manual vs electric pallet trucks

Pallet trucks are among the most common and versatile pieces of material handling equipment. You’ll find them on almost every floor in every warehouse across America. Pallet trucks, or pallet jacks as they’re also known, are the workhorse of the warehouse. They shuffle virtually every imaginable type of goods between storage, packaging and loading dock areas. For material handling businesses, pallet trucks are an indispensable tool.

Pallet jacks have been used for handling materials since the early 1900s. Although simple in concept, pallet trucks have evolved with technology. The goal is to smoothly transport heavily loaded pallets across floors from one location to the other. That includes making material handling easy, fast, efficient and, above all, safe.



Today, technology demonstrates these benefits through safe and efficient pallet jacks at economic prices. The problem — although a good one to have — is that there are so many pallet jacks to choose from.

Not all pallet jacks are created equal. There are many different manufacturers of pallet trucks that offer a variety of models, lifting capacities and features. Pallet jacks vary in color, sizes, material, quality of components, and structural design. They also range greatly in price. That makes choosing the right type of pallet truck for your material handling needs quite difficult — but Cherry’s can help. Read on to explore the differences and recommended applications of these useful tools.

Manual vs. Electric Pallet Jacks: What’s the Difference?

Despite the bells and whistles that manufacturers offer with the wide assortment of pallet jacks available on the national and international markets, there are two fundamental differences that separate categories of pallet trucks. Manual pallet trucks are manually operated. Electric pallet trucks are powered by electric motors.

Difference between Manual and Electric Pallet Trucks

Deciding between purchasing a manual vs. electric pallet truck comes down to knowing what’s right for your unique needs and the ergonomic benefits it will bring to your workforce.

Manual Pallet Trucks vs. Electric Pallet Trucks: Factors to Consider

The starting point in making the right choice between a manual vs. electric pallet jack is considering your operational needs. These include your operating environment, your size and weight capacities, the distance you’ll be hauling loads, and last but certainly not least your budget. Setting these parameters makes it easier to appreciate the benefits that both electric and manual jacks offer. Here are some of the parameters to consider:

Manual V Electric Factors
    • Operating Environment refers to the entire sphere or area where you will be using your pallet truck. Most pallet jacks are found indoors, in places like warehouses and dock settings. For this reason, most pallet trucks are designed to transport product over smooth floors within relatively clean and weatherproof facilities. In many cases, however, pallet jacks will need to be used in both indoor and outdoor settings. With that being the case, other types or styles of pallet jacks should be considered.Sometimes pallets are moved over rough terrain like nurseries, lumber yards and even gravel pits. Make sure your pallet truck is designed for and capable of working in your entire operating environment.
    • Size and Weight Capacities are extremely important parameters to consider when looking for a pallet jack. Generally, a standard manual pallet truck has a 5,500 lbs capacity. The capacity distinctions for pallet trucks come into play when the fork dimensions are extra-long, extra short, extra-wide or extra-short. For example, a pallet truck with 27” W X 96” L forks has a maximum capacity of 4,400 lbs while a pallet truck with 16” W X 36” L forks has a capacity of 2,200 lbs. Pallet trucks that fall under the “heavy duty” category can carry loads anywhere from 7,000 to even 15,000 lbs.A pallet jack’s load capacity is in direct proportion to its structural density - the higher the capacity the thicker the steel framework. To put this in perspective, standard 27” X 48” pallet trucks with capacities of 5,500 lbs. weigh approximately 175 lbs. while pallet trucks with higher capacities weight from 220 lbs to over 400 lbs.
    • Distance is another important factor to consider when deciding between a manual vs. powered jack. A distance rule of thumb is that manual pallet jacks are ideal for hauls up to 40 feet. Electric pallet trucks are then far more effective when loads need to move between 40 and 100 feet.

For distances longer than 100 feet per trip, it’s wise to consider a stand-on powered pallet jack where the operator can actually ride on the machine. These units are typically higher capacity electric pallet trucks.

  • Budget is almost always a concern for material handling businesses. Electric pallet trucks are considerably more expensive to purchase. They require capital to operate and maintain. But businesses must consider pallet trucks as a long-term investment and weigh the return on that investment. An electric truck may cost more initially, but the ease and speed of work will provide considerable savings, not to mention reduce the risk of unnecessary and expensive worker injuries.

Once you have established your operating environment parameters, determined the capacity and size of loads you will be handling, and set comfortable budget limits you now need to weigh the benefits of both powered and manual pallet jacks prior to making your final purchasing decision.

