While I do most of my own keys, getting under a car is probably one of my least favorite things to do. I don’t like getting dirty or laying on the floor but unfortunately it’s a bit unavoidable depending on what kind of service needs to be done. Unless you own a lifted SUV or pickup truck, chances are you’ll need to get the vehicle off the ground to work underneath it.
What black magic and spells should you use to lift a car so that a human can safely work under it? For the home mechanic who doesn’t have the space or money for a true two- or four-post lift, there are only two choices: ramps or a jack with jack stands. Both methods are usually interchangeable, but there are some important things to consider before choosing one or the other.
Jacking up a vehicle with a jack is probably the method most people are familiar with. Most modern vehicles come standard with a scissor jack, so at least many people have used one to remove or replace a tire. If you’re looking for a more robust tool, a decent floor jack isn’t too much money from any number of auto parts stores. Find one that has enough weight to lift your car, and consider an unobtrusive option if your vehicle is low to the ground.
Jacking is easy. Simply place the jack under the vehicle’s jacking points (often described in the vehicle owner’s manual) or under something sturdy, such as a frame member. Then raise the jack and place a jack stand under a secure location, making sure the jack is locked in the correct notch. Jack stands should only be placed in places that can support the weight of the vehicle, such as a solid axle or a jacking point. Again, a user guide or forums and Facebook groups are good places to check. Google your make and model plus “jackpoints” if you’re not sure, don’t forget to check your findings from a number of sources.
This method of lifting a car does not require a second person, it allows to lift the car at multiple different points and the lifting height can also be adjusted.
Lifting a car with a jack may be easy, but it’s not without its trials and tribulations.
Instead of fiddling with a heavy and finicky jack, why not just grab a set of ramps and drive straight up? Ramps include two raised wedges for each wheel and the driver can essentially drive up to a platform. It’s easy, convenient and a lot easier than wriggling around on the ground with a jack. There are also specially made long ramps that can accommodate super low cars as well. However, that convenience may depend on certain factors.
Jacks and jack stands are a more universal solution, and that’s partly because ramps can limit the scope of the project. This is why:
When working alone, a jack and jack stands are essential equipment. Jacks work well for almost any modern vehicle, provided it’s not too high or too low, and their versatility gives them an advantage over ramps. However, if the car has been lowered and a jack won’t fit under it, ramps may be the only course of action.
Whatever you choose, be sure to check the weight limit of your gear and make sure it’s appropriate for the occasion. Happy tinkering.