Car jacks are necessary if you want to do repair work at home in your own garage. They’re also useful if you get a flat tire when driving. More than likely, your car already has a jack tucked away in the event of an emergency. But not all car jacks are created equal. Some are designed to lift more weight, while others are made for portability.
What Is a Car Jack?
Car jacks are devices designed to lift a vehicle off the ground. There are several different car jacks available. Some jacks are mechanical, while others are hydraulic. Most mechanical jacks use a screw or lever that has to be cranked to operate. Hydraulic jacks use a hydraulic cylinder filled with pressure to create enough force to lift heavy loads.
While car jacks will raise a vehicle up, they aren’t made to hold it in place. For that, you’ll need a pair of jack stands.
What Are Jack Stands?
Jack stands are devices designed to support your vehicle’s weight when lifted. Although car jacks do the heavy lifting, you’ll still need to steady the car on jack stands if you need to go underneath the vehicle. You should never crawl under a car that is only held up with a jack.
Some car lift kits will include both jack and jack stands, but you can also buy them separately. Jack stands to vary based on weight capacity and maximum height. The height usually ranges from 13-25 inches, where weight capacity can be anywhere from 2-25 tons.
Use this guide to learn more about the different types of car jacks you can use in your garage.
Types of Car Jacks
Different types of car jacks you can use in your garage:
- Floor jacks
- Bottle Jacks
- Farm Jacks
- Scissor Jacks
- Exhaust Air Jacks
- Pneumatic Jack
- Hi-lift Jack
- Strand Jack
- Hydraulic Jack
1. Floor Jacks
Floor jacks are very simple devices designed to help lift the vehicle you’re working on. The hydraulics allow you to lift a portion of the vehicle with a hand lever. These devices are very strong and don’t require a lot of mechanic’s experience to use.
When choosing floor jacks for your vehicle, you’ll need to take the weight of the car into account. In general, floor jacks should be rated for a minimum of three-fourths the weight of your vehicle. Though a floor jack only lifts a portion of your car – not the entire weight of the vehicle – overloaded jacks can be unsafe. They’re also more difficult to operate.
Most floor jacks are positioned on wheels, making them easy to move around your garage. However, their weight and size make them a less portable option for on-road use.
2. Bottle Jacks
A bottle jack is a type of hydraulic jack that looks similar to a bottle with an elongated cylindrical body. While they work as a standard hydraulic floor jack, bottle jacks hold more weight than an average floor jack. They also elevate the vehicle higher. One of the tradeoffs for this feature is a higher starting clearance, which can make them more difficult to use on lower vehicles.
Bottle jacks tend to be more affordable than floor jacks, making them popular as a secondary set for professional mechanics and as the main tool for hobbyist and home repair enthusiasts.
3. Farm Jacks
Farm jacks are often used for farm equipment, but you don’t have to be a farmer or working on a tractor to make use of one. In fact, many people use them for off-roading vehicles and high-clearance trucks.
Also referred to as high-lift jacks, farm jacks are easy to store in the back of a large vehicle or off-roading truck. They can be used to help you change tires, but they are designed to get a vehicle unstuck from heavy mud or rugged terrain. Farm jacks can also be used as a winch or clamp, making them an exceptional all-purpose tool in certain situations.
In your garage, farm jacks can be helpful when you need to jack up a vehicle with very high clearance and a standard floor jack or bottle jack won’t suffice. For standard cars and most trucks, classic floor jacks or bottle jacks will work just fine.
4. Scissor Jacks
Scissor jacks use a hand crank to lift a vehicle when properly positioned. In general, scissor jacks are best for lower-weight cars since their capacity is usually rated at either one or two tons. They also have a relatively low lift height, ranging anywhere from 15-inches to 30-inches depending on the model you have.
The benefit of a scissor jack is its safety, particularly when compared to high-lift jacks and farm jacks, which require more care and expertise. Scissor jacks are also lightweight and cost-effective compared to floor jacks. This makes them an excellent option if you’re looking for a portable jack you can move around with ease.
5. Exhaust Air Jacks
Exhaust air jacks are a unique type of jack that inflates using the air from your exhaust. These jacks come with an inflatable sack and a long hose that attaches to the exhaust pipe. You can put the sack anywhere under the chassis without worrying about the jack points. Once the sack is inflated, one side of the car will be lifted off the ground. The air is held inside by a one-way valve that you also use to deflate the sack.
These jacks are best for off-roaders as they can be used on many different types of terrain. Because of the larger surface area, they’re especially great for softer ground such as mud, sand, or snow. They’re also lightweight and take up little space when not in use.