Benefits of Manual Pallet Trucks

There are far more manual pallet trucks in use than powered jacks. There are many reasons for their popularity. All are tied into the main parameters of operating area, lifting capacity, travel distance and budget. The main benefits of manual pallet trucks include:

Benefits of Manual Pallet Trucks
  • More Affordable. Manual jacks are far less expensive to buy than powered models because manual trucks have no motor and less complicated parts. Manual trucks also don’t require a fuel source. They’re powered by human force, which means there is no cost to operating them.
  • More Accessible. Manual pallet trucks have a smaller footprint than most electric pallet trucks and as a result can be stationed almost anywhere throughout a warehouse making it convenient to just grab and go.
  • Easier to Operate. Manual pallet trucks are fundamental in nature and require little training to operate.
  • Easier to Maintain. Manual pallet trucks require little, if any, maintenance so long as they’re used properly.

Downsides of Manual Pallet Trucks

As with most material handling equipment, there are a few downsides to selecting a manual pallet truck. For light warehouse jobs where a pallet jack isn’t in constant use, it makes sense to purchase a manual lift. However, if you’re in a busy working environment where you’re constantly pulling large loads, then it’s best to think again. There are a few cons to using manual pallet jacks:

  • More Strenuous for Employees to Operate. Depending on the loads being moved, manual pallet trucks may require a great deal of force to operate. This makes it harder on the workers and contributes to injuries. This can also be tiring for workers who have to pull or push loads over longer distances.
  • Greater Risk of Accidents and Injuries. Depending on the situation, manual pallet trucks can become hazardous. For example, manual pallet trucks should never be used over inclines without the help of another individual. The loads can slip from a worker’s control and lead to potentially serious injuries. Another challenge with a manual pallet truck is that once a load is in motion it will not be possible to suddenly stop it if necessary.
  • Almost too convenient and accessible. Unfortunately, because they are so accessible, manual pallet jacks tend to be unavailable when you need them the most. I’m sure you have heard the stories of the warehouse worker needing to move a load and not finding the pallet jack in the spot where it’s supposed to be stationed. Why? Because someone in another department (“way down yonder”) needed to transport product in his area because someone took his pallet jack.

Benefits of Electric Pallet Trucks

Electric jacks are nowhere near as common as manual pallet jacks. There are two good reasons for this. One is cost. The other is the restrictions put on operators under OSHA regulations. Operators must be trained and certified, whereas manual jacks can be used by anyone. That’s not really a negative as much as a restriction and doesn’t outweigh these clear benefits to selecting an electric powered pallet truck.

Benefits of Electric Pallet Trucks
  • Much Less Strenuous for Employees to Operate. Electric trucks are far easier on operators. Human power is replaced by electrical energy transmitted to hydraulic pressure and motorized wheels.
  • Safer to Operate. Electric jacks are ergonomically safe. There is less muscular-skeletal strain than exerted by manual truck users. This reduces injuries and the subsequent costs. In addition, many come with safety features such as the “belly bump” button which when depressed suddenly stops an electric pallet truck in its tracks.
  • Faster Performance. Electric pallet jacks are relatively fast. The motorization significantly increases load transfer time, making warehouse processes more efficient.
  • Greater Range of Distance. Electric jacks travel longer distances. Worker fatigue is significantly decreased, which increases productivity.
  • Ability to Operate on an Incline. Electric trucks can climb grades. Ramps and inclines are easily scaled by electric pallet jacks where a worker can’t pull or push a manual jack.
  • Greater Loads Do Not Affect Push/Pull Force. Right up to its capacity, electric pallet trucks can move a light or heavy load with a toggle of a switch or push of a button depending on how it’s handle is designed. Not so with a manual pallet truck.

Downsides of Electric Pallet Trucks

Electric pallet trucks might be able to carry larger loads over greater distances with easier operator effort, but they do have their downsides. They’re better suited for larger material handling facilities where workers are constantly moving heavy loads and the fatigue factor is highly important. Here are some of the downsides to owning an electric pallet truck.

  • More Expensive. Electric pallet jacks are expensive. Costs are tied to their many mechanical components like motors and batteries. Mechanization costs money and the benefits of ease, performance and safety must be weighed against cost.
  • More Maintenance Required. Electric pallet jacks require more maintenance. With more moving parts, there is more to maintain. There’s an added expense with electric lifts including maintenance labor, materials and service downtime.
  • Larger Space Footprint. Electric jacks require more storage space. They’re larger than manual lifts and need more room to store. This can be problematic in warehouses where space is already a premium.
  • Fuel Required for Operation. Electric jacks require a fuel supply. These machines may be battery-equipped, but they still must be regularly charged. This requires charging stations and supporting infrastructure. It also will lead to larger monthly electrical bills.
  • Periods of Unavailability. Electric pallet jacks are not always available for use. Unlike manual trucks that are always ready to go, electric lifts require “time outs” for charging and maintaining.
  • Operator Training & Certification Required. Electric trucks require operator training and certification. Any worker can use a manual jack without OSHA approval, but such is not the case with powered pallet trucks. Extra time and money is required to provide the necessary training that meets OSHA guidelines. Electric pallet jack operators don’t require quite the level of instruction and examination as forklift drivers do, but there’s still cost and effort involved.

