Ramps or Jackstands: Which Is Best for Working Under Your Car?
Ramps and Jacks aren’t quite interchangeable. Each tool has its advantages, and disadvantages.
Although I do most of my own wrenching, getting underneath a car is probably one of my least favorite things to do. I don’t like getting dirty or laying on the ground, but unfortunately, it’s kind of unavoidable depending on what kind of service needs to be done. Unless you own a lifted SUV or pickup, chances are you’re gonna have to get the vehicle off the ground to work underneath it.
What black magic and spells should one use to elevate a car so a human can safely work below it? For the home mechanic who doesn’t have the space or money for a real two- or four-post lift, there are only two choices: ramps or a jack with jack stands. Both methods are mostly interchangeable, but there are some key things one should consider before choosing one or the other.
Jack and Jack Stands
Raising a vehicle using a jack is probably the method most folks are familiar with. Most modern vehicles come with a scissor jack as standard equipment, so at the least, many people have used one to remove or change a tire. If you’re looking for a more robust tool, a decent floor jack isn’t too much money from any number of auto parts stores. Look for one that's rated for enough weight to lift your car, and consider a low-profile option if your vehicle is low to the ground.
Jacking is easy. Simply place the jack underneath the vehicle’s jacking points (often outlined in the vehicle’s owner’s manual) or underneath something sturdy, like a frame member. Then, raise the jack, and place a jack stand underneath a secure spot, assuring the jack stand is locked into the correct notch. Jack stands should only be placed in spots that can bear the vehicle's weight, like a solid axle or a jack point. Once again, an owner's manual or forums and Facebook groups are good places to double-check this. Google your make and model plus "jack points" if you're unsure, just remember to cross-check your findings from a couple of sources.
This method of lifting a car doesn’t require a second person, it allows for raising the car at multiple different points, and the lift height is also customizable.
Disadvantages of Using a Jack
Raising a car with a jack might be simple, but it isn’t without its trials.
- Risk of jack stands or jacks failing. Now, we here at The Drive strongly discourage work being performed underneath a car supported solely by jacks, but even jack stands can be tricky. If jack stands aren’t mounted correctly, they can shift and twist, and fail. Heck, one company had issues with failing jack stands even when they were used correctly.
- You have to get dirty. There’s no real graceful way to jack a car in the air without touching the ground, at least a little bit.
- Not ideal for low ground clearance vehicles. Small, low, sports cars can be so low, that a jack will not fit underneath them.
- Rust. Many jacking points are synonymous with a vehicle’s pinch welds, and other vulnerable, low-mounted frame points. Corrosion often isn’t kind to jacking points, on rust belt cars they can be the first to go when corrosion gets tough. There have been plenty of horror stories of owners accidentally puncturing through a vehicle due to the concentrated weight of the jack, pushing through a piece of metal that had unknowingly lost a lot of its structural integrity.
Rather than fool around with a heavy and finicky floor jack, why not just get a set of ramps and drive right up? Ramps involve two raised wedges in front of each wheel and the driver can essentially drive up to a platform. It’s easy, convenient, and a lot simpler than writhing around on the ground with a floor jack. There are also specially made long ramps that can accommodate super low cars, too. However, that ease can be dependent on certain factors.
Disadvantages of Ramps
Jacks and jack stands are a more universal solution, and that’s partially because ramps can limit the scope of the project. Here’s why:
- Ramps are a two-man job. Driving onto ramps requires a spotter, a second person outside of the vehicle that assures that the wheels are in the correct position, and the car isn’t in danger of falling off. Without them, it’s super easy to accidentally drive off the ramps, hurting yourself or the car in the process.
- Requires a vehicle that can move on its power. With ramps, the car has to be driven atop them. If the vehicle can’t move under its own power, then ramps are a lot harder.
- Can’t remove wheels or tires. Since the vehicle’s weight is resting on the wheel, which is perched on a ramp, the wheel can’t be removed. That’s pretty limiting for lots of repair work, like brake jobs, axle replacements, and more.
Should I Use Jacks, Ramps, or Both?
If you’re working alone, a jack and jack stands are essential equipment. Jacks work well for almost any modern vehicle, provided it’s not too tall or too low-slung, and their versatility gives them an advantage over ramps. However, if the car is lowered and a jack can’t fit underneath, ramps might be the only course of action.
Whatever you choose, be sure to check the weight limit of your equipment and be sure that they're appropriate for the occasion. Happy wrenching.