Lift Overview: They’re More Than Just a Riser with Muscle

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Lift Overview: They’re More Than Just a Riser with Muscle

Vehicle lifts are critically important pieces of shop equipment and deserve to be addressed on a routine basis. There are many aspects that need to be examined so that you make the best buying decision when it’s time to add a new lift to your service bays. The lift’s function and design have a direct impact on your profitability and capability.

The decision-making process involved in purchasing a new lift involves a number of factors in order to suit your specific needs:

  • Types, lengths and weights of vehicles to be serviced
  • Available floor space
  • Lift contact at tires or at frame
  • Lift height requirement
  • Access to under-carriage
  • Weight capacity
  • Availability of optional add-ons
  • Lifting/lowering speed
  • Warranty
  • Lift ergonomics

It should go without saying that you should only consider lifts made by established and reputable manufacturers, featuring quality construction. With that said, one of the primary considerations involves lifting capacity. Each style and model of any given lift carries a maximum weight rating.

The rule of thumb: If in doubt, always go with a higher weight rating. While your shop’s “normal” service work may involve vehicles with a maximum weight of, say, 8,000 pounds, there may be instances where a heavily loaded commercial box truck will enter the shop, where weight might be in the 12,000 or 14,000 pound range. If your lift is not rated with a high-enough capacity for a given vehicle, NEVER attempt to place that vehicle on that lift.

You’ll need to carefully make the decision with regard to being able to handle these heavier loads and the lift that you choose. Turning away perhaps three or four jobs per year because your lift won’t handle a certain load is one thing, but being forced to turn away a dozen or more jobs per year is a different matter.

You really need to think about the lift capacity that will handle the vast majority of your potential jobs and buy the appropriate lift.

Of course, if your shop has the available floor space, one or more 10,000 lb.-rated lifts to cover your routine jobs and one heavy-duty lift to handle the big jobs would be ideal.

If you’re dealing with heavy and long applications such as buses and tractors (possibly with trailer), long parallelogram or mobile column lifts are available to meet those needs. An advantage of mobile column lifts is that each lift tower can be moved to both required floor locations and to critical lift points on the vehicle, using as many individual columns as needed for a given task.

For the majority of shops that cater to automotive and light-duty trucks, one or more two-post lifts and at least one four-post lift is usually adequate, especially if the four-post lift can accommodate both general service and alignment tasks.

Again, if floor space is available, consider additional lifts that can be used to augment fixed-location lifts, to handle small jobs and/or overflow jobs, such as low-/medium-rise lifts that offer lifting heights ideal for performing brake or suspension work on passenger cars and light-duty trucks, and that can be moved to various locations as needed.

Safety vs. price

Regardless of the style of lift, safety is always the number one priority. The lift must be capable of handling the weight, and the distribution of weight for the anticipated vehicles. The weight rating is of obvious importance, as is the stability of the lift when fully loaded, especially when you consider the excess rear weight of commercial box trucks. While price is always a consideration, stick with well-established brands and avoid inferior imitations that may not feature the required quality of steel and/or design and manufacturing quality.

Considering the ever-expanding “globalization” of offerings, always bear in mind that the lowest price does not often go hand-in-hand with quality and reliability. If the price seems too good to be true, a red flag should pop up. The old saying still holds true — you get what you pay for. The bottom line: Stick with an established brand that has proven quality, and then worry about cutting the best financing deal. Saving a few hundred, or even a few thousand, dollars isn’t worth risking your technicians’ lives or your shop’s reputation. One lift failure is all it takes to have a bad day.

At the least, you risk damage to the customer’s vehicle. Even more threatening is the possibility for worker injury. The worst case scenario could involve the loss of life. Bite the bullet and spend what it takes to buy quality. Quality is foremost. Remember: There’s a difference between price and cost. Price is what you pay to obtain the lift. Cost is determined in the benefits of safety, durability and ease and speed of use. A lift that is slow to operate costs valuable time. A lift that obstructs under-body access wastes time. All things considered, the price factor is simply not important.

Any lift that you buy should feature a gold label from the Automotive Lift Institute that says “ALI Certified/ETL Listed.” If not, the lift is not certified to meet U.S. lift industry standards and should be avoided. Also, if the brand of lift is listed only on the internet, that should raise a red flag, as it’s likely an inferior model, and parts and service support are likely non-existent.

In short, all lifts are not created equal. Beyond the elements of quality and lifting capacity, each lift must be selected based on the specific tasks that can be performed, shop layout and user preferences.

Lifts are like clothing — you need the correct size and type. You wouldn’t wear a tuxedo when you’re rock climbing or fishing, and you wouldn’t wear a heavy winter coat on a hot summer day. One lift may not suit all applications. Here we examine types of lifts.


In-ground lifts (single or two-post) offer a minimal floor footprint, but obviously require floor and ground boring for installation, making them somewhat permanent in terms of placement, as opposed to surface-mounted lifts which can be relocated if needed. Variations of lift points are available including multi-stage lift arms (in terms of arm length adjustment) and pad adapters.


Twin-post lifts require a smaller shop floor footprint as opposed to four-post lifts and are available with symmetric or asymmetric lift arms.

Depending on the make and model, drive-on ramp and/or body lift pad options may be added for greater service flexibility. The two-post lift is the most popular for most shop environments. Due to vehicle length and weight distribution, paying attention to the correct lift points of the vehicle is critical. ALI offers a handy reference publication that provides the correct lift points for all popular cars and light trucks. This brochure should be attached to each lift for easy operator reference.


Four-post lifts provide added stability and drive-on ramp vehicle placement ease. Depending on the make and model, cross beams with hydraulic jacks may be added for unloading suspensions and/or adding wheel alignment options.

