Forklift Vs. Tow Motor

Forklift vs. Tow Motor: Which Should You Choose? (2024 Comparison)

 The invention of the forklift was a pivotal moment in industries such as manufacturing, construction, shipment, and more. People use forklifts and tow motors interchangeably because they’re both similar in application.

They make lifting and transportation of bulky materials easy and fast. Though a tow motor is a type of forklift, it still has unique features that differentiate it from others.

When looking for the best option for your business, always remember factors like height constraints, carrying capacity, power source, etc.

Therefore, the right choice of machine for your business will depend on the specific task you want to move, your budget, and your inventory. 

Forklift Overview

Forklift Overview

Forklifts are industrial vehicles that quickly raise, lower, and move objects. They can lift heavy-duty materials and smaller boxes, crates, pallets, or containers.

There are different types of forklifts with various applications in manufacturing, rugged construction sites, dockyards, warehouses, and recycling. A forklift operator can either ride on it or control it while standing.

Forklifts have seven classifications based on their function, size, terrain, and power source. Some forklifts are designed for indoor use, while others are more suitable outdoors.

The power source could be electricity, gasoline, liquid propane, hydrogen fuel, and many more. 

Every type of forklift has seven components that work together to lift, move, and transport materials. 

The first component is the base that holds the remaining parts of the machine, called the truck frame. The counterweight is the second component, and its purpose is to balance the weight of the lifted load. 

The lifting and lowering mechanisms are located in a component called the mast. This mast houses the forks that do the lifting and operates by hydraulics and pulley.

The forks carry the remaining two parts, the load backrest, and overhead guard shields, for moving backward or upward. The load backrest provides a resting place for lifted objects and protects them from falling over when shifting back.

On the other hand, the overheard guard shields cover the operator from any falling load.

Forklifts can accommodate external attachments such as fitted pneumatic tires for use outdoors or cushion tires for indoor use. As a result, business owners can use one forklift to carry out different tasks.

Uses of Forklifts

Uses of Forklifts

The versatility of the forklift can be seen in its use in major industries. This machinery’s critical benefit is lifting and transporting materials of different sizes and shapes.

On that note, here are the common uses of a forklift.

Indoor Heavy Lifting 

The top benefit of a forklift is its superior lifting capacity that exceeds human limitations. Most forklifts can lift 5000 pounds, and some models pick heavier weights.

Back in the day, you needed more people to safely move objects that can now be done by a single person using a forklift. There are now industrial forklifts that can lift over 30,000 pounds of weight.

It moves materials indoors in warehouses, storage facilities, and distribution centers. 

Its primary use indoors is to lift and pull pallets. However, it is also used to transport crates, drums, empty stacked boxes, and other equipment.

Outdoor heavy lifting

The terrain at construction sites can be rugged and uneven. A forklift not only serves as a lifting tool but also acts as a vehicle to transport workers over rough terrain.

It lifts more heavy objects like wood, bricks, steel joists, etc. It first unloads these pallets from the delivery truck before moving them to the site.

Forklifts are instrumental in moving and transporting bulky cargo in dockyards. Without them, it won’t be easy to unload and stack barges and ships or transport shipments of steel and lumber.

Recycling facilities also use forklifts to unload recycling trucks before transporting the load to sorting docks. Recycling operations are even better with forklifts because of their efficiency.

They can load and unload rail cars, tractor trailers, trucks, elevator cars, and slippery materials like tires.

Transporting people

A forklift also transports workers around indoor and outdoor work areas. Some business owners use it as an alternative to cranes and aerial lifts.

Most forklifts have a platform that people can climb to reach the required height. Safety attachments like harnesses and cages are necessary to prevent falls. 

Business owners use forklifts to pick or stack items annually, manage inventory, and reach areas that are difficult to access. Some people even go as far as using forklifts to trim very tall trees that are difficult to get.

Business owners should always consider the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) safety practices when using forklifts for double duty like people transport. 

Specialty uses

You can attach a broom or dust mopping attachment to a forklift to sweep, mop, or remove spills. This particular use is innovative, especially considering how arduous it will be for cleaners to clean warehouses manually. 

Business owners also add a plow attachment to a forklift to move dirt piles or snow. A forklift is also practical when it comes to the training of new drivers.

Most businesses prefer to buy used forklifts for this training to reduce overhead costs if a trainee damages the machine during training. 

Overview of Tow Motor

Overview of Tow Motor

Tow motor is a brand forklift manufactured by the Towmotor Corporation. The Towmotor Corporation invented the first industrial forklift in 1933. Before this invention, tow motors did not initially have forks.

They were more like tractors that pushed carts from one point of a warehouse to the other. In 1933, Lester Stears invented the diesel and gas-powered forklift with large front forks.

This invention was so successful that people called every brand of forklift tow motor. The brand is compact, with a short turning radius and high speeds for reversing or moving forward.

The working mechanism of this brand of forklift is similar to other brands. It utilizes hydraulic pressure and a pulley system to lift, move, and transport materials. 

Uses of Tow Motor

Uses of Tow Motor

The tow motor has a compact, portable design that is mainly suited indoors. It is a small drivable machine with attachments to maneuver relatively small areas quickly. Here are the uses of a tow motor.

Lifting and stacking

A tow motor can lift and move heavily stacked pallets over long distances. Its horizontal movement ability makes it a must-have for business owners.

For example, the electric power pallet is a tow motor that drives at high speed through congested aisles to pick up objects.

The tow motor also has immense stacking ability. It is used to lift pallets off the floor and stack them in a stockpile above. This quality makes the tow motor useful in storage facilities for organizing stock. 

Order picking

Sometimes the load to be picked or moved is located in areas that are difficult to assess. The tow motor is helpful for applications where the operator doesn’t have to pull out entire pallets to remove specific items.

