In most vehicles, the factory tool kit includes a jack. When it comes to car jack safety, a factory jack is not the same as a service jack for a number of reasons. The screw jack or scissor jack that came with your car was developed for compactness and temporary use, whereas a service jack or floor jack is optimized for durability and versatility.
But let’s dig a little deeper and investigate the biggest differences:
The scissor jack was designed for your specific vehicle, so this type of jack, if made for a small sedan might collapse if you try lifting an SUV. Floor jacks, on the other hand, come in capacities from two tons and up, capable of lifting anything from an ATV to a bulldozer.
Because the scissor jack was designed for changing flat tires, it isn’t expected to see much use. Typically made of stamped metal, they’re just strong enough to get the job done. Floor jacks are designed for repeated and heavy usage, so they can take more abuse.
The scissor jack was designed to accomplish a single task — changing a tire. Depending on design, it may fit lift points on your specific vehicle, and maybe only to a certain height, to get the tire a couple inches off the ground. This makes it almost useless for anything else, such as lifting a different vehicle or completing an oil change. A floor jack, on the other hand, adapts to any vehicle’s lift points and can lift high enough to get under the car.
When it comes to DIY auto repair, don’t count on the scissor jack for anything more than its intended purpose. But if you plan on attempting more substantial repairs, invest in a floor jack and jack stands, rated for the heaviest vehicle you own, keep them well-maintained and always consider your safety.
Employ Safe Lifting Practices
Before crawling under your car, remember that safety is paramount. Never put part of your body under a vehicle supported only by a jack, whether using a scissor jack or floor jack:
- Block: Make sure your car is on a level surface and put the transmission in park or in gear and set the parking brake. Use chock blocks to block the wheels opposite from where you’re lifting, both in front and in back of the wheel. For example, if you’re lifting the left rear of the vehicle, put chock blocks in front of and behind the right front tire.
- Lift: Use the jack to lift the vehicle to whatever height is necessary. On soft surfaces, such as dirt or asphalt, use three-quarter inch plywood to prevent the jack from sinking into the ground.
- Support: Place jack-stands, preferably rated higher than your jack, under a solid part of the car, such as an axle or suspension component. Lower the vehicle onto the jack stands and shake the car to make sure it’s stable. Once you are sure your car is stable, you can remove the jack and begin work on your vehicle.
Scissor jacks and floor jacks both have their place, and both are exceptionally useful, but they can be inconvenient, if not downright dangerous, when used beyond what they are designed to do. Whether using a scissor jack or floor jack, keep it well-maintained, and use it properly. Remember these car jack tips, and you can safely work on practically anything under your car.
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Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.