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Different Types of Car Jacks

A scissor jack lifts a vehicle for a tire change

The time to learn what type of jack a given job calls for isn’t when you’re stranded somewhere with places to be. Learning this important maintenance information now will leave you better equipped when the need to use a jack does arise, taking one worry off your plate.

There are several types of car jacks available. Although they look different, each one has a similar function: raising your vehicle to a certain height so you can remove a tire or perform other work. Here we’ll explore the different jack types, their capabilities, and the precautions you should take when you’re using one.

Height, Weight and Construction

Your vehicle will need a jack that’s suited to it. A jack’s lifting height is important, perhaps even more so if you’re working with a larger vehicle, such as a truck. The jack’s weight capacity must exceed the curb weight of the vehicle. These kinds of jacks usually run from one to 10 tons, but multiple jacks can increase that capacity. Note that the materials used to construct a jack are important, and the most robust models tend to be made of steel.

Getting It Done

What is your goal when you’re using a car jack? For some, it’s to lift the vehicle high enough to remove and replace a flat tire. A jack can also be an ideal way to raise your vehicle so you can work underneath it. Sometimes a jack can even help lift a car out of a sticky situation or over an off-road obstacle. In all cases, the type of jack you’ll need will depend on what you’re doing. Let’s look at a few types.

Floor Jackfloor jack and jack stands

A floor jack and its more robust trolley jack counterpart represent the cream of the car-lifting tools crop. After all, who wouldn’t want a tool that easily wheels underneath a vehicle and supplies lift? Usually, floor jacks are of lighter construction and easier to maneuver than other jacks. On the other hand, a trolley jack is heavier, as its constructed of stronger materials, including steel. Garages use these jacks to raise vehicles fast. They are expensive and typically hold up to three tons. They work well when jack stands are also in place.

Scissor Jack

Often found next to the spare tire that comes with the car, a scissor jack in its compressed state easily fits inside tight places. This type of jack utilizes a hand-cranked screw to pull two opposite corners of a diamond-shaped structure together, forcing the head and foot of the jack apart to create lift. These are good for tire changes and, in a pinch, getting your car up on jack stands, but you should never get under a vehicle supported by just a scissor jack.

Bottle Jack

Also known as a whiskey jack, a bottle jack is favored for its multiple uses, which include leveling a house and straightening a door jamb. The body of a bottle jack is a stout cylinder with a hydraulic ram that extends vertically to lift a weight when the arm is pumped. These can be very strong, with the most capable being able to hold up to 20 tons, but two or three tons each is typical for automotive work.

Jack Stands

Once a vehicle is lifted, what’s the best way to hold it in place? Most agree that jack stands are the solution. Simply slip one or more of these pyramid-shaped heavy steel structures underneath your car and gradually lower the vehicle to sit in the saddle, with large locking pins holding it in place. With a heavy-duty set, the combined capacity is likely to far exceed the weight of anything a home mechanic would be working on. Jack stands are the minimum requirement for holding up any vehicle you’ll be working under.

High-Lift Jack

When you’re off-roading, you need enough vehicle clearance, or breakover height, to get over boulders, logs or ledges. Without that, a high-lift jack, also known as a utility jack, can be useful for raising the chassis to clear an obstacle.

Lifting Precautions

Never use a jack or stands that are not suitable for your vehicle’s weight. If the jack and stands are not on firm, flat ground, do not work on the vehicle, and definitely don’t get under it. If the jack or stands fail or the car falls off them, you risk damaging the vehicle and perhaps harming yourself. Additionally, remember to secure the parking brake and use wheel chocks whenever possible to ensure that the vehicle stays put.

Check out all the jacks and accessories available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on jacks, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Matthew C. Keegan View All

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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