Pallet Trucks vs. Forklifts

It’s a common misconception that pallet trucks are the same as forklifts, but this is not the case. Forklifts have a wider range of capabilities. They’re meant to transport large loads and raise those loads to either stack warehouse racks or load and unload trailers. Forklifts are designed to move material fast and be in service most of the working day.

Pallet Trucks vs. Forklifts

Although forklifts do some of the tasks a pallet jack is intended for, forklifts are considerably more expensive and not as efficient for smaller loads in tight places. That’s where pallet trucks excel. Pallet trucks are relatively inexpensive, easy to operate and can move loaded pallets in tight situations where a forklift would be impractical and inefficient.

Pallet jacks are designed to be operator-friendly with minimal training or skill involved. Combined with little operating cost from fuel or maintenance, pallet trucks are often far better returns on investment than purchasing and running a forklift.

Manual pallet trucks have their restrictions, though. There is a limit to what a worker can physically move with a manual truck since it all depends on the worker’s personal strength. It can also depend on the pallet jack’s individual design and ergonomic characteristics.

Regardless, moving heavy pallets for any distance and repetitiously through the workday takes its toll. It causes worker fatigue and jeopardizes safety, especially the risk of back injuries. Depending on the needs of the warehouse pallet trucks whether manual or electric have their benefits. When it comes to moving a lot of product and lifting loads onto trailers and/or pallet racking, forklifts are the way to go.

Electric Pallet Trucks: A Happy Medium Between Manual Pallet Jacks and Forklifts

Fortunately, there’s a happy medium between slugging it out with a manual pallet truck and investing in a full-sized forklift. An electric-powered pallet truck takes the pushing, pulling and dragging away from the operator’s back. Electric pallet jacks are guided by the worker’s hands and fingers, eliminating the strain that comes with manually pushing or pulling a heavily laden manual pallet jack. They’re a cost-effective compromise to forklifts and a large step-up from manual labor.

Electric Pallet Jacks

Electric pallet trucks essentially replace human muscle power by using an electric motor to drive the wheels and run the hydraulic pump. The controls are operated by workers’ fingers and hands and require very little effort to move heavy loads over long distances. Gone is the hand pumping of the hydraulic cylinder and the arm and back strain to wrench the load in different directions. Electric pallet jacks make warehouse life easier.

But are electric pallet trucks that much better than manual pallet jacks and the best alternative to forklifts? The best answer is “that depends.” It depends on your needs, your working environment and your workforce. It also depends on your budget. With these factors in mind, let’s examine the benefits of each type of pallet truck. We’ll also look at the downside of each. After reviewing the following details, you should be able to make an informed decision regarding the purchase of the manual pallet jack or the powered pallet jack or, even better, both.

Pallet Truck Safety: Manual vs. Electric

Every material handling equipment selection should be made with safety in mind. This is especially applicable when choosing manual or electric pallet trucks. All of Cherry’s Industrial Equipment pallet trucks have the best safety features available in the pallet jack business. We know the dangers involved in material handling and how pallet trucks can be hazardous if not used properly.

The United States Bureau of Statistics reports over one million workers suffer job-related back injuries each year. In fact, back injuries make up one in five workplace injuries. The Bureau of Statistics claims 25 percent of compensation claims are paid over back injuries and that costs billions of dollars in payouts, never mind the expense of suffering pain and downtime.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has some interesting statistics as well. OSHA reports that between 2002 and 2016 a total of 56 serious injuries involved pallet jack operation. Twenty-five of these accidents resulted in fractures, eight required amputations and four were fatalities. Clearly, pallet truck safety is an issue for OSHA, and it should be for all facilities that use pallet jacks.

Reducing the potential for worker strain and injury is the primary advantage of choosing an electric pallet jack. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all companies use electric equipment instead of manual to reduce ergonomic stress.

Pallet Truck Safety

The flipside to this advantage, however, is that if you choose an electric pallet truck over a manual lift, you’re responsible for ensuring all workers who operate a powered pallet jack are properly trained and evaluated according to OSHA standards.

