Drive-In & Drive-Thru Rack

Drive-In rack system with product loaded in it
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If you have a large number of pallets per SKU and need efficient and safe storage, drive-in rack is the perfect choice.

A drive-in/drive-thru racking system can not only help optimize existing storage space but can also deliver an extra layer of organizational power to your warehouse floor.

Drive-In rack system with product loaded in it
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The Basics of Drive-In Rack

While drive-in racking is not the right choice for every storage situation, it does offer some unique advantages over selective systems. One key distinction is in how well drive-in rack manages storage space within a warehouse. As an example, let’s say you have a 2,814-square-foot warehouse; here is how a variety of storage system configurations will leverage that space:

Selective Distribution

A purely selective rack system, with the need for numerous aisles, can store around 306 pallets per level in this space.

Drive-In Distribution

A drive-in/drive-thru-only system will push this capacity limit to around 522 pallets per level in the same square footage.

Combined Distribution

Even just using around half the space for drive-in racking can bring the total pallet capacity per level to around 383 pallets per level.

While facilities can experiment with different layouts leveraging drive-in racking, there are also configuration options to explore. The right choice will depend heavily on your inventory needs. Here are the two main configurations that leverage this type of specialized racking:

  • Drive-In: The namesake configuration is a last-in-first-out (LIFO) system with a closed-off end of the racking bay. Here, forklift operators place and remove pallets from the front loading position.
  • Drive-thru: Similar to drive-in, this configuration features two open ends for loading and unloading in a first-in-first-out (FIFO) inventory management system. Here, pallets load into one end and are removed from the other.

These types of storage systems feature narrow pallet storage lanes that run perpendicular to working aisles. Here, pallets are stored either on the ground, on ground level, or on pallet rails at higher levels. This means more storage space relative to selective racking systems, fewer aisles needed for storage (high-density), and that every aisle is lift truck accessible.

Components of a Drive-In Rack System

Since these storage solutions add additional functionality to your warehouse floor, there are a few more components to understand when comparing drive-in racking to other types of pallet racking. To help you make a more informed buying decision, here are the key components of a drive-in/drive-thru racking structure:

Here are a few options you might consider:

Upright Frames

Much like other racking systems, frames provide the essential support and connections for other components.

Bolted Top Braces

Since traditional racking beams would block drive-in functionality, rugged top braces tie the system together.

Rack Separators

Supporting the rolled rails, these connections provide exceptional strength, load capacity, and torsion resistance.


Roll-formed or structural steel rails provide exceptional strength and support the pallets on the higher levels of the racking structure.

Drive-In Rack Operation

Drive-in racking offers a safe and reliable way to store pallets of the same SKU. But, there are a few things to consider in terms of proper operation to make the most out of this racking solution.

Here is what you need to know:

Load Management

As we touched on earlier, there are two main types of inventory management with this type of racking structure:

 LIFO and FIFO. In a drive-in LIFO system, most common racking units work like a warehouse depot. There is only one access aisle where unloading and loading are carried out in reverse order. For example, if the loading follows this pattern (Pallets A, B, C, and D), unloading will follow the reverse (Pallets D, C, B, and A). In a drive-thru FIFO system, there are two access points, one on each end of the unit. 

With this system, it is possible to control production differences, for example, between manufacture and dispatch, between production phase 1 and phase 2, or between production and loading bays.

Proper Forklift Operation

In drive-in racking, forklifts enter storage aisles with loads held higher than the selected level to reach deep storage lanes. Unlike selective racking, pallets are loaded with their long side facing the aisle. Special care is needed because forklift forks rest directly on the pallet’s support structure, putting immense stress on the wood. To ensure safety, only top-condition pallets should be used. Pallets with overhanging loads may require special racking adjustments based on their dimensions compared to the actual product size.

Pallets with overhanging loads may require special racking adjustments based on their dimensions compared to the actual product size.

Drive-In Rack Safety Tips

Here are a few other safe operation tips to always follow when using drive-in or drive-thru racking and to avoid common pallet rack safety hazards:

  • Safe operation of drive-in racking starts with well-trained forklift operators. An OSHA-compliant training program equips them to handle these systems efficiently and minimize damage.
  • Standardize high-quality pallets of uniform size and train operators to inspect pallets for damage before loading. This ensures the system functions smoothly and protects loads.
  • Always center pallets on both side rails for secure placement. If a pallet misses a rail, re-center it before lowering it.
  • Never push pallets along the rails. This puts stress on the system and risks damaging pallets or worker injury.

Get Quality Used Drive-In Racking

East Coast Storage Equipment is your go-to supplier for pallet flow racking. Whether you need a few lanes to optimize storage or want to outfit your entire facility, we’ve got you covered.

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Drive-In Rack Maintenance

Regular maintenance is vital for keeping your drive-in racking system safe and efficient. A well-maintained system helps you:

  • Maximize Storage Life: Proper care extends the lifespan of your racking investment.
  • Minimize Risks: Regular inspections reduce the chance of product damage, injuries, and costly downtime.

What to Inspect:

  • Structural Components: Check frames, beams, braces, and floor anchors for cracks, bends, corrosion, or loose connections.
  • Rails: Inspect for dents, misalignment, or any damage that could compromise pallet support.

Preventative Measures:

  • Address Minor Issues Quickly: Don’t wait for small problems to become big ones. Fix them promptly.
  • Clean and Lubricate: Regular cleaning and lubrication of moving parts ensures smooth operation and minimizes wear.
  • Prevent Impact: Clearly mark traffic lanes and implement measures to avoid forklift collisions.
  • Overload Protection: Install sensors or alarms to prevent exceeding the rack’s capacity.

By following these practices, you can ensure your drive-in racking system remains a safe and reliable storage solution.

Stay Efficient and Organized with Drive-In Rack

Drive-in racking offers a great solution for warehouses with a high volume of similar SKUs and limited floor space. By maximizing storage density and minimizing aisle requirements, it unlocks significant efficiency gains. However, careful consideration is crucial before implementation.

Drive-thru rack system full or boxes

Understanding your inventory management needs (LIFO vs. FIFO) is essential. Likewise, ensuring proper forklift operation and implementing a robust maintenance plan are paramount for safety and maximizing the lifespan of your investment.

If you’re considering drive-in or drive-thru racking, consulting with a storage solutions expert for system design and installation is highly recommended. Here at East Coast Storage Equipment, we can guide you through the selection process, ensuring the chosen configuration perfectly complements your specific needs and maximizes warehouse efficiency. Get in touch today to learn more!

 Frequently Asked Questions

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