How To Lift a Car

How to lift your car safely

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There are plenty of reasons you may have to raise your car in order to access the undercarriage. If you don't have an available car lift and still want to do the work yourself, the car jack is the next best option to control the height of the vehicle. Compared to car ramps, a car jack can raise and lower a vehicle in incremental amounts so you don't need to raise it any more than necessary.

Using a car jack is relatively simple if you do it correctly and safely. It also doesn't have to be expensive in terms of the tools you need to get the job done. The trick is having the right jack, a couple of jack stands and wheel chocks for safety, and the right location to lift it into position.

Safety

Since there is always a danger of the car falling off of the jack, there are a few steps you should take to keep you and others safe:

  • Use the right jack. All car jacks are rated for different maximum weight capacities, meaning some aren't appropriate for larger vehicles like SUVs and trucks. It helps to know the weight of your vehicle ahead of time if you don't have a jack stand so you can buy the right one.
  • Secure the vehicle with wheel chocks, jack stands, and the brakes. You want to prevent the vehicle from rolling around as you jack it up, meaning the opposite wheels (front wheels for the rear or vice versa) have to be secured before you begin the lift.
  • Always lift the vehicle slowly. Using the car jack in a controlled manner is the best way to prevent accidents from happening. Going slowly means you may be able to see the jack stands to start to slip or fail so you can lower it quickly before an accident happens.

Things You Will Need

The key to successfully lifting your car is having the right equipment. The car jack and jack stands all need to be rated for your vehicle's weight so you can lift everything safely.

  • The right car jack. There are many types of car jacks available. You can use almost any to successfully lift the vehicle as long as it has the right maximum weight capacity. We tend to recommend hydraulic car jacks if you're doing work around the garage since they offer the most stability when under a load.
  • A couple of jack stands. You should never work under a vehicle that is only supported by the car jack itself. Since car jacks can fail for any number of reasons, a pair of jack stands supporting the vehicle is a good safety measure to have.

Preparation

You can't just lift a car anywhere and expect it to remain on the jack or stands. This is why a little bit of preparation is required beforehand:

  • Find the right location. You can raise a car indoors or outside as long as the ground is level. A flat area will keep the car balanced on its center of gravity as you lift it. An indoor environment is usually preferable since you won't have to worry about the wind or bad weather during a lift.
  • Chock the wheels. Wheel chocks are small wedge blocks that will keep the wheels from rolling as you lift the opposite end. You can use them in addition to the brakes, but make sure you have a good set for the ultimate peace of mind.
  • Put the car in park. This will add a little bit of extra stability to the car to prevent it from rolling away.
Some jack stands holding up a car
gettyimages

The right equipment will keep you safe while working underneath the vehicle.

How to Lift a Car

Once everything is ready, actually lifting the car is fairly simple as long as you have the right lifting point and security measures in place. Once again, if you haven't already done so, secure the opposite wheels to prevent the vehicle from moving. Once everything is secure, you can begin the lift.

Positioning the Car Jack

The first step is to actually get the car jack in the position where it can effectively and safely lift the frame of the vehicle. This point will depend on the vehicle itself, so you may have to do a little research beforehand.

  1. Find the jack point. All vehicles have at least a couple of points along the undercarriage that is designed to take the weight of the car when it’s being lifted. This is where you will want to position the jack. You can look for flat, metal areas, cutouts, notches, or plastic blocks along the frame. You may also want to consult the owner's manual to see if it lists appropriate spots.
  2. Position the jack underneath the jack point. Specifically, you will want to place the contact point between the car and the jack underneath the point so it will connect quickly as you begin to raise it.
  3. Raise the jack. You'll have to either pump the handle or spin a rod tool, depending on the type of jack you have (scissor jacks use the rod tool). Slowly raise the jack-up until it is about an inch away from the jack point of the vehicle. If the top isn't quite lined up with the point, reposition the jack as needed. Once everything is lined up, continue to lift the jack until it makes contact with the vehicle. Don't raise it any further quite yet.

Raising the Car

Once the jack is connected with the vehicle and the wheels are in place, you are ready to lift the weight of the car up off the ground.

  1. Lift the jack-up slowly. As the jack takes the weight of the vehicle, it will become harder to raise. You may have to lift it for a while until you start to notice the frame and the wheels lift off of the ground.
  2. Check the connection between the vehicle and the jack. If it looks like anything is slipping, stop and lower the jack to reposition. If everything looks good and you're not hearing any questionable noises, you can continue to lift.
  3. Stop at the desired height. Continue to lift the jack until you reach the point where you can access the undercarriage. For most vehicles, you only need to lift the wheels a few inches off the ground.

Securing the Car

Once you have it at the desired height, you will have to secure the vehicle to keep it from falling back onto the ground if an accident happens. This is particularly important if you're going to work underneath the vehicle while it is lifted.

  1. Place jack stands underneath the frame. You should position them near the stand or jack points for the best results.
  2. Adjust the height of the jack stands. Most stands have incremental levels for the height, so place the cradle as close to the frame as possible until it locks.
  3. Gently lower the vehicle. The frame should catch the jack stands without lowering the vehicle too much so you'll still have enough clearance to work with. Once you can lower the jack stand without the weight of the frame, it is now safe to work underneath the car.

You can repeat these steps for each wheel you have to lift to get the desired work done. If you are changing a tire, for example, you only have to lift one wheel and then lower it. Some automotive repairs and services require two or more wheels to be lifted.

Lowering the vehicle post-lift is a simple matter of reversing the steps above: Reposition the jack and raise it until it takes the weight of the vehicle, remove the jack stands, and then lower the vehicle until it rests on the ground.

Tips

  • Stop lifting anytime you hear any cracks or pops coming from the jack, jack stands, or the car itself.
  • Never place any body parts or objects underneath the vehicle during a lift. You should only work underneath the car once it is properly secured with jack stands.
  • If you don't intend to work underneath the car and just need the extra height, you can go without securing the vehicle with jack stands.
  • If you're using a scissor lift, make sure you have the correct side facing the vehicle before you lift. The larger, flatter surface is the base of the lift and should touch the ground.

FAQs

Q. Why would I need to lift my own vehicle?

A. There are a number of DIY repairs and services that require lifting a vehicle. Even simply changing your oil requires you to get underneath the engine to access the oil pan. More extensive procedures, like lifting the car’s suspension, require more ground clearance.

Q. What is the best type of jack?

A. We're partial to hydraulic jacks since they are easy to move around and still strong enough to take the weight of most vehicles. Scissor jacks are good when you need to lift the vehicle on the side of the road to change a tire. More specialized jacks, like floor jacks, are also useful but are less flexible in use.

Q. How many wheels can I lift at once?

A. Most car jacks are designed to lift one wheel at a time. You can lift all four wheels with sequential lifts, but always make sure you are working with one corner of the vehicle at a time.