The Expert Lift Guide
Whether you’re a car enthusiast working in your own garage or in a commercial shop, automotive lifts are a vital piece of equipment. With the many different styles of car lifts, truck lifts, and motorcycle lifts, you can fix anything on wheels. Each style is designed for a specific type of vehicle or job. Before choosing which type of car lift is best for you and your needs, take time to learn what’s available. We carry a large selection of manufacturers and a wide variety of automotive lifts to meet even the most challenging repair needs.
Two-post car lifts are the most common type of auto lift that would be found in most automotive shops. With two incredibly sturdy posts and supportive stabilization arms, two-post car lifts are capable of holding a large variety of vehicles at a height that’s comfortable for both the automotive technician and the at-home hobbyist. The best reasons to own a two-post car lift are the reduced price compared to most lift options, the small footprint for space-saving, and the unobstructed access to the wheels.
Two-post auto lifts are either considered symmetrical or asymmetrical. Symmetrical automobile lifts are easy to identify because the support arm assemblies are the same length and they each hold approximately 50% of the load. Asymmetrical automotive lifts, on the other hand, feature swing arms that are not the same length in the front and back. The result of these two features is a shifted center of gravity (which is greatly beneficial to longer, unbalanced trucks) and better clearance for vehicle doors, giving the operator direct access to the automobile interior even when the car or truck is raised.
Two-post car lifts are not very common in residential garages because they are much taller than other automotive lifting options, require more attention to detail to reach designated vehicle lifting points and don’t grant the vehicle stacking convenience found on four-post garage lifts. In most cases, a two-post car or truck lift is most beneficial to garages that see cars and trucks going up and down continuously.
Four-post automotive lifts offer owners a lot of versatility when it comes to heavy lifting. In general, four-post car lifts can hold higher capacities compared to two-post lifts because of the additional support columns. They are also very user-friendly due to the drive-on and park method of mounting that is typical for wheel engaging lifts. Four-post car lifts are also particularly popular among car enthusiasts and home-users because they usually don’t require any sort of floor anchor. Thanks to the solid four-column design, four-post auto lifts are also ideal for storing two vehicles when only one space is available.
In most cases, these lifts use the vehicle tires to support the car, which makes them ideal for use in situations where you only need access to the undercarriage but do not need to remove wheels for any reason. If you plan to use your four-post automotive lift for wheel services such as brake work, tire replacements, suspension and steering service, or other work, you will probably want to invest in rolling or sliding bridge jacks to lift the wheels off the runway.
On the flip side, all the additional building material in the construction means that four-post auto lifts are usually a bit pricier than two-post lifts. However, for capacity, mobility and storage in your car lifting solution, you can’t do better than a four-post lift.
If you don’t have much room in your garage or shop, space may be your primary concern when considering an automotive lift. In recent years, portable car lifts have become a viable option for those with limited space who still want to get the most out of their garage or bay.
While lower capacity four-post car lifts on casters can often serve as a portable car lift, more specialized solutions include mobile scissor style lifts on a long handle, portable frame single post lifts, and light-duty two-post car lifts.
When it comes to portable car lifts, always be aware that you trade function for form with these smaller portable car lifts. You will be unable to lift larger, heavier vehicles. Always make sure that the car lift you’re considering can handle the appropriate capacity for the vehicles you plan on lifting before looking at overall footprint.
Scissor lift is a broad term that encompasses all car lifts that raise their payloads with accordion-like mechanisms beneath the runways. Depending on the configuration of the cylinders and raising rods, a scissor lift can be described as “X” type, parallelogram type, or pantograph type. Scissor lifts come in a wide range of capacities and heights. Low-rise car lifts raise up to 36-inches above the ground, mid-rise auto lifts raise between 36 inches and 48 inches and full-rise scissor lifts can go anywhere above that.
Scissor car lifts increase in size immensely in higher weight categories. Parallelogram style scissor lifts in particular are known to be some of the heaviest lifts on the market. Thanks to the low-profile, vehicle mounting is generally a hassle-free operation. Little is required beyond positioning the car or truck over the scissor lift. Some slight tweaking may be necessary for frame-engaging style scissor lifts.
When not in use, scissor-style car lifts retract into a low profile. This is ideal if you are a home user and want to be able to park your vehicle over the car lift when its lifting functions are not required. However, scissor-style lifts never disappear completely unless installed below the floor and cannot be used to stack two vehicles in one slot. Also, because the raising mechanisms are directly below the runways, it’s impossible to stand directly beneath the vehicle, making it more challenging to perform any type of undercarriage work.
Mobile Column Lifts
Mobile column car lifts give you the flexibility to add or subtract heavy-duty posts as needed for specific lifting projects. Advanced models even come with wireless communication features that allow one operator to simultaneously lift the platforms of up to eight independent post structures. Mobile column car lifts are currently wheel engaging, but use lifting forks instead of runways to engage the car or truck. Due to size, price and capacity, it’s very unlikely that a home user would ever require a set of mobile columns.
These lifts are completely mobile and are not tied to any single location. They generally have wheels located on the back, allowing them to be rolled to a new location for use. They are used in pairs (two, four or six, generally), and can be used with everything from consumer-oriented vehicles to heavy-duty vehicles, buses and emergency vehicles. While these lifts can be positioned to suit any vehicle setup, they do require a hard, level surface beneath them for stability.
In-ground lifts’ most attractive feature is the ability to keep your car lift hidden within the floor of your shop or garage when it is not in service. These auto lifts can be either elevator style or scissor lift style and are good choices for keeping the ground clear of clutter. The extra space gained from these lifts do come at a cost though. In-Ground lifts can be about double the price of a similar capacity two-post lift due to the expenses of preparing the concrete for the lift’s body.
While in-ground lifts might require the most planning and significant site prep for installation, they are available in the widest range of styles and can be configured to suit the needs of just about any automotive shop.
In the past, in-ground lifts have earned a bad reputation for being harmful to the environment and prone to leaks. When oil leaks from the car lift, it can seep into ground water reservoirs and contaminate the water supply. Due to the tidy manner in which an in-ground lift is stored, it’s very difficult to detect an oil leak. In-ground lifts are the only automotive lifts that require an oil barrier and it adds considerably to the overall cost of ownership. The good news is that in recent years, environmentally safe in-ground lifting solutions have hit the market and sidestep the leakage problem completely with non-toxic hydraulic fluid.
Some parking lifts feature footprints slightly smaller than four-post car lifts, but the concept remains largely the same. The lifting platform is supported by either a single post or two posts and is designed so that another car or truck can be parked beneath it. Effectively, a single parking slot can do the job of two with a parking lift as a Residential Parking Solution.
Parking lifts feature a full drive-on deck instead of two runways, so automotive service, maintenance and repair is not a viable option for this type of car lift. Exclusively a wheel engaging lifting method, parking lifts are meant only to be used for parking.