Time for a new lift? Check out your options to choose the best one for your shop

Order Reprints
Time for a new lift? Check out your options to choose the best one for your shop


Weber is president of Virginia-based Write Stuff. He is an award-winning freelance automotive and technical writer and photo-grapher with over two decades of journalism experience. He is an ASE-certified Master Automobile Technician, and has worked on automobiles, trucks and small engines. He is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and numerous other automotive trade associations. He has worked as an auto service technician, a shop manager and a regional manager for an automotive service franchise operation.

Whether it is a routine oil change or a complete engine swap, the job is easier, faster, safer and more profitable if the vehicle is suspended on a lift.

Lifts are essential equipment for any professional auto service facility. Lying on your back and rolling under a car on a creeper just doesn’t cut it in today’s fast-paced pro shop. Industry experts note that a bay with a lift has double the productivity of a bay without one.

Like anything else, buying the best lift you can afford may cost more up front, but may pay for itself in less down time and fewer repairs. You should consider the total cost of ownership and the risk of lost productivity and income. Nobody has to tell you it’s all about the bottom line.

You may be in the market for a new lift or a replacement. It may have been a while since you were last in the market for a lift. If so, you probably have questions about the various types of lifts, accessories, installation, training and safety. We’ll try to help you make informed decisions.

Before you can begin your search, you have to do your homework. Ask yourself what kinds of vehicles you will be lifting. Many ASP readers will be in the market for a light-duty lift capable of handing passenger cars and light trucks. Also ask yourself what types of work you will be doing on those vehicles. Will it be transmission work, exhaust work, brake service, quick oil changes? List all your needs. Some lifts are better for particular jobs than others.

Now that you have evaluated your lifting needs, evaluate your shop. How much space do you have between service bays? How high is your ceiling? Do you have any pass-through bays where one is located beyond another? Do you own the shop and real estate or do you lease it? For instance, you may not want to install an in-ground lift that you can’t remove when the lease expires.

Before you make a final decision, contact the Automotive Lift Institute (see website ALI is a trade association representing nearly 20 lift manufacturers. The ALI website includes links and other contact information for the member manufacturers.


What are the advantages of in-ground lifts?

Twin-post, in-ground lifts are often preferred by auto dealerships and tire shops with multiple bays. They offer 360-degree access to the vehicle and rapid ascent and decent.

In-ground lifts are a good choice for both small shops and large service facilities because they take up less space. If you have limited space you can install an in-ground lift in only the space required for a vehicle. If you have a large space you can generally fit 12 in-ground lifts in the same amount of space as 11 above-ground two-post lifts.

Since in-ground lifts do not have large two-post columns there is less risk of door damage from door-to-column contact. They are very versatile, lending them to almost any type of automotive service.

Although in-ground lifts have traditionally used hydraulic oil, some newer lifts are going green by using tap water. Even if a leak should develop, there is no fear of pollution.

What are the advantages of above-ground lifts?

Above-ground lifts cost significantly less the in-ground lifts, and are also easier to install if there is already an existing floor. Above-ground lifts are installed on top of concrete that is already cured, assuming the concrete is in good condition and there are no cracks around the area of installation.

Above-ground lifts are also easier to service because all components are above ground and easily accessible.

Both the initial cost and installation cost is lower for above-ground lifts than for in-ground lifts.

Another advantage is that they can be removed from one shop and installed in another. Not only does this make them portable, it provides residual value as they may be sold to someone needing a bargain and the sale profits can be rolled into a newer lift with the latest technology and accessory options. Some accessories may not be backward compatible.

If the shop owner does not own the shop he can simply remove the lifts and move to another location. Another benefit is that the lift can be installed outside or in various locations throughout the shop. Above-ground lifts provide a lot of flexibility.

If you have the option, choose a lift that uses a 220-volt, two-phase (or even three-phase) motor. They are robust and reliable in the long run. If you don’t have 220-volt service, lift manufacturers offer 110-volt systems. One manufacturer has recently announced a 12-volt DC system that features constantly recharging batteries.

What are the advantages of scissor lifts?

Scissor lifts are ideal for quick service or express bays. The pad style scissor lifts allow technicians to quickly and easily hit pick up points. Low rise scissor lifts make tire and brake work much more simple and allow the technician to easily and quickly get the car off the ground and do the service.

Above-ground scissors lifts allow the technician to simply drive on the runway and raise the vehicle. If your shop does lots of quick LOF (lube, oil and filter) jobs, a scissors lift is not only efficient, but has a low initial cost.

Double scissor lifts are a good choice for undercar service because of 360 degrees of access around the vehicle with no cross beams or columns getting in the technician’s way.

If you do a lot of steering and suspension work, an alignment rack is a necessity. Equipped with movable rams, vehicle service can be accomplished with the suspension loaded or unloaded.

What capacity lift should you buy?

As we said earlier, you should consider the vehicles you service most when considering lift capacity. Also the types of vehicles serviced come into play. For instance, if you are considering a 10,000-pound capacity lift, the overall lifting capacity is 10,000 pounds, but this actually means that each arm is rated at 2,500-pound capacity.

If you frequently service work trucks, most of the weight may be placed on the rear two arms, so you may want to consider a 12,000-pound capacity, or greater, lift instead.

You always want to purchase a lift where the capacity of the lift exceeds the heaviest vehicle you will lift by a factor of at least 15%.


What are the most important or popular accessories?

Frame-engaging truck adapters are among the most popular accessories. They are designed to engage the frame to prevent lateral movement of vehicles with frames while on the lift.

With many trucks and SUVs sporting running boards, the extra height afforded by the adaptors may prevent the arms from coming in contact with running boards.

