Shop Equipment: Lifts, Tools and Accessories

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Shop Equipment: Lifts, Tools and Accessories

Outfitting your shop with all of the tools and equipment necessary to address current and future service requirements is a never-ending task, as vehicle designs change and as you strive to increase your shop’s productivity. Here we provide examples of innovative tools and equipment to consider.

One of the most important pieces of shop equipment is a lift. The first question to consider before purchasing a lift is, “What are you lifting?” This will determine the capacity that will be needed and also what style will best suit the vehicles that come into your shop.

 Don’t limit yourself to what services you’re doing now, as five years from now you may want to expand the types of vehicles you work on (for example, pursuing fleet business). Don’t let your lift’s capacity limit your business.

If your shop currently services medium-     to heavy-duty vehicles, then the lift should be capable of lifting these vehicles. Pay close attention to the lift rating to avoid overloading.

Before purchasing any lift, it’s a good idea to visit a location that has the lift being considered.

Are you impressed with the design, quality, materials used? Think about every vehicle to be serviced, request a site survey to be sure the lift will fit in your shop’s space.

You should also make sure there is adequate concrete to bolt down a lift, and enough ceiling height to fully raise the vehicles you will be working on.

Determine where tool storage and other equipment is located in relation to the lift and your shop’s “work flow.”

Some manufacturers offer design assistance using programs like Ecdesign to plan a shop before any equipment is installed. This helps give a visual of the best and most productive setup.

Some lifts have optional accessories that decrease the time it takes to set up a two-post lift. For example, Mohawk Lift’s Speedlane converts your frame-engaging lift to a drive-on lift by adding an adaptor that eliminates the need to position the swing arms. The tech can drive directly onto the Speedlane, lower the lift on to the mechanical safety locks and begin working.

Determine the amount of lift maintenance that you will need to perform with the specific type of lift. Some lift types require more maintenance and parts to be replaced, such as slide blocks, hydraulic hoses, cables, and cable rollers.

Lifts are required to be inspected annually. If your shop does not already have an arrangement for lift inspection, go to and type in the shop zip code to find the closest certified inspector. As stated on the ALI website, “the ALI Lift Inspector Certification Program provides third-party qualification of vehicle lift inspectors and certifies those who demonstrate they are capable of properly inspecting vehicle lifts in accordance with the ANSI standard governing vehicle lift inspection.” For more info about why to hire a certified inspector, see:

The Automotive Lift Institute ( is an excellent source of information. Before purchasing, verify that your lift and all options are certified. Certification proves that the lift has passed third party testing to maintain compliance with current ANSI requirements. Go to website and check to see that the ALI gold certification is on the lift.

Similarly, the options also need to be certified to maintain the lift’s certification. If you have a two post lift with non-certified adaptors the whole lift becomes decertified.

While lift manufacturers offer multiple designs, for this article we’ve included separate lift selection tips for two-post designs from Mohawk Lifts and four-post designs from Rotary Lift. Both firms offer a wide range of lift platforms.

Two-post lifts

Two-post, or “twin-post,” lift styles lift a vehicle by its frame/unibody structure, allowing wheels to hang free, obviously accommodating steering, suspension and brake service.

The two-post surface-mounted lift is by far the most popular among readers of Auto Service Professional.

Two-post above-ground, frame-engaging lifts make up the majority of the market. Two-post lifts range from 7,000 pound through 30,000 pound capacities and make it easy to work on brakes, tires and suspensions (since the swing arms are supporting the vehicle from the frame).

Some manufacturers also offer options and accessories to service different types of vehicles, such as turf equipment, or options that convert a two-post frame-engaging lift into a two-post drive-on lift.

Four-post lift tips

Both twin- and four-post lifts offer advantages, depending on the application. A four-post lift offers easy drive-on access and plenty of open space between runways. Granted, with vehicle weight supported at the wheels, suspensions are loaded as opposed to a twin-post lift that provides immediate access to brake and suspension service. If you opt to go with a four-post lift, there are five major factors to consider, as recommended by Rotary Lifts:

  1. Length: The wheelbase of the vehicle to be serviced will play the most important role in a four-post lift selection. Determine the wheel base of the longest vehicle that the shop anticipates, as lifts are available in a range of lengths. When setting up a four-post lift bay, it’s important to plan for adequate space at both the front and rear of the lift location, taking the runways and any ramps into account. Most light- and medium-duty four-post lifts will fit in the Equipment & Tool Institute’s recommended 25-foot-long bay, but tight drive-on/drive-off clearances can frustrate technicians and reduce productivity. Rotary recommends a 28-foot-long bay for an extended-length four-post lift, even though Rotary’s SM Series (as an example) is less than 24 feet long.
  2. Capacity: Consider anticipated vehicle weight. Four-post lift capacities range from 14,000 pounds up to 60,000 pounds. Since most vehicles, up to and including Class 3 pickup trucks like Ford’s F-350, weigh less than 14,000 pounds, a 14,000 pound capacity lift will be sufficient for many facilities. If a shop services work trucks and other heavy-duty fleet vehicles, it might be beneficial to select a four-post lift with 18,000 to 30,000 pound capacity. In general, 40,000 to 60,000 pound capacity four-post lifts should be reserved for buses, RVs and Class 8 trucks.
  3. Speed: The faster the technician can raise and lower the vehicle, the sooner he or she can complete the work. An example of high speed capability, Rotary’s Shockwave four-post lifts provide a reported 35 seconds to reach full lifting height. To further increase productivity, consider a drive-through model that has ramps at each end.
  4. Accessibility: Four-post lifts are available with either an open or closed front design. An open front eliminates the crossbeam between runways at the front, for easier access to engine and front suspensions, but they are not necessary for all applications, Rotary says. Since open-front lifts have wider footprints than closed-front lifts, shops with space restrictions may be better served by a closed-front design.
  5. Versatility: Options are always available for four-post lifts in order to make them more versatile for various jobs, such as cross-tracks that can travel along the runways and jacks to provide vehicle frame support, in addition to alignment kits (turntables, slip plates).

