Everything You Need To Know About Floor Jacks

Everything You Need To Know About Floor Jacks

Today, making repairs on your own vehicle is a very common occurrence. Although major car repairs and renovations should be left to professionals, learning how to carry out a few simple tasks can save you a lot of money and many trips to the workshop in the long run.

Moreover, if you are a professional auto repair mechanic, you know how important it is to use the right tools for the job. Floor jacks are a pivotal part of any respectable auto garage, be it at home or in a professional workshop.

But, what exactly is a floor jack and how does it work? There are dozens of types of jacks that are used for different purposes, have different lifting capacities, and are suitable for different vehicle heights.

For this reason, we put together an article to help you understand what they are, how they work, the different types of jacks available, and how to identify high-quality jacks.

What Are Floor Jacks?

A floor jack is a type of jack that allows you to lift up a part of a vehicle so repairs can be performed underneath. Floor jacks can be used for an array of repairs, and although they are usually found in car shops, they are also popular among DIYers and amateur car enthusiasts.

Floor jacks are popular because they can help you turn any small area into a workshop, regardless of your level of expertise.

Yes, knowledge is important, but having the necessary tools that will assure a safe working environment is also key.

You should always be careful when using a floor jack. Remember all jacks have a weight limit and you should always make sure you don’t use it for vehicles that exceed these limitations.

How Do Floor Jacks Work?

There are many types of different jacks, but they all have one thing in common: they use force to lift heavy objects or loads. They exploit different types of mechanical advantages to lift heavy objects with minimal manual input.

The primary mechanism through which force is applied can vary depending on the type of jack; the two main categories being mechanical and hydraulic jacks.

Hydraulic floor jacks come in a variety of sizes and materials, and their capacities vary accordingly.

They are easy to use and store, and as the name indicates they are powered by hydraulics, which gives them the ability to lift heavy objects to considerable heights.

Car lifted with red hydraulic floor jack for repairing

On the other hand, mechanical jacks usually have a lower lifting capacity because they are designed to be compact and lightweight.

Most mechanical jacks are powered by a leadscrew, and often have less lifting capacity than their hydraulic counterparts because they rely solely on direct physical means to lift heavy objects.

The Different Types Of Jacks

As we mentioned before, jacks can be divided into mechanical and hydraulic jacks. Moreover, these major categories can be divided into different types of jacks that are suitable for different circumstances. The most common types of jacks available are:

Floor Jacks

Also known as trolley jacks or service jacks, floor jacks are often found in car workshops and professional garages. Their lifting capacity varies depending on their design and material, but they tend to be considerably stronger and sturdier than mechanical jacks.

Floor jacks are not compact and are not usually suitable for being transported in your car.

These jacks are relatively big and heavy, and they should be used only on flat, hard surfaces. This makes them a great option for workshops and home garages of all sizes.

Trolley jacks are equipped with wheels, or casters, that allow you to move and position them under your vehicle easily. Once they are positioned under your vehicle’s lift point, you pump the jack’s arm repeatedly to lift your vehicle, until it reaches the desired height.

Bottle Jacks

Another popular type of hydraulic jack commonly found in workshops is the bottle jack. It’s named after the fact that its shape and size resemble a bottle. But, don’t let that fool you.

These jacks are powerful, and use a piston mechanism to lift a vehicle in just a few pumps. This makes them a popular choice when it comes to lifting tractors, lift forks, and other pieces of heavy machinery.

Bottle jacks, also called piston jacks, have one major drawback: they’re retracted height is just half of the total lifting height.

They are not suitable for lower vehicles and sports cars, so they are only used for trucks, SUVs, and other vehicles with much higher clearances.

Red bottle jack

That being said, bottle jacks are awesome alternatives for a home garage or auto workshop. They are robust, take up less space than floor jacks, and can safely lift relatively heavy automobiles.

Scissor Jacks

The most common type of mechanical jack out there is the scissor jack, to the point that most new vehicles include one right from the factory. They are designed to be used on seldom occasions, and are typically used to lift specific vehicles just a few inches from the ground.

Black scissor jack

Always remember that scissor jacks are only meant to be used to change tires, and not to carry out any major repairs to your vehicle. Although they are sturdy, it is important you only use them for their intended purpose.

Scissor jacks have been around for a long time, but they should be kept in your vehicle and only be used in emergency situations. For any other repairs, hydraulic jacks offer a much safer alternative.

Floor Jack Materials

Floor jacks can come in different sizes and capacities, but they are usually made of either steel or aluminum. Both jacks have pros and cons, and the best one for you will depend on what you’ll be using your jack for.

The three key differences between the two materials are the strength, weight, and cost. Keep in mind that regardless of the material of the floor jack, you should always consult the manual for maximum capacity and abide by it when using them.