In the case of two-post lifts, the key accessories are lifting pads and extensions that allow for safe, snug contact with the vehicle axle surface so as to prevent slippage. Consider lights to illuminate the underside of the vehicle and weight gauges to show the weight being lifted. Saddles and head plates ensure proper contact between the lift bolsters.

All accessories sold by the lift manufacturer must also have ALI certification. Avoid any accessories that don’t have it.

What kind of warranty should the buyer look for?

Most lift manufacturers offer a minimum one year warranty on parts and labor and you should demand at least that. Depending on the manufacturer, warranties can extend to several years for parts and labor. You may also be able to purchase a service contract.

Is it safe to buy a used lift?

Most lift manufacturers recommend against purchasing a used lift. You never know if used lifts were properly maintained or serviced.

Unless they have been serviced and maintained by the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance procedures, used lifts typically add up to big problems. Not only can they cost you unnecessary money in replacement parts and repair from the onset, they require more frequent parts and service, leading to significant down time and they could be prone to failure.

It can be OK to buy a used lift, but the lift needs to be checked out by an ALI-approved inspector to make sure the lift is safe.

What are the proper vehicle lifting points?

We recommend you use the OEM-recommended pickup points. Pickup points vary between each vehicle model based on the manufacturer.

Lift arm positions are based on the vehicle being lifted. To identify the positioning of lift arms you first need to center the gravity of the vehicle you are lifting with the columns of the lift. Once the center of gravity is established then you need to hit the OEM recommended pickup points of the vehicle you are lifting.

The ALI offers a guide called the “Vehicle Lifting Points for Frame Engaging Lifts.” It is a 60-page, quick-reference manual for lifting point information as recommended by both domestic and import vehicle manufacturers. The ALI sponsors and updates this guide annually as an industry service using data furnished by Chek-Chart Products.

Many shops use ALI’s guide and other safety materials as an integral component of their overall employee safety and training program.

Visit ALI’s website at to order this guide or for information on other safety materials and standards sponsored by the lift manufacturers.

What periodic maintenance should be performed?

Lifts are like any other piece of equipment. As you routinely explain to your customers the need to change their oil every time it is scheduled, so it is important to grease and lubricate your lift as specified by the manufacturer. One of the simplest maintenance tasks is to keep it clean, specifically keeping dirt and debris from collecting under the arms and posts.



Inspecting for damage

You should have your lifts inspected by a representative of the manufacturer who has been certified by ALI to do effective and thorough inspection. He knows what to look for.

Routine inspection and maintenance ensures that the lift works properly and avoids unexpected down time from failures. Annual inspections are encouraged.

Lift owners and operators should routinely check their lifts for obvious problems.

For instance, check for leaks on the floor seal for in-ground lifts, or at the hydraulic reservoir on a post lift. Weeping could mean that a seal may soon fail. Check the pistons on in-ground lifts for nicks and scratches that can cause seal damage.

Check the cables and pulley on above-ground lifts. Fraying cables mean that the lift should be removed from service and repaired. Pulleys should be routinely inspected for wear where the cable rides. Hydraulic lines should be inspected for leaks.

Is there training for rookie techs?

Nearly all lift installers will train techs on the operation of newly installed lifts. Training sessions can usually be scheduled by contacting the lift manufacturer or its representative. It is a good idea to host occasional training sessions, especially if you add or replace employees. Techs who understand proper care and operation tend to place less wear and tear on the equipment.

ALI’s “Lifting it Right” safety training DVD, hosted by NASCAR legends Richard and Kyle Petty, is an excellent tool.

What about operator safety?

Operator and technician safety is always most critical. Failure or improper lift use can result in injury or even death.

Every lift comes with a manual. Some experts suggest that you ask every new employee to review the manual and sign a statement that they have done so.

This is not only important for the tech, but for the shop owner who should save a copy of the statement in the employee’s personnel file. Annual reviews are not a bad idea for current technicians.

You wouldn’t work under a vehicle without jack stands and you would be certain to not lower the floor jack until the vehicle safely rests on the stands. The same goes for lifts.

Always make sure the vehicle lift is resting on its safety catch before proceeding to work. Even a slight, sudden drop can cause havoc.

Keep in mind that the center of gravity can shift whenever you remove a component.

Dropping an engine or rear axle shifts the weight one way or the other. Before removing any major part, place stationary jacks under the opposite end.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can cite a shop if there are safety violations. It cannot and does not certify lifts. Run away from anyone trying to sell you a lift claiming it is OSHA certified.

The same goes for UL (Underwriters Laboratories) approval. You may find a UL approval on a motor, but that has nothing to do with the lift itself.

Consult your lift’s manual for safety checks that you can perform yourself. Common sense applies when it comes to electrical connections, switches and so on.

Why should I look for ALI certification?

According to the ALI, purchasers of automotive lifts are often confused about what type of lift to purchase. Before you buy, carefully check out the abilities and limitations of each lift, so that you will purchase one that meets your specifications. A lift will last you a long time, so make sure you buy for what your needs are now, and what they may be in the future.

Fulfilling the roles as both a nationally accredited standards developing organization and a nationally accredited product certification body, both accredited by the American National Standards Institute, ALI is an association comprised of responsible automotive lift manufacturers serving North America. ALI’s mission is to promote the safe design, construction, installation, inspection and use of automotive lifts. A good lift is a partner in the safe, productive and profitable service for the auto professional.   ●

Related Articles

Need a Lift? Start Shopping for the Right Choice to Raise Your Profits

Brake system tech: Plus safety issues for the customer — and your shop

Tech tips designed to make your life easier and your shop more efficient

You must login or register in order to post a comment.