Motrec, Columbia and Cushman tow tractor vehicles with text "Types of Tow Tractors and when they should be used".

Types of Tow Tractors and When They Should Be Used 

Within the very wide range of industrial material handling applications, there’s a peculiar challenge found in needing to move around sizeable volumes of materials, but where those volumes are not large or consistent enough to justify the installation of fixed conveyors. These situations predominantly arise in carton and other non-palletized warehouses, making forklifts poor solutions as well. What equipment then might best solve moving individual, varying products around a warehouse freely? In most cases, we need look no further than industrial Tow Tractors

Tow tractor pulling cart with shelves and bins through warehouse.
Tow Tractor with Bin Trailer

Electric tow tractors are purpose-built industrial warehouse vehicles designed specifically to pull cargo trailers and other rolling attachments. As in the picture above, tow trailers with shelves, bins, or cages are most commonly transported around the warehouse, helping operators freely distribute goods quickly to different locations. Tow tractors are categorized by their weight capacity, with the most common versions selected for warehouse use able to tow between 6,000 and 16,000 lbs. Larger tractors are available for even more demanding applications, such as when used for ground transportation and equipment hauling at airports. Since tow tractors fall within the extremely diverse category of Warehouse Utility Equipment, we’d like to help readers understand their options and potential use-cases when selecting these wonderfully beneficial vehicles. Let’s dive into the details below!  

Key Types & Applications for Warehouse Tow Tractors  

Next we’ll describe the most common tow tractor types along with several application examples each.  

Burden Carriers 

Burden Carriers are what most warehouse professionals refer to as Tow Tractors, as these vehicles are expressly designed for the primary function of pulling heavy loads. These burden carriers often have a small cargo deck or bin space onboard, seating for one or two persons (including the driver), and a powerful electric motor capable of pulling massive loads. Readily available tuggers can easily handle pulling up to 50,000 lbs of cargo with just an 80V electric powerplant. With tight turn radii, small footprints, modest speeds, and versatile towing options (see the Trailers section below), burden carriers make moving disparate loads around a warehouse much easier.  

Application Examples:  

  • Transporting excess picks from pack stations back to inventory  
  • Delivering consumables and supplies from storage out to work stations 
  • Picking multiple assorted, large, higher volume orders at the same time 
  • Pulling rolling containers such as bulk product bins or garbage cans 

For even larger loads, special electric and diesel-powered tow tractors are available for applications such as tugging aircraft around runway yards, moving bulk raw materials such as tree logs, and positioning larger equipment into a precise place.  

Motrec MT-340 pulling flat deck cart trailers.
Tow Tractor with Flat Deck Carts

Stock Chasers 

Whereas burden carriers focus on transporting goods pulled behind them, Stock Chasers emphasize placing goods directly on the vehicle for the purpose of fast, nimble, small volume picks. Stock chasers often have the capability to pull smaller loads between 500 and 6,000 lbs, but are mainly intended to move an operator and a small bundle of onboard goods quickly around the warehouse.  

Application Examples: 

  • Small order picking directly from warehouse shelves  
  • Rapid distribution counter sales order picking 
  • Ongoing inventory control inspections and corrective moves  
Employee riding stock chaser through warehouse.
Stock Chaser

Personnel Carriers 

For some applications, the goods being transported are people, calling for Personnel Carriers as the vehicle type best suited for use. Personnel Carriers typically offer two to eight seating positions onboard, and the ability to tow multiple tram trailers with much higher capacity. These vehicles emphasize safety, passenger comfort, and long run hours over raw pulling capacity, including features such as enhanced suspension, smooth braking, all-terrain tires, hill climbing torque, and standard vehicle lighting.  

Application Examples:  

  • Parking lot taxiing at large, high traffic operations 
  • Shift-change transportation for employees to remote workstations 
  • Visitor and customer convenience transportation (very useful for institutional, academic, medical, and other large campuses in addition to distribution sites) 
Motrec MP-500 8 passenger personnel carrier vehicle.
Personnel Carrier

Walkie Tuggers  

On the smaller end of the spectrum, Walkie Tugger vehicles are expressly designed to move loads as guided by a walking operator. These small equipment pieces are typically used with flat carts and bin trailers, maneuvering heavy and large loads around tight quarters where a forklift or full-sized tow tractor would not be ideal.  

Application Examples:  

  • Sensitive, low-clearance, heavy load work such as moving material carts in clean rooms or highly populated pack areas 
  • Scrap and trash bin transportation 
  • Maintenance and service transportation of tools, equipment, and parts 
Man pulling bin cart with a walkie tugger.
Walkie Tugger Moving Bin Cart


Tow tractors pull all sorts of trailers, carts, buggies, and other rolling equipment, each designed and built to serve in specific ways. Trailers are specified by many options involving their weight capacity, stability under load, turning radius, tires, brakes, suspension, and additional features (such as passenger comfort amenities or security deterrents).  

Application Examples:  

  • Multi-tier shelf trailers for carton picking  
  • Flat-bed trailers that transport strapped loads such as battery packs, cardboard carton stacks, and small equipment 
  • Personnel trailers for moving groups of people 
Motrec T-20 Triple Deck trailer.
Triple Deck Trailer

An Eye to the Future of Autonomous Tow Tractors  

As automated technologies ceaselessly march forward, our warehouse environments continue to benefit. More and more, tow tractor vehicles are being offered with fully autonomous operation, replacing their human operators with sophisticated computer-controlled guidance systems across all of the vehicle types we’ve discussed in this article. Autonomous guided vehicles (or AGVs) utilize onboard LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) navigation and positioning systems to traverse even the most congested warehouses, able to run routes continuously around the clock without human operators (including automatic charging). For repetitive, consistent routes and product movements, AGV tow tractors are worth considering. For buyers unsure if AGVs are the best move at this time but who see their value in the future, we urge considering vehicle platforms that can facilitate later upgrades such as interchangeable trailers, common charging systems, shared spare parts, and OEM trade-up opportunities.  

Automated Guided Vehicle Tow Tractor pulling a flat deck cart.
AGV Tow Tractor

We hope that this discussion has been helpful for your commercial material handling needs. Fairchild Equipment is the Upper Midwest’s premier Material Handling Equipment and Service resource, with headquarters in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and numerous locations in 5 states ready 24/7 to serve your needs. For more information or to discuss which Warehouse Optimization solution might be best for you, please send us a message or give us a call at (844) 432-4724


2140 Hutson Rd.
Green Bay, Wisconsin 54303
(920) 494-8726