Steel

We all know that steel has a higher density than aluminum. That means that if you compare an aluminum and a steel floor jack that have the same dimensions, the steel one will be much heavier.

This may be a problem when it comes to portability and storage. On the other hand, steel jacks are stronger than aluminum, so they often have higher weight limitations. Because of their durability and strength, steel jacks are more suitable for a professional auto workshop.

The price of steel depends on world demand, fuel prices, and numerous other factors. That being said, steel is usually more affordable than aluminum.

Keep in mind that the price of the raw materials is not everything. You also have to consider manufacturing costs as well.

Steel floor jack on white background

Steel may be cheaper, but in some cases, it’s more affordable to cast an aluminum part, making some aluminum jacks just as cheap as steel ones.

Aluminum

Aluminum floor jacks are very light when compared to jacks made of steel. Another reason why aluminum floor jacks are very popular is that they don’t corrode, and because aluminum can be dyed, they offer a bigger color selection.

Aluminum floor jack on white background

You may be thinking that aluminum is weak because we use it with cans and foil. However, there are different grades and manufacturing steps that produce high-quality aluminum, which make the material a great option for floor jacks and other common tools.

Floor jacks that are designed and made with high quality aluminum parts are just as strong as steel jacks, and sometimes even stronger.

They have the same lifting capacity and a lighter frame that allows easy lifting and storing.

As for cost, there are many factors that influence the price of aluminum floor jacks, but it depends mainly on the raw materials. Generally speaking, steel is much cheaper than aluminum, so aluminum jacks are almost always more expensive.

The Benefits Of Hydraulic Floor Jacks

Although professional mechanics use an array of different tools that serve different purposes, hydraulic floor jacks are known as one of the workhorses of automotive workshops.

They do most of the lifting in almost every auto shop, and can turn a relatively small area into a fully-functioning working space at any time. You can then carry out extensive repairs to your vehicle, with the help of jack stands of course.

Depending on the maximum load and height capacities, floor jacks can be used for an array of car models. Keep in mind you will need a leveled, flat surface to use a floor jack, but house garages and workshops are often a perfect fit.

When compared to other types, floor jacks are among the top rated for versatility and safety. Although some specialty jacks are designed to fit higher-raise vehicles, floor jacks are used on a daily basis in almost every single automotive shop and in thousands of homes worldwide.

Safety

Safety is everyone’s main concern, especially when choosing tools that will be used to make repairs to your house or vehicles.

There are many jack designs and models, but floor jacks stand out as one of the most stable and perhaps the safest.

Hydraulic floor jacks may not be portable, but what they lack in movability they make up for in safety.

Different floor jacks have different capacities, but as long as you stick to the weight limitations, they are very unlikely to fail.

Man with safety googles lifting a car with floor jack

Remember that floor jacks are designed to lift vehicles, not to hold them up. You should always pair your floor jack with high quality jack stands to keep your vehicle in place. Not doing so may result in severe and even fatal injuries!

Ease Of Use

One of the reasons why floor jacks have become so popular is they are easy to use. They are known for having a simple design, with features that make them an easy tool to work with and move around.

Floor jacks are also known as trolley jacks because they are equipped with four caster wheels that are used to move and put the jack in place. Knowing the lifting points of your car is key, but once you identify them, placing a floor jack is very easy.

Most handles are equipped with padding on the bottom of the handle, which is designed to protect your vehicle in case it makes contact with the pump lever.

Once placed in position, you will have to pump the level up and lift your vehicle until you reach your desired height.

Jacks are suitable to lift your car enough to carry out more complex repairs underneath, just make sure you use jack stands to support your vehicle in place.

Once you’ve finished the repairs, you’ll be able to lower your vehicle safely back on the ground and test it out.

Speed

Floor jacks are not only strong and durable, but they are also very fast when compared to other commonly used jacks. They are equipped with caster wheels, so they can be moved and positioned effortlessly.

Different floor jacks will require a different number of pumps of the handle before reaching max height. That being said, floor jacks use hydraulic technology, which makes them significantly faster than almost all mechanic lifts.

Flexibility

The main problem with specialty jacks is that they can only be used in certain situations. Bottle jacks, hi-lift jacks, and scissor jacks can only be used for certain vehicles or for very specific purposes, like changing a tire for instance.

Floor jacks, on the other hand, have low profiles and can lift an array of vehicles as long as they fall within their weight limitations.

With a floor jack, you can lift and carry out repairs on a number of vehicles, including sedans, sports cars, SUVs, and many others.

Red car lifted on floor jack

Not only are floor jacks very flexible on their own, but when combined with certain accessories they can also be used to lift and move heavy car parts.