An operator using a tow motor can be on the same level as the stock to pick up individual items. This makes the tow motor particularly useful in warehouses and distribution centers. Business owners can maximize storage space by having narrow aisles.

Extended reach

Imagine you want to pick a specific item from a high multi-tiered rack. In that case, a dedicated forklift with extended reach will be very handy.

An extended-reach tow motor is narrow and can pass between aisles stacked up close to each other.

Forklift Vs. Tow Motor: Key Differences

Forklift Vs. Tow Motor Key Differences

If a tow motor is a forklift, how can there be differences, right? But you will find multiple ways a tow truck differs from other forklifts. Here are key differences that will help you choose your business.


One major defining factor in choosing a forklift is its intended purpose. Is it for indoors or outdoors or used over smooth floors or rough terrain? The tow motor is designed mainly for indoor use in warehouses, storage, and distribution facilities.

However, the tow motor has an internal combustion counterbalanced truck with pneumatic tires. Pneumatic tires are durable rubber fitted on forklifts to enable use outdoors. 

The type of materials you will be moving and their height matter. A tow motor is ideally suited to handling light materials, while other forklifts have broad applications for heavy-duty materials in large industries like construction and shipment.


Attachments allow a single machine to perform multiple tasks. Business owners can buy one machine and fit it with different extensions, effectively saving costs.

Many forklift accessories and attachments, such as numerous pallet handlers, fork rotators, and rotators, etc., are available. The tow motor has a compact design that limits the type of attachments that can fit.

However, this is not to say that attachments won’t fit into it. Several include boom and telescopic boom, fork, hook plates, etc.

Service and Maintenance

A key deciding factor when buying forklifts is customer support from dealers. A forklift supplier must provide local support and promptly respond to issues raised.

You will need a supplier that offers onsite services that include tire service. 

Tow motor shines in this department by offering routine service and maintenance. The company has a network of skilled and reliable professionals that provide customer support to ensure its machines’ long-lasting and optimal performance.

However, other forklift brands have dealers that offer customer support.

Lift height

The lift height is the highest point a forklift needs to reach to pick up or move items. Lift height is essential because of weight restrictions and load carrying capacity of the forklift.

The average tow motor has a lift height of 8 feet, making them suitable for small supermarkets, pharmacies, healthcare, etc.

On the other hand, most forklifts have ar-reaching lift heights, and specific specialty forklifts can reach 25 feet. 

Load Capacity

The type of load a forklift will be handling is a notable factor when choosing which truck to buy. Your vehicle needs sufficient capacity to carry the load safely and ensures compliance with OSHA regulations.

The tow motor has a lightweight, compact design, low service weight, and a small turning radius. Its load capacity makes it ideal for moving light material in retail stores, small warehouses, trailers, and containers.

They will not be suitable for carrying large construction materials that need maximum load. However, some tow motor designs have multiple choices for load capacities with average load capacities between 1500-6000kg. capacity

Fuel type

The three major fuel options are electric, gas, or diesel. Although electric forklifts cost more, they have a longer lifespan and cheaper consumption when paired with the others.

Another advantage is that they operate quietly and do not produce harmful gases. Tow motor trucks are mainly electric and, therefore, suitable for use indoors.

Gas or diesel-powered forklifts are faster, lift heavier materials, and are suitable outdoors. LPG or CNG gas forklifts have a long lifespan. 


Forklift operators spend hours sitting in their machines. It would be best if you had high-quality seating to lessen the likelihood of back pain and other injuries.

The lightweight, compact size of tow motors has an ergonomic advantage. They have handles that are comfortable and easy to reach.

For example, the spring-loaded steering handle and ergonomic tiller arm found in their design has a comfortable grip and reduces operator fatigue.

Heavy-duty forklift operators are exposed to risk factors that affect ergonomics and comfort. For example, sitting for prolonged periods at a time or vehicle vibrations can lead to injuries.

Business owners must create provisions for supporting operator posture and use cameras and sensors to eliminate blind spots.

Conclusion: Forklift Vs. Tow Motor

Conclusion Forklift Vs. Tow Motor

Finding the suitable machine for your business involves answering key questions to understand better what you need.

Consider important factors such as the stock your forklift all be lifting, load capacity, the environment it will be working in, height restrictions, and fuel type before choosing a forklift.

The compact size of a tow motor makes it suitable for use in retail stores, small warehouses, containers, and trailers.

Other forklifts have designs that can lift both lightweight and sizeable heavy-duty materials e.g., construction sites, dockyards, recycling facilities, and large warehouses.


Is a tow motor the same as a forklift?

A tow motor is often used interchangeably with the term “forklift,” but there are differences in how these terms are used regionally or within specific industries. Generally, both refer to the same type of material handling equipment designed for lifting and moving heavy loads using forks, but the choice of terminology may vary.

Why do people call forklifts tow motors?

The use of the term “tow motor” for forklifts can be attributed to historical naming conventions or regional preferences. Some regions and industries, particularly in the past, may have commonly referred to these machines as “tow motors” because they are used for towing or moving loads.

Can a forklift be used for towing?

Forklifts are primarily designed for lifting and moving loads using their forks. While they can tow loads by pulling or pushing wheeled attachments or trailers, their primary function is vertical lifting. Specialized tow tractors or tugs are more suitable for heavy towing tasks due to their design and towing capacity.

What is the difference between a forklift and a tug?

The primary difference between a forklift and a tug lies in their intended use and design. Forklifts are designed for lifting and moving loads vertically using forks, while tugs, also known as tow tractors or tow tugs, are specifically designed for horizontal towing of heavy loads, such as trailers or carts. Tugs have a different configuration, with a towing hitch or coupling for attaching and towing loads, making them more suitable for towing applications within warehouses, airports, and industrial settings.