Having the right tools comes a long way in getting the job done. When it comes to your home or garage, one such piece of equipment is the auto lift. Whether you’re a mechanic or a car enthusiast at home, you’re probably aware of the massive benefits of a vehicle lift to your efficiency.
Ever since we saw the old air-driven lift, there have been different car lifts available, from modern styles to safety ones. Basically, these inventions helped mechanics with the back-breaking task of climbing underneath cars during fixes. Car lifts conserve the space used in garages and give a clear space for higher turnarounds without compromising quality.
Most parts of this article will discuss in depth the various types of auto lifts, pros/cons, and why you should consider adding a piece to your garage or workshop. So, let’s dive in!
Understanding The Basic Styles of Car Lifts
Vehicle hoists are made in various styles, but a majority of them fall into two main categories depending on how they engage with the car: by the frame or by the wheels. Within this category, the most popular frame-engaging car lifts are two post hoists, and the wheel-engaging types are the four post hoists. Also, it is best to gauge auto lifts based on the lift height, load capacity, and lift speed. Also consider your garage height.
- Lift speed is the time taken for a complete lift up or down. Slower lift times are acceptable in homes as there aren’t many cars to work on. But at workshops, you’ll need a faster lift speed due to the high volume of vehicles needing repairs.
- Load capacity is the maximum weight a lift can carry. It depends on the strength of the auto lift and the number of columns it supports.
- Lift height is the maximum height a lift can hold a vehicle. It is essentially an essential consideration if you intend to work on the car’s underbody. For instance, a hoist with a maximum height of four feet is ideal for working on the wheels and not the underbody.
There are other auto lift styles, such as portable car lift and scissor lifts which we will look at later.
But before diving deep into these car lift types, we have a few tips and advice to help you find the best car lifts for your garage or workshop.
First, consider these questions before looking at the car hoist market:
- What kind of vehicles do I have? Will I work on SUVs, light trucks, passenger vehicles, or motorbikes?
- What is the tonnage of my car?
- How big is my site/garage? What are the exact dimensions of my workshop?
- How stable is the concrete slab where I’ll be placing the hoist?
- What kinds of repairs will I be doing in the vehicle? Do I need access to the hood?
- Do I need to clean the floor underneath?
Consider the Life Span
A vehicle lift operates in an environment that does more work (i.e., dealerships, workshops) and wears and tears faster than those at your backyard garage. So, if you’re planning to purchase a hoist for mechanical purposes, be sure to have a replacement plan in place. Basically, you might have to do this every decade or so to keep up with modern versions. We have found that many hoists that go past the decade cap have higher maintenance costs and newer versions are the best.
Having the latest vehicle lift model ensures that there are low running costs and higher productivity. Also, if you’re planning to use the lift in a home environment, a second-hand model would be a great addition. That’s because there is less work on the vehicle, and the parts are easily maintained.
Quality Over Price
While this has been a heated debate ever since the introduction of mass production, the quality of a product still matters, no matter the price. A vehicle lift is no cheap purchase, and you need to take time to understand the differences between the automotive lifts and go for quality models. It might seem costly in some instances, but you’ll never have back and forth trips to repair or replace parts.
Furthermore, a high-quality car lift is a lot safer than cheap knock-offs without the proper guarantee and industry standards. So let your purchase decision be guided by quality and safety rather than the most affordable option in the store.
Check Your Lift’s Specs
Remember the questions we asked ourselves before looking into the market? Now is a perfect time to use the answers to your advantage. Not all lifts are the same, and not all will lift your car, so it is best to check the types of vehicles it holds plus their maximum weight capacity. The load capacity should be easily seen on the nameplate attached to the car lift.
Also, check the dimensions and ensure enough headroom for your vehicle when lifted. There should be enough wiggle space to move around and work on your car when suspended off the ground. Every vehicle has a lifting point as described by the OEM. These are appropriate places to make contact when lifting the vehicles.
Don’t Forget The Accessories
You can add extra accessories such as attachments and adapters to your new car lift for better efficiency. But you need to ensure that all items are ALI Certified and passed AUS certification standards. The accessory you choose must be manufactured for the specific model of the lift you intend to upgrade.
Why is the certification so important?
Apart from ensuring high standards, certification of lift accessories is essential to the warranty of your auto lift. If you use non-certified accessories, your warranty becomes void as long as the original configuration changes. So, be sure to order certified accessories for your preferred lift.
The Main Types Of Lifts
Finding the best car lift for your garage or workshop can be a hassle. But with the above considerations, you’re one step away from getting what you want, now onto the types of car lifts. There are several types of lifts depending on which country you’re from, but we’ll look at the common types used by almost every car enthusiast or garage guy.