These accessories and attachments need to be secured properly, but they can help you carry out more intricate repairs on your car by allowing you to move components such as your transmission.

Floor Jack Accessories

Floor jacks can be used for multiple purposes during a repair, with the help of a few additional accessories. Although they are already incredibly useful, certain attachments can help you lift and move heavy parts of your car for repair or replacement.

One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to floor jacks is their ability to hold up weight. Remember that floor jacks are designed to lift your vehicle, but you will also need additional support to keep it held up and in place.

If you are going to be carrying out some heavy repairs on your car, you should consider accessories that will help you create a safe work environment. Chances are you will be spending long periods of time under your vehicle, so you should also consider investing money into tools that will help you stay comfortable while working.

Jack Stands

Floor jacks are great to lift cars, but again, they’re not designed to hold the weight of your car for long periods of time.

Black jack stands

Be warned that you should NEVER perform repairs or go under a vehicle that is only being held by a floor jack and nothing else.

Jack stands are designed to provide structural support to lifted vehicles.

Ideally, you should use a floor jack to lift your vehicle, place jack stands underneath, and lower your vehicle onto the stands. Once in place, shake your vehicle gently to verify it’s propped up safely.

Just like jacks, there’s a variety of jack stands with different weight limitations to choose from. The most common support stands found are static, but you may also find adjustable jack stands that can be customized through a security pin mechanism.

Remember that the total capacity of your floor jack should never be greater than the capacity of your jack stands. This will help you create a safe working environment and prevent any catastrophic accidents.

Wheel Chocks

Whether you are working at an incline or not, there’s always a chance of your car rolling. Therefore, you should always use wheel chocks to help prevent your vehicle from rolling while it’s sitting on your jack stands.

There are a few options to choose from when it comes to wheel chocks. Always find wheel chocks that are heavy enough to keep your car in place.

Rubber, for instance, offers a great choice because it’s both heavy and unlikely to slip.

Black wheel chocke

You should avoid wheel chocks that are too light, or that are made from cheap plastic because they will not hold your car in place.

Although they tend to be more expensive, aluminum wheel chocks are the most durable and dependable, so you should consider these as well if they are within your budget.

Car Ramps

When the conditions are not appropriate for a floor jack, you can always turn to car ramps. Car ramps offer a great alternative that can help you lift your car and perform repairs that would usually require taking it to the shop.

Car ramps can also help you out when you are working on more than one vehicle or if you are using your floor jack for another purpose. Aligning the four ramps with your four wheels is very easy. Once placed, you just have to slowly drive your car up the ramps and slide underneath.

Although you will not be able to carry out as many repairs as with a floor jack and jack stands, you will still be able to go underneath your car and carry out basic tasks. Car ramps can be made of many materials, and are usually durable enough to last a lifetime.

Mechanic Creeper

There are few things in life that are as rewarding as repairing or renovating your own vehicle. However, that can also mean spending hours underneath your car.

Woman on red mechanical creeper

This can have adverse effects on your body, unless you get the right accessory for it.

Working under your vehicle for extended periods of time can result in backaches and other physical complications.

Mechanic creepers provide an effective alternative to keep your back in good shape while still allowing you to spend hours under your car.

Mechanic creepers also allow ultimate mobility. Instead of having to crawl from under your car every time you need a tool, you can simply slide out, grab whatever tool you need, slide right back in and get to work without missing a beat.

Transmission Jacks And Transmission Jack Adaptors

Some repairs on your vehicle may require you move certain heavy parts, for instance, your transmission. Transmission jacks are designed to lift and move heavy transmissions to suitable working areas, and back to your vehicle once you’re finished.

However, unless you own a mechanic shop and need to have specialized tools, you can always purchase a transmission jack adaptor to turn your regular floor jack into a transmission jack. This will be cheaper and should allow you to move and lower your transmission easily. Transmission adaptors are also incredibly portable and easy to store.

Maintaining Your Floor Jack In Good Shape

A good floor jack should last for decades, but you also need to provide minimum maintenance to keep it in great shape. Hydraulic jacks are pieces of machinery, so you only use them within their limitations and for the purposes for which they were designed.

To keep your floor jack in good shape always remember to:

  • Change your jack's oil
  • Bleed the cylinder after changing the oil
  • Regularly inspect your floor jack
  • Keep it clan and debris-free
  • Lubricate its moving parts
  • Release the pressure before storing your jack
Car lifted with red hydraulic floor jack for repairing

Finally...

Now that you’re all caught up with the ins and outs of floor jacks, you need to start looking into buying the perfect floor jack for your specific needs. Always consider the size and weight of the vehicle or vehicles you will be using your floor jack on to make sure you choose the best fit.

Remember to take a look at our floor jack buying guide to find the best floor jacks available, and to help you make the right choice for your home or business!

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