Scissor lifts

When space and budget is at a premium, consider a scissor lift that offers a low parked profile and drive-on design. Scissor lifts are available today that offer excellent stability and adequate lifting height.

Other shop equipment

In addition to lifts, there’s a lot to consider before purchasing shop equipment such as tools, shop cooling equipment, air compressors, etc. Here are some of the latest products and considerations from the manufacturers before you make a purchase.

Going cordless?

Today it seems as though the world is going cordless. Back in the early days when cordless tools were first introduced, it was common to experience unacceptable work load capability, weak output and short and undependable battery life.

Those days are gone. Today’s generation of pro-grade cordless tools offer dependable operation and very healthy battery life thanks to new-generation rechargeable and higher voltage lithium ion battery technology. Today, high quality professional-grade cordless tools are available in the form of impact wrenches, power ratchets, drills, buffers, work lights, cut-off tools, grease guns and more.

While corded electric and pneumatic tools are here to stay, adding cordless duplicates to your tool arsenal results in added convenience and eliminates the need to drag hoses or cords along he shop floor, in crowded engine bays and avoids the potential for scuffing a customer’s fenders.

Pneumatic compacts

In addition to the traditional man-sized air-powered impacts, ratchets and die grinders, an increasing number of models have become available in compact “sizes for increased access in tight spots.

These are valuable additions to your arsenal of full-size air tools.

Shop environment — cool, fresh air

A working shop can get hot and humid in summer. Even in colder weather, technicians can be exposed to breathing noxious fumes from vehicle exhaust, vapors that result from torches or welders, various fluids and chemicals such as gas, diesel, solvents and lubricants. Even if the shop has decent ventilation, immediate work area air can carry contaminants and/or excess heat and humidity released by hot engines.

Consider a portable cooling unit and/or portable cooling fans referred to as “air movers.” Portable air movers, such as those offered by ShopVac, generally have the appearance of a scroll-type or turbo-style housing and are commonly available in cfm ratings as high as about 1,800. These compact and very portable units do a fantastic job of moving air through a shop, providing a cooling effect in the process. The unit may be placed at torso level on a bench or cart to provide cooling for the technician or to cool down a hot engine; or placed on the floor after mopping to dry the floor.

Portable air filters are also available that suck in air and capture airborne contaminants such as dust and irritants.

Another viable option are Denso’s MovinCool portable spot air conditioning units, available in a variety of sizes. Rather than opening bay doors in sticky weather, which is counter-productive, this type of self-contained unit provides true R-410A refrigerant-based air conditioning effectiveness, and can easily be wheeled to any location within the shop. Simply plug into a 115V outlet, wheel it to the work location and adjust the flexible ducts to the immediate work area. These units typically lower work area temperature by 20 degrees Fahrenheit or more, providing a comfortable service area even in high humidity conditions. The by-product of increasing technician comfort is increased morale and productivity. While having a central air conditioning system installed can be cost-prohibitive, a MovinCool unit is less expensive by comparison, and it’s portable, which is a plus.

Air compressor selection: Piston or screw?

When an automotive shop is ready to select a new air compressor, an initial decision must be made by choosing between a piston or a rotary screw design. Michael Camber, marketing services manager for Kaeser Compressors, offers these insights:

“Rotary screws have better air quality than a piston compressor because they do not have as high of an oil-carryover rate. Higher oil-carryover can contaminate paint finishes, increase re-work and also reduce pneumatic tool life. Piston compressors also run at much higher temperature (300 to 400 degrees F) as opposed to 170 to 200 degrees F for a rotary screw. Hotter air holds more moisture, making dryers less effective in removing water.

“Rotary screw compressors provide a 100% duty cycle. This means that they can run 24/7 without overheating. By comparison, piston compressors have a limited duty cycle. They must periodically shut down to cool off and therefore you would need to oversize them (when making your size selection) to make sure that you have enough air at all times. If your compressed air needs are sporadic, it may not make sense to use a rotary screw unit. A rotary screw design needs to run long enough to come up to operating temperature. Otherwise you can have a problem with excess moisture. They (rotary screw) are more expensive than a piston compressor design up-front, and annual maintenance can be higher.

“The best advice is to make sure you understand how much air you need and how often you are running pneumatic equipment.”

“Regardless of your choice in compressors (screw or piston type), when protecting your pneumatic tools such as impact wrenches, air ratchets, air drills, etc., make sure that the air delivery system prevents moisture from contaminating your air lines and your tools. Piston style compressors will require additional in-line water separators.”

Specialty equipment

Obviously, a dizzying and ever-expanding array of specific-duty tools are available. Diagnostic scan tools have come of age, with internet-access, availability of OEM spec and repair information, touch-screen function and more. Equipment that aids in leak detection has expanded to the point where a greater number of makers now offer smoke machines and dye kits. Other examples include hydraulic press units that provide multiple functions, tire service tools that make life easier and more productive, and more. A few examples are shown here.   ■

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