Four-post lifts also allow two-vehicle storage when needed, with one raised and one parked on the shop floor underneath the raised (and locked) arms.


In order to augment your fixed-location lifts, consider a low/mid-rise lift, which is designed to raise a vehicle two to four feet above the floor. These generally feature pad lifting surfaces that contact the frame/belly of the vehicle. This type of lift is convenient for services such as brake or suspension work when all stationary lifts are in service. These low/mid-rise lifts may be movable with accessory wheels to place the lift in a convenient/available shop floor area.


The scissor style of lift eliminates the need for columns and can be fitted with either body/frame pad contacts or drive-on ramps. Rise heights vary depending on the model. Generally this style of lift features body/frame contacts and allow adequate rise for brake and suspension service. This style of lift can be dedicated to a location or moved when necessary.

Mobile column

Above-ground mobile column lifts provide both high load ratings and flexibility, since individual columns can be located where needed when handling heavy and long commercial vehicles.

Depending on the vehicle length and mass, columns may be placed in groups of four, six or more as needed, with all columns controlled by a single operator control location.

Parallelogram and y-lifts

Parallelogram and Y-lifts are essentially the same design, with Y-lifts rated at about up to 12,000 lbs. and parallelograms intended for heavy duty and high-capacity applications. Heavy-duty parallelogram lifts are available with capacities up to about 100,000 pounds and with lengths up to about 48 feet.

Depending on brand and model, these lifts may be surface mounted or flush-mounted allowing the lift to be level with the shop floor when not in use. Each side of the lift features multiple raising arms that cantilever-unfold and fold as the lift is raised or lowered. With no cross-members in the way, full under-vehicle access is maintained.

Motorcycle lifts

For those shops that happen to also service motorcycles, bike-specific lifts are an absolute necessity. Generally of the scissor type, motorcycle lifts provide a roll-on vehicle placement and a rise height that is ideal for bike service.

Cool add-ons

A host of handy optional equipment is available for users of two-post above-ground lifts, making this lift style more versatile and user-friendly, while increasing the safety factor. These add-ons allow you to easily tailor or customize your two-post lifts to accommodate specific requirements. Listed here are a few to whet your appetite.

Green for go

Whenever servicing a vehicle on a two- or four-post lift, the vehicle should be raised slightly above working position, then lowered onto its mechanical locks. This is standard practice and provides a critical measure of safety, in case the hydraulic system fails.

Unfortunately, some technicians tend to ignore this procedure, especially when they’re in a rush. Adding an alert in the form of a bright light lets the tech (as well as the shop manager) know that the lift arms are indeed resting on the locks. Rotary offers its LockLight, which can be mounted to any two- or four-post lift. Measuring about 4 inches square, it’s connected to the lift’s hydraulic system. As soon as the arms rest of the locks and hydraulic pressure is relieved, the bright green light illuminates, verifying that the locks are engaged. It’s a great safety feature.

Co-workers or the shop manager can easily spot this from across even the largest shop. Every post lift should be equipped with one of these lights.

Screw posts

Fitting the correct lifting pad post height to suit a specific vehicle is straightforward, but it eats up time. Optional screw posts provide contact point height adjustment quickly and conveniently without the need to experiment with swapping out different height posts.

Lift by the tires

There are instances where you simply want to keep the suspension loaded, or when you prefer not to make contact with the frame. Optional wheel adapters attach to the arms of a two-post lift and simply slide into position under each tire. This allows full access to the undercarriage and eliminates any contact or clearance concerns at areas such as brake lines, fuel lines, etc.

These adapters also make contact adjustment easy, with no need to kneel on the floor to adjust the arms and posts. Unless you need to perform brake or suspension work with the suspension unloaded, these adapters offer ease and speed.

An alternative to consider when you want to speed things up on a two-post lift is a set of optional drive-on ramps that attach to the lift arms. Simply drive onto the ramps, place support pads between the ramp pads and frame at the appropriate spots, and raise. This option makes it faster and easier for a single technician to place the vehicle on the lift.

Lift buying guidelines

For a comprehensive guideline for lift purchase decisions, ALI offers a wealth of information, available as a download from its site.

Go to http:


Atlas Automotive Equipment,, (866) 898-2604. Types of lifts: two-post, four-post, alignment, specialty, motorcycle, mid-rise, scissor and mobile columns

Challenger Lifts,, (800) 648-5438. Types of lifts: (automotive and heavy-duty) two-post, four-post, short/medium rise, in-ground, double-scissor, mobile column lifts

Forward Lift,, (800) 423-1722. Types of lifts: (automotive and heavy duty) two-post, four-post, low/medium rise, scissor, mobile column, motorcycle lifts

Hunter Engineering,, (314) 731-0000. Types of lifts: (automotive and heavy-duty) scissor, four-post/four-post alignment, pit racks

John Bean,, (800) 362-4618. Types of lifts: (automotive and heavy-duty) scissor, two-post, four-post alignment racks, mobile columns

Mohawk Lifts,, (800) 833-2006. Type of lifts: (automotive and heavy-duty) turf maintenance, car storage, scissor, parallelogram truck lifts, mobile column, two-post, four-post

Rotary Lift,, (800) 445-5438. Types of lifts: (automotive and heavy-duty) two-post, in-ground, four-post, scissor, low-rise, Y-lifts

Stertil-Koni USA,, (800) 336-6637. Types of lifts: (specializing in heavy-duty applications) two-post automotive, heavy-duty mobile column, heavy-duty in-ground, heavy-duty four-post, heavy-duty platform, heavy-duty scissor    ■               

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