Lifting a piece of metal weighing more than 100 lbs is not an easy proposition. It requires physical strength, quick stance, and of course a powerful tool. The task, if done improperly, can even cost your precious life. You need a quality jack as fixing a car can’t certainly be avoided.
Car jacks come in various sizes, colors, shapes, and load capacities. While the ideal is to purchase a jack with the highest load capacity and the longest, most flexible neck, this may not necessarily be a wise decision all the time. You need to know your requirements in order to identify which of the following top quality car jacks suits you best.
What to Look for in a Car Jack
It can be tricky picking the right jack for your car but that’s what we’re here for. Here are the things you need to look for when picking the right car.
- Weight Rating
Most hydraulic car jacks are rated in tonnage. Economy, mid-sized, compact, and subcompact cars can be safely raised by a 2-ton hydraulic car jack while 3-ton jacks should work well with trucks, SUVs, luxury midsized cars, and vans. If you’re not sure about the appropriate weight rating of the jack for your car, you can always consult your manual.
- Height of Lifting Pad
Car jacks have to go under the vehicle to access specific lifting points. As such, if the height of the lifting pad is greater than the ground clearance of your vehicle, then you may not be able to put the jack under your car. As a general rule, the lifting pad should have at least an inch of clearance from the lifting point under your car.
- Build Quality
It goes without saying that the overall build quality of the jack should also be considered in your buying decision. Always go for jacks that are made mostly of solid metal. Heavier car jacks should also be chosen over lightweight ones since these can also offer you stability. The sad thing is that you won’t be able to try the car jack before you buy it so reading online reviews should give you an idea of the car jack’s performance in real life.
Types of Car Jacks
Car jacks come in different types. Here are 4 of the most common:
- Scissor Jack
This is the type of jack that vehicle manufacturers already include in their cars. A long screw is turned to draw the ‘legs’ of the scissor together. As the legs are drawn closer, they also grow higher. Scissor jacks are purposely built for specific models of car as they are designed to fit the lifting points in the car. It’s very portable and is often secured in a compartment in the trunk designed specifically for storing such jacks.
- Floor Jack
This is the most common car jack that is great not only for changing tires, but also for repairs and general maintenance purposes. It works on the principle of hydraulic pressure to lift heavy objects with relative ease. They come with 4 wheels for ease of placement under the car as well as a long handle which is used to operate the lift mechanism. Floor jacks come in different weight capacities so it would be wise to check the gross tonnage of your vehicle and get a floor jack with a higher weight capacity. The downside of such car jacks is that they can be very bulky and heavy that it isn’t really practical to put them in your trunk.
- Bottle Jack
As the name implies, a bottle jack is a type of car jack that takes on a cylindrical shape. It comes with a mechanism that allows for the insertion of a lever so that it can be pumped and create pressure in the bottle jack. This also works like a floor jack, except that it is more compact and doesn’t come with wheels. The problem is that, like the scissor jack, its stability is dependent on the type of surface it is placed on.
- Hi-lift Jack
These are specialty jacks that are designed to raise off-road vehicles or any other vehicle with a lifted chassis. These can raise vehicles up to a staggering height of 5 feet and are rated at 7,000 pounds in lifting capacity. They are also exceptionally long, the shortest being 3 feet. This makes them very impractical to put in your car’s trunk.
How to Safely Use a Floor Jack
When working on your car, safety is always a must. And this includes working with a floor jack. Here’s how to use a floor jack safely:
- Always check your floor jack for proper operation before using it. Any obvious sign of damage or leaks should warrant its immediate replacement.
- Always use a floor jack with a weight rating that is appropriate for the weight of your car.
- Don’t buy cheap floor jacks. You cannot place a price tag on safety.
- Always make sure to put your car in a flat, firm, solid, stable, and even surface before placing the floor jack. Make sure the car is in the Park position and that the emergency brakes have been engaged.
- Place a wheel chock on the wheel opposite the one you will be working on. If you’re working on the front right wheel, then place the chock on the front left wheel to prevent accidental rolling.
- Use a jack stand to support your vehicle while you’re working on it. This is just a precautionary measure in the event that the floor jack fails.
- Put the floor jack in the correct lifting points of your vehicle. Check your car’s manual to learn the locations of these lifting points.
- Make sure to test the stability of the floor jack even before you start working under the vehicle.
- When you’re done working on your vehicle, always make sure that no part of your body is still under the vehicle before you start lowering the jack.
Car Jacks vs. Jack Stands
A car jack is a device that can raise a vehicle several inches and up to a few feet off the ground. Most employ hydraulic pressure to lift the car, although there are also those that operate on a screw-type mechanism.
Jack stands, on the other hand, are fixed devices that are placed under the vehicle once it is already lifted or raised. Ideally, a car jack is used to lift the car. Once in the desired height, a jack stand can be placed on the frame or axle to help support the vehicle in an elevated position. The hydraulic pressure on the car jack is then slowly released until the vehicle safely rests on the jack stand.
Best Car Jack FAQ:
Q: What is a car jack?
A: Any device that can be placed under the chassis of a vehicle and manipulated so that it can raise the vehicle several inches to a few feet off the ground can be rightfully considered as a car jack. Having a car jack can easily lift that side of the car where you want to change the tires so you can go on your way. A car jack can also be useful in other situations wherein you need to increase the clearance between the bottom surface of your car and the ground surface. This will allow you to work under the car, although we strongly suggest getting a more stable platform if you’re going to work under the vehicle for a long time or if the work entails some serious tasks.
Q: How high can a scissor jack go?
A: Everything depends on the length of the screw that draws the two ‘legs’ together. Some can go as high as 15 inches, maybe even higher. Keep in mind, however, that the higher the scissor jack is raised, the more unstable it becomes since it has a very narrow base. So, it is best to read your car’s manual since this type of jack often comes packaged with each type of car.
Q: How does a hydraulic car jack work?
A: Hydraulic car jacks typically come with two cylinders where oil is moved through them by pump plungers. When the plunger is drawn back, the suction valve ball in the pump chamber opens and allows oil to move in. When the pump plunger is moved or pushed forward, the oil moves into the cylinder chamber through a check valve. At the same time the suction valve closes. This leads to the buildup of pressure with the cylinder and allowing it to lift very heavy objects.
Q: Is it safe to place a floor jack at the differential?
A: You may have seen seasoned mechanics use floor jacks and place them right under the car’s differential to lift it up. Then your neighbor will tell you not to do it because it’s not safe. So what gives? If the car manual says you can safely lift your car with the differential as a lifting point, then it should be perfectly fine to lift it at the said location. However, if it mentions that only the pinch weld or the frame of your car should be used as lifting points, then by all means use these points instead. Professionals lift cars at the differential because they know what they’re doing and they use only the right kind of jack for the job.
Our Top Pick
Torin’s Big Red Hydraulic Trolley Floor Jack is, hands down, our best car jack because of its exceptional lift capacity, commendable range of lift height, and heavy-duty construction, all at a friendly price. It’s the perfect lifting solution for today’s cars, trucks, and SUVs.
Picking the right car jack is crucial to ensuring safety while working on your car. Choosing the one with the right weight rating, height of the lifting pad, and overall build quality should help you bring home the best car jack.