6. Pneumatic Jack
Also known as a telescope jack, the pneumatic jack is most common in the heavy machinery maintenance industry for lifting buses, trucks, and construction vehicles. They are not recommended for smaller vehicles.
Uses: Heavy machinery, Construction work
7. Hi-lift Jack
If you love off-roading, you might have seen a hi-lift jack once or twice. Also known as a farm jack, these are employed when lifting a vehicle out of the mud or when a wench is needed. These are rated to 7,000 lbs. and can lift a car up to 5 feet off the ground.
Uses: Off-road vehicle lifting, Farm equipment maintenance, Wrenching
8. Strand Jack
If it needs a heavy-duty lift, a strand jack is ready to work. These are commonly used in construction and engineering and are capable of lifting bridges, power stations, and other larger, heavier, items.
Uses: Heavy-duty lifting, Construction, and engineering
9. Trolley Jack
Another choice jack for automotive work, the trolley jack can lift up to 4 tons, can roll across dirt and gravel, has a braking mechanism, and is one of the safer and easier jacks to use in many applications.
Uses: Automotive repairs, Some high-clearance equipment maintenance, Medium to heavy construction projects
10. Motorcycle Jack
Because of their small, low-profile engines, working on motorcycles can be tricky. A motorcycle jack is employed to lift the entire unit of the ground, giving easy access to critical parts. It can also be used for ATVs, and with modification, snowmobiles.
Uses: Motorcycle repairs, ATV, and snowmobile maintenance
11. Hydraulic (Mechanical Service) Jack
Operated by a crank handle, a hydraulic mechanical service jack has a multitude of uses, but you see them most commonly as the landing gear of semi-trailers, boat trailers, and 5th wheel RVs.
Uses: Trailers (boat and hauling), Recreational vehicles
Car Jack Considerations
Car jacks aren’t designed to be used alone. While they do work to lift your vehicle, you’ll need jack stands to support your vehicle for making repairs under the car. Never get beneath a car that is positioned only on car jacks of any type.
All of the different types of car jacks can seem confusing, but in most cases, one of the four main types will work well for your needs. In general, floor jacks and bottle jacks are ideal for in-garage repairs.
The best option will really depend on your budget, the type of vehicle you’re working on, and the weight capacity of your car
Car Jack Safety Tips
Using a car jack may seem simple, but it can also be unsafe. Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind when jacking up your car.
- Park on Level Ground
- Secure the Vehicle
- Find the Correct Jack Points
- Use a Jack Base
- Support the Vehicle with Jack Stands
Park on Level Ground
If you aren’t in a garage, you’ll want to park your vehicle on level ground before using the car jack. Car jacks are designed to be used vertically since gravity can easily pull your car off a jack if it isn’t level. If finding level ground isn’t possible, try and park next to a curb with the wheels turned toward the curb. Block the downside wheels so the car doesn’t roll downhill.
Secure the Vehicle
Before jacking up the car, you’ll want to turn off the ignition and put the car in park (first gear if you drive a manual). Engage the parking brake and use something to keep the wheels from rolling.
You can use wheel chocks, wooden wedges, bricks, or pieces of wood depending on what’s available. You’ll want to place them under the tires on the opposite side rather than the side you’re jacking up. Doing this will keep your vehicle secure so it doesn’t roll off the jack.
Find the Correct Jack Points
If you don’t use the correct jack points on your vehicle, you can easily damage the frame or suspension. Your car’s manual should tell you the suggested jack points.
If you don’t have access to your manual, you can find it online by searching for your car’s year, make, and model. You’ll also want to read any instructions that come with your jack.
Use a Jack Base
If you’re off-roading, the ground may not be solid enough for you to use a jack. Trying to use a jack in the mud will only result in it sinking. A jack base can help support your jack on non-solid surfaces.
Support the Vehicle with Jack Stands
Use your jack stands! We can’t say this enough. Do not go under your vehicle unless it is properly supported with jack stands. Jacks are designed to lift your car, not hold it in place. You can get seriously injured if you crawl underneath a car without jack stands and it slips off the jack.
What Kind Of Car Jack Do do You Need?
The type of jack you need depends on your budget, the weight of your car, and the vehicle’s clearance. Portability is also something to consider when deciding on a car jack.
For most, a scissor jack is all that’s required for emergency situations. High-lift and exhaust air jacks are better for off-roading due to their height and recovery capabilities. If you want something for your garage, floor or bottle jacks are good options. But if you’ll be doing extensive work under the car, it might be worth investing in a car lift.