There’s more than one type of car jack out there and not every jack is a perfect match for every automobile. Knowing which jack is the safest option for lifting your vehicle means understanding how the weight, design and jack points on your car or truck impact the jacking procedure. Check out these tips for understanding which jack is the best choice for your needs.
How Heavy Is Your Vehicle?
Each car jack type is rated to handle a certain weight range, with the actual measurement listed directly on the jack itself in the form of an easily visible sticker. It’s important to understand that you won’t be lifting your entire automobile with a single jack, so you don’t need one that’s rated for the whole weight of your car or truck. For most sedans and small cars, a two-ton jack will be sufficient for raising a corner. A pickup truck or SUV could require twice that rating (four tons) to give you the margin of safety that you need.
What Fits Where?
The two most common type of car jacks are floor jacks and bottle jacks, each of which uses hydraulic fluid to lift a vehicle. Floor jacks have a wider footprint, with the handle at one end and the lifting pad at the other, while bottle jacks look like their namesake and stand upright, with a small footprint and the jack handle sliding in directly beside the lifting arm.
Each of these jacks are fine for basic repairs, and since they come in a variety of sizes, you can usually find one that will fit underneath your car’s jacking points, which will be listed in your owner’s manual. Bottle jacks are great if the lift points are right near the edge of the chassis, while floor jacks give you more reach under the vehicle and can be found in low-profile designs that are useful if your suspension sits close to the ground.
If you own a truck or tall SUV, you might have been outfitted with a bumper jack from the factory. These jacks are taller units that hook up under the bumper of your vehicle. They can be useful in a pinch for a flat tire, but they’re not stable or recommended for any serious mechanical work.
Once you select your type of car jack, you need to pair it with a jack stand or two after the vehicle is up in the air. Never perform work on a car that is being supported exclusively by a jack, as it could fail at any time and seriously injure you. Jack stands are solid metal supports that can slide in beside your jack to take the weight of the automobile (up to their maximum rating, of course), allowing you to remove the jack itself and work safely.
Cars are big, heavy and dangerous, but with a few precautions you can change a tire, inspect the undercarriage or perform maintenance in a very safe way.
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Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.