Two-post Car Lift
The two-post car lift is the most popular type and can be used in garages and car maintenance shops. It consists of two solid posts, four adjustable arms, an electric/hydraulic power unit, hydraulic cylinders, and cables. Two-post car lifts are an excellent choice if you’re on a budget and don’t want to take much of your garage space. The lift comes in several types, including:
- Symmetrical lift: Symmetrical lifts hold the vehicle mid-way with an equal front and back section latched on top. It is a great lift but has one drawback. When lifted, the space between the car and the two posts is so narrow that it becomes impossible to open the doors.
- Asymmetrical lift: Asymmetrical lifts were designed to address the driver’s door problem in symmetrical alternatives. You can rotate the lift up to 30 degrees to allow access to the inside of the car.
See our article on the difference between between a symmetrical & asymmetrical car lift.
Advantages of Using a 2-Post Lift
- An advanced 2-post lift can hoist just about any vehicle and give excellent access to the underbody. They are ideal for all modern vehicles and can also be used for older cars.
- If you purchase a commercial grade two-post lift and use it at home, be sure the machine will last a lifetime. Even for commercial settings, the lift is durable.
- Folks love two-post lifts because of the price. They are affordable and can cost anywhere from $2000 to $2500.
Disadvantages of Using Two Post Lifts
It is crucial to note that commercial users rarely face problems using the two-post lift. However, most cons of this machine are geared towards home users. See here for our article on the best two post lifts in the USA.
- A two-post lift cannot be practical to fit in a typical garage. It generally needs a ceiling height and a space of about 12 feet. Although they’ll still be a little over 10 feet wide, there are smaller car hoists that are still too wide for a home garage.
- A commercial 2 post lift needs to be bolted on the ground and to a concrete slab of about 4-6 inches and 3,000Psi load capacity. It is not a common slab size for your typical garage, and you might need a new slab.
- While it is not a big deal for commercial spaces, 2-post lifts need to be regularly inspected. Every couple of years, you’ll need to get the rollers and wire ropes replaced.
- If you have an asymmetrical two-post car lift, there are safety hazards as the car is not well-balanced. So, operating it needs extra safety precautions.
Four-Post Car Lifts
Four-post car lifts were designed to handle heavier loads due to their sturdy design. It is mainly used to lift trucks and expensive vehicles to give access to auto repairs from exhaust work, transmission, and engine. The lift can get to heights as tall as 14 feet to work on the vehicle.
The 4-post lift is ideal for both home and commercial use as it does not require anchoring to work. Plus, it takes limited space to set up, so it would fit in your garage. The lift can also store more cars with one mounted right on top of the other. Them doubling up as storage is an excellent perk of four-post lifts.
Advantages of four-post lifts
- Four post lifts are excellent storage sources in a home garage, as you can lift a vehicle and place another at the bottom.
- This type of post works well for commercial work as you can access all parts of the vehicle, including the underside.
- A four-post lift is the best bet if you have low ground clearance.
- Lifting the vehicle by its tires is one of the safest ways to get it up as it supports the weight by all four corners. There is also no risk of the car toppling over as the case in asymmetrical two-post lifts.
- Due to its design, a four-post lift can hold more weight than most types of vehicle hoists. The four posts are stable and robust enough to hold even heavy vehicles.
Disadvantages of four-post lifts
- Four post lifts are generally tall and difficult to install in a typical home garage. It needs about 12’ height clearance or higher.
- Even though these posts are not as wide as two-post lifts, they are still significantly broad and can stretch up to 10 feet wide.
- 4 post lifts tend to be more expensive than 2 post lifts.
- While you can access the car’s underside, working on the tires with 4 post auto lifts isn’t easy.
In-ground lifts are popularly found in automotive workshops. Just like the name suggests, they are installed in the ground and can be concealed under the workshop floor to give a cleaner look. So, when the vehicle is not in use, your automotive repair shop looks clean. In-ground car lifts can be frame engaging or wheel engaging with flexible design.
Although they require more installation steps, this kind of lift is more cost-effective than others because of low ownership, unique quality, and durability in shops and garages for decades. In-ground lifts come in different designs depending on your needs. Three categories define these designs, including front and rear lifts, single post lift, and side by side lift.
We can also look at the lift in terms of how many ramps it comes with. These rams give it a better lifting capacity and range anywhere from 30-120 tonnes. Here are a few examples of the different sizes of an inground lift.
2 Lifting Rams
This is the smallest option and contains two lifting rams capable of holding up to 30 tonnes. It is mainly used on buses, trucks, and tractor units with three rear axles. This lift is fixed with a movable section at the rear ram for more effortless movement.