Although selecting a powered pallet jack over a manual truck is a more expensive choice it will yield greater returns when it comes to safety and productivity. On the other hand, manual pallet truck can be used safely and effectively but up to a certain point. If you need to make a decision between one or the other you will want to start by considering the following factors: the state of your current operating environment, the weight and quantity of inbound/outbound loads, the distance your loads need to travel, your financial capability, and last, but certainly not least, the ultimate welfare of your workers.

Based on your current workflow and work environment a manual pallet truck may be the right solution. Down the road as business picks up an electric pallet truck may make more sense. The key is to make sure your company invests in a product that will provide both a safer and more productive work place.

Choosing the Right Manual or Electric Pallet Truck

We’ve set the parameters and weighed the pros and cons about choosing a manual pallet truck or an electric-powered pallet jack. Now it’s time to get specific about the best pallet jack models to choose from. At Cherry’s Industrial Equipment, we supply the best material handling solutions you can find. We’ve screened the manufacturers, and we promote only the best lines of manual and electric pallet trucks.

Cherry’s Industrial is dedicated to equipping the nation’s material handlers with safe and efficient pallet jacks. Whether you’re leaning toward a simple, cost-effective manual lift or considering investing in a larger electrically powered pallet truck, we’ve selected the most popular and effective pallet trucks to choose from. Let’s explore a few examples.

Manual Pallet Trucks from Cherry’s Industrial

Cherry’s Industrial Equipment distributes various styles and types of manual pallet jacks. Our product specialists will be glad to walk you through the various types available to suit your specific needs. There are many to choose from. Here are just a few representative examples for your reference:

Manual Pallet Trucks
    • 40-12-50SLSF2H Single Fork Manual Pallet Jack - The 40-12-50SLSF2H is a robust single fork pallet truck with a 3,000 lbs load capacity. This bestselling material-handling tool is perfect for carrying safes, vaults and other light items.
    • ML Pallet Jacks – our selection of Mighty Lift pallet trucks represent capacities ranging from 5,500 lbs to 11,000 lb capacity. The ML55, our standard unit, has a 5,500 lbs capacity while the ML77 has a 7,700 lbs capacity and our ML110 has an 11,000 lbs max weight capacity. The units come with three-position hand controls and a high-quality engineered hydraulic system that’s problem-free and will last many years.
    • High Capacity Pallet Trucks- Our large capacity manual pallet trucks are designed to handle 10,000 to 15,000 lbs. One of our representative models include the 42-27-12M Wesley pallet truck. This unit boasts a 12,000 lbs load capacity and is a custom made right here in America.

Electric Pallet Truck Options from Cherry’s

If you prefer an electric pallet jack versus a manual truck, we can make your choice even simpler. Cherry’s Industrial is the proven and reliable source to turn to when narrowing down the exact electric pallet jack model. Here are 3 representative models for your consideration:

Electric Pallet Truck from Cherrys
      • E30 Light Duty Electric Pallet Truck - Our light duty electric pallet jack is the E30. It carries up to 3,000 lbs. and is operator safe and cooperative. The controls are designed for ease and ergonomics while the 24-volt magnet-drive electric motor is highly efficient. A precision engineered hydraulic pump and cylinder allow for smooth lifting and lowering. This unit is a fantastic option if you are looking to make sharp turns within the back of trailer trucks or anywhere in your fast-moving work area.
      • WPT45 Electric Pallet Truck- Cherry’s WPT45 isn’t the largest capacity electric pallet jack in inventory, but it’s a great return on investment. It’s a full-featured electric drive truck capable of hoisting 4,500 lbs. up to eight inches high. That’s enough to take your loaded pallets over uneven floors or make the transition from ramp to flat. Our WPT45 has a “belly button” reversing switch and other controls designed for operator ease, comfort and safety.
      • WRT60 Electric Pallet Truck– The WRT60 Electric Stand-On Pallet Truck has a 6,000 lbs. load capacity and comes a 24V travel controller, an AC drive motor, electromagnetic disc brakes, and high quality ergonomic control handle. The unit can travel as fast as 6.5 mph when loaded at full capacity. This unit is great for transporting loads for longer distances than the standard walk-behind electric pallet trucks would normally travel. For heavier- duty demands this unit has what it takes to get the job done.

Cherry’s Industrial Equipment is Your Manual & Electric Pallet Truck Provider

No matter which way you turn to pick the right pallet truck, Cherry’s Industrial Equipment will be right there to help you with your choice. Cherry’s has been partnering with the material handling industry for over 30 years and has the knowledgeable and dedicated service and sales experts to assist your needs.

Browse through Cherry’s Industrial’s wide variety of pallet trucks or contact Cherry’s Industrial Equipment today for manual or electric pallet trucks as well as all other material handling supplies.