Car jacks are necessary if you want to do repair work at home in your own garage. They’re also useful if you get a flat tire when driving. More than likely, your car already has a jack tucked away in the event of an emergency. But not all car jacks are created equal. Some are designed to lift more weight, while others are made for portability.
What Is a Car Jack?
Car jacks are devices designed to lift a vehicle off the ground. There are several different car jacks available. Some jacks are mechanical, while others are hydraulic. Most mechanical jacks use a screw or lever that has to be cranked to operate. Hydraulic jacks use a hydraulic cylinder filled with pressure to create enough force to lift heavy loads.
While car jacks will raise a vehicle up, they aren’t made to hold it in place. For that, you’ll need a pair of jack stands.
What Are Jack Stands?
Jack stands are devices designed to support your vehicle’s weight when lifted. Although car jacks do the heavy lifting, you’ll still need to steady the car on jack stands if you need to go underneath the vehicle. You should never crawl under a car that is only held up with a jack.
Some car lift kits will include both a jack and jack stands, but you can also buy them separately. Jack stands vary based on weight capacity and maximum height. The height usually ranges from 13-25 inches, where weight capacity can be anywhere from 2-25 tons.
What Are the Different Types of Car Jacks?
Scissor jacks are the most affordable and lightweight option, which is why auto manufacturers often include them with new cars. Scissor jacks use a hand crank to lift the vehicle a small distance, ranging from 15-30 inches.
You have to position the scissor jack underneath the jack point and spin the crank clockwise to raise the vehicle. To lower the vehicle back down, turn the opposite direction.
Compared to high-lift or farm jacks, scissor jacks are considerably smaller. Be sure to pay attention to the specs of your scissor jack, since the size and load capacity can vary.
Floor or Trolley Jacks
A floor or trolley jack is a hydraulic jack that uses horizontal cylinders and a long lever to operate. Compared to scissor jacks, floor jacks are a quicker and safer option. They’re popular with mechanics and those who work on cars in their garage at home. Floor jacks can usually lift vehicles ranging from two to four tons.
Floor jacks sit low to the ground and are on wheels, so you can roll them into tight spots easily. Because of this design, they can be cumbersome to carry or store in your car. Some floor or trolley jacks will have automatic locking brakes that kick in when the jack is being used. Otherwise, the brakes have to be engaged manually. They’re easier to use on dirt or gravel since you don’t have to worry about the jack slipping.
Bottle jacks are similar to a hydraulic floor jack. You simply pump the handle to raise the vehicle. However, they hold more weight and provide greater lift than a floor jack. Bottle jacks can lift anywhere from three to fifty tons, depending on the model. They’re also more popular than floor jacks due to their affordability.
Because of the cylinder-shaped design, bottle jacks can be harder to use on low vehicles since they need a higher starting clearance. The small footprint means they won’t be as stable as floor jacks, but using them on a flat surface will reduce potential movement. There’s also no protection between the jack and the vehicle, so some use a block of wood as a barrier to prevent any damage.
High-Lift or Farm Jacks
Farm jacks are designed for tractors and farm equipment, but many people use them for off-roading. Also called high-lift jacks, they’re good for high-clearance vehicles where a bottle or floor jack might not reach.
High-lift jacks are easy to throw in the back of your Jeep or truck to take off-roading. They’re mostly used for recovery purposes on the trail, but it is possible to change a tire using this kind of jack as well. High-lift jacks are extremely versatile, so you can use them for winching, pulling, and clamping.
Unlike floor and bottle jacks, high-lift jacks usually don’t use hydraulics. Instead, you simply use a lever to crank the jack up. It’s important to ensure the foot of the jack is under a secure anchor point such as the bumper.
Certain high-lift jacks are rated up to 7,000 pounds and can lift a car up to five feet. Since they can be heavy, they may not be the best jack to carry around in your daily driver, but they make a great addition to an off-road rig. Many off-roaders choose to mount them to the outside of their vehicle for easy access.
Exhaust Air Jacks
Exhaust air jacks are a unique type of jack that inflates using the air from your exhaust. These jacks come with an inflatable sack and a long hose that attaches to the exhaust pipe. You can put the sack anywhere under the chassis without worrying about the jack points. Once the sack is inflated, one side of the car will be lifted off the ground. The air is held inside by a one-way valve that you also use to deflate the sack.
These jacks are best for off-roaders as they can be used on many different types of terrain. Because of the larger surface area, they’re especially great for softer ground such as mud, sand, or snow. They’re also lightweight and take up little space when not in use.
Car Jack Safety Tips
Using a car jack may seem simple, but it can also be unsafe. Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind when jacking up your car.
- Park on Level Ground
- Secure the Vehicle
- Find the Correct Jack Points
- Use a Jack Base
- Support the Vehicle with Jack Stands
Park on Level Ground
If you aren’t in a garage, you’ll want to park your vehicle on level ground before using the car jack. Car jacks are designed to be used vertically since gravity can easily pull your car off a jack if it isn’t level. If finding level ground isn’t possible, try and park next to a curb with the wheels turned toward the curb. Block the downside wheels so the car doesn’t roll downhill.
Secure the Vehicle
Before jacking up the car, you’ll want to turn off the ignition and put the car in park (first gear if you drive a manual). Engage the parking brake and use something to keep the wheels from rolling.
You can use wheel chocks, wooden wedges, bricks, or pieces of wood depending on what’s available. You’ll want to place them under the tires on the opposite side rather than the side you’re jacking up. Doing this will keep your vehicle secure so it doesn’t roll off the jack.
Find the Correct Jack Points
If you don’t use the correct jack points on your vehicle, you can easily damage the frame or suspension. Your car’s manual should tell you the suggested jack points.
If you don’t have access to your manual, you can find it online by searching for your car’s year, make, and model. You’ll also want to read any instructions that come with your jack.
Use a Jack Base
If you’re off-roading, the ground may not be solid enough for you to use a jack. Trying to use a jack in the mud will only result in it sinking. A jack base can help support your jack on non-solid surfaces.
Support the Vehicle with Jack Stands
Use your jack stands! We can’t say this enough. Do not go under your vehicle unless it is properly supported with jack stands. Jacks are designed to lift your car, not hold it in place. You can get seriously injured if you crawl underneath a car without jack stands and it slips off the jack.
What Kind of Car Jack Do You Need?
The type of jack you need depends on your budget, the weight of your car, and the vehicle’s clearance. Portability is also something to consider when deciding on a car jack.
For most, a scissor jack is all that’s required for emergency situations. High-lift and exhaust air jacks are better for off-roading due to their height and recovery capabilities. If you want something for your garage, floor or bottle jacks are good options. But if you’ll be doing extensive work under the car, it might be worth investing in a car lift.
Source: It Still Runs, Your Mechanic, Dummies, Metro Hydraulic Jack Co., How Stuff Works, Four Wheeler Network; Image Credit: Ford, Creative Commons