit is the better choice. Tight spaces with an even terrain are ideal for 3-wheel forklifts, as they offer higher maneuverability than 4-wheel models do. However, if the floor surface you are operating on is uneven, then a 3-wheel forklift will be more difficult to operate - and will be less stable - than a 4-wheel unit that offers a higher level of balance. And if space is not an issue, that can offset the lower maneuverability of 4-wheel forklifts.
Job Site Grade and Your Forklift
Gradeability is an important factor to consider when deciding between 3- and 4-wheel forklift models. If you need to haul heavy equipment around steep areas, the best forklift for your purposes is a 4-wheel unit, which withstands inclines and declines well. Although they do not offer the same maneuverability as a 3-wheel forklift, 4-wheel vehicles have better stability and gradeability.
In the end, the type of forklift you need comes down to your specific needs. Multiple factors must be considered, from the area of work to the type of work being done. Both 3-wheel and 4-wheel forklifts are great for a variety of applications, but one will suit your needs better than the other. It is also important to consider what you may need the lift for in the future, as purchasing a lift that works for your needs right now may not always be ideal for your business.