How Does a Propane Forklift Work

by Benjamin Aries


As their name suggests, propane forklifts use an engine that runs on propane gas. This gas is stored in a pressurized tank and can be refilled easily. When propane gas is pushed into the engine, it de-pressurizes and is converted into vapor. The flow of vapor can be controlled using a throttle. Inside the engine, propane vapor mixes with air. A spark plug ignites the mixture, and the resulting pressure moves pistons and creates power. This power turns the wheels and runs the hydraulic pump, as outlined in the next section. Because the gas is very clean-burning, forklifts powered by propane are safe to use inside warehouses and other structures. Emissions are very low and pollution is minimized.


In order for propane forklifts to be effective, they must be able to lift and move very heavy objects. This task is accomplished using hydraulics. The hydraulic system consists of a pump, tubing and cylinders. Dense fluid fills the system. When the pump activates, it forces this fluid through the tubing and into the cylinders. Just as squeezing a bottle of water can force its top off, hydraulic fluid building up within a cylinder pushes a piston. This moving piston raises the forks of the vehicle, allowing large items to be picked up with ease. When the forks are lowered, the process reverses and hydraulic fluid moves out of the cylinders and back into the pump.


Propane forklifts commonly operate in warehouses where space is very tight. The steering system is designed to make the unit maneuverable and easy to manage. Like a car, direction is controlled using a steering wheel. Unlike automobiles, however, forklifts use their rear wheels for turning. When the steering wheel is turned to the right, the rear wheels turn left. This "reverse steering" allows the forklift to pivot quickly and turn on a very tight radius.

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