Here's How to Lift a Car and Not Be Crushed
The car goes up and down, up and down, up and down.
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There are plenty of reasons to raise your car: changing oil, rotating tires, bleeding brakes, or, if you're a garage hero, swapping in a 1,000 horsepower Dodge Hellephant crate motor. But not everyone has a mechanic-spec car lift that's bolted to the concrete floor and will withstand three or four F-450s. For most, that means a jack and jack stands are the best option to raise your vehicle off the ground and get to your vehicle's disgustingly dirty underbelly.
Using a car jack is relatively simple, and the tools you need to get the job done aren't expensive. The trick is having the right jack, a couple of jack stands, a set of wheel chocks, and the right location to lift your car into position safely and securely. Follow along as The Drive's editors walk you through how to safely lift your car and gain access to its seedy underbody.
Let's get high! Wait, scratch that.
Estimated Time Needed: 30 minutes or less.
Skill Level: Beginner
Vehicle System: Your car's underside.
We're not going to lie; there's a real danger of the car falling off of the jack and turning a simple oil change into a disaster. There are a few simple ways to help mitigate the dangers of lifting your car you can take to keep yourself and others safe. Here's how to do it:
- All jacks aren't created equal. Each is rated for different maximum weight capacities. That means your Harbor Freight special might not be appropriate for your Ford Super Duty. As such, you must know the weight of your vehicle ahead of time—both Google and that dusty, old owner's manual can tell you.
- The same is true with jack stands. Each is rated for a different maximum weight.
- Always place wheel chocks in front of the tires that are touching the ground. It's especially important when the rear of the car is in the air, as emergency brakes only work at the rear. Wheel chocks are imperative as they prevent the vehicle from rolling as you jack it up.
- Slow and steady, my friend; using a jack in a controlled manner is the best way to prevent accidents from happening.
Everything You'll Need
We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s what you’ll need to get the job done.
You’ll also need a flat surface, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we ain’t getting your car out of the clink.
Organizing your workspace so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)
- If you don't need to remove the wheels and tires, consider using ramps.
- If you haven't already, put the car in park. You don't war be featured on Funniest Home Videos, or be a special guest at the emergency room.
- Place one jack stand on either side of the car, either front or rear depending on which part of the vehicle you're working on.
- Chock the wheels that won't be lifted.
How to Lift a Car
Let's do this!
Positioning the Car Jack
- Place the jack underneath the frame, preferably at the specified jack points of the vehicle. These points can be found in the owner's manual.
- Slowly raise the jack to meet the jack point until the two touch and it becomes slightly difficult to raise.
- Check to make sure the head and jack point haven't shifted during the initial jack raise. If everything is copasetic, continue!
Raising the Car
- Raise the jack either by pumping the handle or spinning the more compact rod tool, which is usually found in your car.
- Lift slowly. As the jack takes the weight of the vehicle, it will become harder to raise.
- Stop at the desired height. Continue to lift the jack until you reach the point where you can access the part of the vehicle you need to finish the job.
- NOTE: Never work underneath a vehicle, or even just crawl under for any reason, while it's supported only by a jack.
Securing the Car
- Once you have it at the desired height, place jack stands underneath non-articulating points under the car (e.g., frame, subframe, engine cradle).
- Adjust the jack stands to the desired height to keep the vehicle in the air.
- Gently lower the jack by either twisting the pump-action handle or twisting the knob on the more common spare tire jack. The frame should catch the jack stands giving you more than enough clearance to work with.
- Check that each jack stand is in place properly. Shake the car slightly to make sure it's set firmly.
You've done it! Congrats.
Repeating the Process
- 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 other automotive repairs and services require two or more wheels to be lifted, so check to see what the guides are for your specific job.
- Reposition the jack at the point you used before.
- Raise it until it takes the weight of the vehicle and lets the jack stands move freely.
- Remove the jack stands
- Lower the vehicle until it rests on the ground.
Tips from a Pro
We've lifted cars more times than we care to admit—don't ask us about the mismatched axles of '95—so here are our top tips for jacking up your car.
- 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'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.
- If you have a heavier vehicle, even with the right car jack can be difficult. To make your life easier, find a sturdy elongated object, something in the range of 4 to 5 feet in length, and either strap it to the jack's handle, or in the case of a pipe, slip in onto the handle, and use the extra leverage to make pumping easier.
- If you don't have a wheel chock, anything heavy that you can wedge behind a wheel will suffice. Just make sure you really jam it in there.
FAQs About Car Jacks
You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!
Q. So Why Would I Need to Lift My Car?
A. I mean, you might want to install Underglow. Do you want to install Underglow?
A. Don't be shy, we love Underglow! Also, 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 good ole 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, whole car jacks, are also useful but are less flexible since they're sorta bolted to the floor.
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.
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