Lifting a vehicle is often necessary when doing repairs or maintenance. It is also one of the most dangerous tasks an enthusiast will do. Professionals have lifts that make the job safe and easy. This is usually not feasible for the enthusiast, but a few simple tools and a bit of care can prevent a catastrophe.
Several ways exist to lift a vehicle, to gain access for repairs and maintenance. The jack that comes with the vehicle is adequate to change a tire, but is not safe or useful for much else. These devices lack the range and stability to lift more than one wheel, a few inches. We should never count on them to support the vehicle with anyone under it.
A first tool, bought by folks who wish to change oil and do light maintenance are a pair of ramps. Drive-up ramps do a good job of lifting one end of a vehicle. They are also safe and easy to use. When doing oil changes, the drive-up ramp works very well. The leading problem with the ramp, is a lack of access to the wheels and a limited amount of lift.
For instance, to check the brakes, or rotate the tires, ramps are of no use. For this type service, we will need a jack and safety stands. Jacks come in many styles. Scissor jacks and hydraulic bottle jacks are very slow to use and lack the range needed for any serious use. Automotive service requires a good floor jack and a pair of safety stands.
Selecting a floor jack
Most floor jacks are similar, varying in capacity and the height they will lift. Nothing less than one and a half-ton capacity should be considered. Anything over three-tons is likely overkill, unless we lift a heavy truck. Another important consideration is the height the jack will reach. Jacks that lift less than 20 inches are very inconvenient to use. The minimum height is also important. Some jacks will be too high to fit under the vehicle easily. This is more critical when a flat tire lowers the vehicle further. Five inches or less is good for cars. More height is okay if we lift only trucks.
Selecting safety stands
They often call a safety stand a jack-stand, and they are a necessity. Makers only design jacks to lift the weight, not to support it safely. Never work around or under a vehicle not supported with stands.
Jack stands come in three basic types and a variety of ranges. The ratchet type is by far the easiest to use. For general auto repair, look for a minimum lifting capacity of 14 to 16 inches. A maximum height of around 24 inches is sufficient. A quality set of jack stands will last a lifetime, so shop around and buy a good set.
Four stands offer more flexibility than two. This is especially handy when we remove all four wheels, as in working on brakes. In a pinch, two good jack stands are a wiser purchase than four cheap models. It is inconvenient, but we can always purchase two additional stands later.
Using a jack and stands
Vehicles have specific areas that are heavy enough to withstand jacking and supporting the weight. The owner’s manual is a good source of information. Most vehicles have areas on the rocker panels, marked as jack points.
Trying to raise a vehicle, in an area that they do not reinforce, will cause severe damage. Often they will mark the jack points on the vehicle. Most cars today are unibody construction. They do not have frames, and they only reinforce the body, in specific areas.
The box style components, are floor stiffeners and NOT frame rails. Manufacturers design these to keep the floor from flexing and support passenger weight only. Trying to lift or support weight on these parts will cause damage. The same is true for suspension arms. These components will not support the vehicle weight.
We need a level, and concrete surface to use a jack and safety stands. Never trust safety stands placed upon the ground or an un level surface. Even small cars weight a huge amount and can kill if they fall from a lifted height. We should chock the wheels, at the end of the car not lifted. The transmission should also be placed in park, and we must apply the parking brake.
When we lift all wheels, starting it with the engine-end of the vehicle is best. This is usually the heavier end and lifting it first makes the job easier and safer. Properly support and test this end before lifting the other.
After lifting and supporting the vehicle on the stands, step back and be certain everything is level. Give the vehicle a shake and make sure nothing moves. Any movement or rocking means something is not properly in place. As bad as it may be to have the vehicle fall now, it is far worse with someone underneath.
Learning to raise and support a vehicle, enables work and maintenance to be done far more easily. The right tools, a safe work area, and learning where to lift the vehicle is imperative.