There are some repairs and maintenance items that can only be done from underneath a vehicle. While your vehicle may be equipped with a jack, it was never designed to be used for anything but an emergency tire change. When the time comes to buy a service jack and jack stands, the options can seem overwhelming. We’ve put together this car jack and safety jack stands guide to help you understand the different options available for getting your vehicle off the ground.
Safety Is Paramount
This is a true car jack safety story about my friend Ken. A mechanic by trade, Ken was wrenching on a personal vehicle in the driveway one weekend when he became a victim of a nightmarish scene. The flimsy factory jack he was using to keep the car off the ground failed, causing Ken to become trapped between a concrete driveway and a few thousand pounds of automotive steel. Ken yelled for help, but no one came to help him. He told me he mustered some previously unknown strength to lift a corner of the car off of himself and slide out from under it.
Ken suffered serious injury to his back, and it literally took him months to get back on his feet. Due to permanent injuries, he could no longer make a living working on cars. The unfortunate event changed his life.
The accident was totally preventable, though. Smart lifting practices are a must to ensure the safety of anyone working underneath a vehicle. High-quality jacks, jack stands or ramps can keep you safe whether you’re replacing a clutch or just sliding under a vehicle for a quick visual inspection. Our jack and jack stands buyer’s guide explains how to choose lifting equipment that’s right for your needs.
Jack and Lifting Basics
Jack stands: So what is a jack stand? Jack stands may be the most overlooked safety equipment items in a DIY garage. Jack stands do not lift vehicles. Instead, they provide a safe, fixed support for a raised vehicle. Use a pair of jack stands every time you lift a vehicle and you will vastly decrease the likelihood of becoming a victim of a falling vehicle. Here’s how to use jack stand vehicle supports: simply jack up the vehicle and lower it onto the jack stand or stands. When the time comes to remove them, raise the vehicle slightly with a jack, remove the jack stands and lower the vehicle. Always place wheel chocks before performing work on a raised vehicle.
If you are wondering how many jack stands do I need then the typical answer is two, one for each side of the vehicle. For answering what size jack stands do I need the solution is a stand that is rated for the weight of your vehicle. For instance, a 2-ton car should use jack stands rated to hold 2-tons. There is also nothing wrong with using higher weight rated jack stands, as it gives extra margin of jack stand safety. The safest jack stands offer a wide, stable footing to avoid accidental tipping.
Ramps: Ramps are a safe alternative to jacks and jack stands because they provide large, solid points of contact that are unlikely to fail. Ramps are not as versatile as jacks and jack stands, though. If you need to remove a wheel to replace brake pads, for example, a ramp does you no good. If your job is replacing a muffler, though, ramps are ideal. When it comes to ramps vs. jack stands there is no clear winner, each has their place depending on the job at hand.
Floor jacks: A jack that comes with a vehicle’s spare tire changing kit is not suitable for use in other applications. These jacks are typically designed to be small and lightweight, ideal for a minor roadside emergency but little else. For regular lifting around the shop or garage, a quality floor jack is an essential tool. Choose a floor jack with a lifting pad that’s at least two inches in diameter. This will give the vehicle’s jack point plenty of surface area on which to rest. Because a floor jack is on wheels, it will roll into a sturdy position as the car rises. Be sure to lower the car onto jack stands before starting your work.
Bottle jacks: Bottle jacks are more compact than floor jacks and are often rated for heavier weights than similarly priced floor jacks. Because bottle jacks usually have a smaller footprint than floor jacks, though, they may not be as stable. Be sure to use bottle jacks on a strong, flat surface like a garage floor to minimize the chance of movement. Use jack stands with a bottle jack just as you would with a floor jack.
Specialty lifting equipment: Special equipment helps DIYers and pros alike more safely and easily perform specific jobs. A transmission jack slides neatly under the transmission to safely drop it from a vehicle. An engine hoist or engine crane allows you to lift an entire engine out of its bay while minimizing risk to yourself or your vehicle. If you do a lot of heavy wrenching, a specialty lift is a great way to get the job done quickly and safely.
Popular Jacks and Lifting Equipment
The charts below outlines some popular car jacks, ramps, jack stands and other lifting equipment available from NAPA AUTO PARTS. We recommend choosing a jack rated at roughly the same capacity as the curb weight of the vehicle it is lifting. For example, a 4,000 pound (two ton) SUV would need a two ton jack. While you won’t be lifting the entire vehicle at once with the jack, it leaves a healthy safety margin.
Floor Jack and Bottle Jack Comparison Chart
|Image||Jack Type||Capacity||Closed Height||Lift Distance*||Unit Weight||View/Price at NAPAonline.com|
|Floor Jack||2-ton||5.3 inches||8.2 inches||18.75 lbs.||Balkamp 2-ton Floor Jack|
|Floor Jack||2-ton||3.4 inches||18.5 inches||45.2 lbs.||Carlyle Tools 2-ton Floor Jack|
|Floor Jack||3.5-ton||4 inches||15.675 inches||112 lbs.||NAPA Lifting Equipment 3.5-ton Floor Jack|
|Bottle Jack||2-ton||6.22 inches||5.91 inches||5.06 lbs.||Evercraft 2-ton Bottle Jack|
|Bottle Jack||4-ton||7.09 inches||6.69 inches||7.26 lbs.||Evercraft 4-ton Bottle Jack|
|Bottle Jack||6-ton||7.75 inches||7.29 inches||9.68 lbs.||Evercraft 6-ton Bottle Jack|
Jack Stands Comparison Chart
|Image||Capacity (each)||Closed Height||Raised Height||Unit Weight (pair)||View/Price at NAPAonline.com|
|2-ton||10.83 inches||16.53 inches||11 lbs.||Evercraft 2-ton Jack Stands (pair)|
|3-ton||10.2 inches||15.4 inches||10 lbs.||Carlyle Tools 3-ton Jack Stands (pair)|
|4-ton||4 inches||15.675 inches||19.8 lbs.||NAPA Lifting Equipment 4-ton Jack Stands (pair)|
Car Ramps Comparison Chart
|Image||Capacity (max. GVWR/pair)||Construction||Height||Width||View/Price at NAPAonline.com|
|6,500 lbs.||Steel||9.25 inches||11.5 inches||Balkamp Standard Car Ramps (pair)|
|12,000 lbs.||Polymer||12 inches||12 inches||Balkamp Heavy-Duty Car Ramps (pair)|
These are a few of the basic lifting options that most home garages need. Once things get a bit more serious it may be worth investing in a 2-post lift or a 4-post lift. These normally require a bit of prep for installation, but can be well worth the expense due to the convenience factor. Just remember when pondering using a jack vs. jack stand, the jack is for lifting only and the jack stand is for holding. Use each tool for its designated job and you will do fine.
Check out all the lifting tools & equipment
Nick Palermo is a freelance automotive writer and NAPA Know How blogger. Since becoming an auto news and reviews contributor at AutoTrader.com in 2011, he has broadened his coverage of the automotive industry to include topics like new car technology, antiques and classics, DIY maintenance and repair, industry news and motorsports. A committed advocate for automotive media professionals, Nick is a member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association.