3 Lifting Rams
This one has a bigger capacity of up to 45 tonnes and can lift various types of cars, including trucks with trailers, buses, and more. The middle ram is fixed, and the front and rear rams are moveable.
4 Lifting Rams
This lifting ram is the best model for large and busy auto workshops. First, it works on a remote control unit, and you can make it double up as two auto lifts. So, for instance, you can repair a saloon car and truck at the same time. The maximum capacity of this type of lift is up to 60 tonnes.
5,6,7,8 Lifting Rams
Lifting rams can go up to 8 rams, and each advancement increases the maximum capacity up to an impressive 120 tonnes of weight. They all have remotes for delivery and allow you to work on more than two vehicles at a time.
Advantages of in-ground lifts
- Since the main work of in-ground lifts is to work underneath cars, it gives more clearance and provides access to all parts of the vehicle with no obstruction. Since there is no external post, accessing the interior is easy as driving to the lifts.
- There is a tremendous advantage of space when you have in-ground lifts. It helps you keep a low profile and area for your auto shop.
- They will generally last longer since they have fewer working parts than most automotive lifts. They are also quicker to operate, particularly with the remote control function.
- Though the entry price for an in-ground lift is significantly higher, they generally have a longer lifespan, eventually giving you value for money.
Disadvantages of in-ground lifts
- Since the frames are installed on the floor, it is hard to transport the lift from one place to another.
- These auto lifts may prove to have an incredible value, but the cost of purchasing and installing one-piece is high. It may not be suitable for auto enthusiasts at home.
Not all the time, the garage has enough space to fit an auto lift such as the 4-post lift. That said, scissors come as the best alternative if you don’t have enough space as it is a portable car lift. It consists of retractable levers sandwiched between two platforms extending in a zigzag motion. The zigzag action and look make this lift get its name as a scissor lift.
The scissor lift comes in different types, with some being bolted to your garage base. These types are stronger and can support a heavier vehicle mass. In addition, it has a hydraulic car lift mechanism, and most models are electrically run.
There are also portable versions of the scissor lifts with wheels for movement. The hydraulic system is located at the base of the lift. It has a low weight capacity and is used chiefly for smaller vehicles. The top accommodation part can be as narrow or wide as the make. Some features accommodate the whole car, including all four wheels.
Advantages of scissor lifts
- If you need a lift that’ll allow you to do quick car fixes, the scissor lift is what you need.
- It is excellent for home garages with low head allowance and height. Preferably smaller than a 2 post or 4 post lift, requiring taller height clearances.
- The scissor lift has a cool appearance, and you’d be turning heads as having a sleek machine.
Disadvantages of scissor lifts
- They have minimal lift height and, at times, might not give you the much-needed underneath access. You can definitely add blocks on top of the lift, but it will affect your car’s stability.
- The scissor lift is a bit shaky, mainly if it sits between the wheels or has a weight balance. Tipping can be an issue when the engine is removed, or the rear end is.
- The scissor lift uses cheap hydraulic systems that wear down quickly with regular use. It may not be a suitable model for commercial, automotive repair shops.
- The lifts may not work for vehicles with low ground clearance since it is 3 to 4 inches high when in a “flat” position.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many types of automotive lifts are there?
There are different types of car lifts in the market, such as scissor lifts, portable car lifts, two post lifts, and in-ground lifts. Depending on your specifications, you can choose any type of car lift that you want.
What is the best car lift?
Knowing what is best majorly depends on the intended purpose. For example, some lifts, like the scissor lifts, are excellent for those with limited space. On the other hand, in-ground lifts have a higher lifting capacity and would be great if you intend to work on large vehicles such as trucks.
What are the three main types of automotive lifts?
The most common types of vehicle hoists include the two post lift and the four post lift. Also, in-ground lifts are quickly gaining popularity as they take up less space.
How do you take care of car lifts?
To lengthen the lifespan of your vehicle lift, you need to do regular maintenance routines. Start by oiling the movable parts and paint to avoid rust. Then, you can check in with the manufacturer if they offer to do maintenance for you.
If you are a car enthusiast or anyone working in the automobile industry, it is crucial to know the necessary tools for a suitable repair process in your garage. The top option is the car lift. It is a valuable piece of equipment due to its ability to help repair vehicles. Knowing the above types of car lifts also helps in space-saving measures if you have more than one vehicle.
However, car lifts come in different varieties, and you’ll have to choose one depending on your budget, space, and the types of cars you’re dealing with. All in all, choose a lift that brings your A-game to automobile repairs at home or in a workshop.