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Why You Need a Garage Lift NowPrintable version
Degree of DifficultyDifficult
Difficult
Estimated Time300 minutes
300 minutes
It can be a twinge in your neck, or a persistent ache across your shoulders, or a dull soreness that never quite leaves your lower back. A day spent working under a car, flat on your back, twisting and straining, blind hands groping for tools that have rolled just beyond reach, is a workout that leaves you feeling like a used punching bag. Besides the discomfort of assuming awkward positions, there is the time-consuming hassle of safely jacking each end of the car and making sure that it rests securely on the jack stands. Who hasn’t deferred needed maintenance because the thought of squeezing between the concrete floor and the car for hours on end just makes you want to stay in bed?

If you are a serious DIY’er, it’s time to invest in a garage lift. The prices have never been lower, the range of manufacturers and model choices has never been greater, and the installation has never been easier. Currently there are about 60 garage lift makers selling products in the United States, with prices ranging from about $1,000 for a simple electric scissor jack to $10,000 for an in-ground hydraulic lift that propels your vehicle upward on a cylinder that rises out of the floor, giving your humble home garage some of the capability a full-service car dealership.

Once you have changed your car’s oil while sitting comfortably on a stool, swapped out an exhaust system without ever kneeling to the ground, or stacked two cars on top of each other in a space where you used to park only one, you’ll wonder how you managed without a garage lift for so long.

With so many lift suppliers, lift types, and models to choose from, it’s hard to determine where to start. A lot of money is on the line, so it pays to do your research before you buy. Not only are the lifts themselves expensive, but the damage that a poor quality lift or a poorly installed lift can do to your car and your house is also expensive, as well as dangerous. Installed and used properly, a car lift will perform years of perfectly safe service, but it behooves the lift shopper to spend some time researching the options and pitfalls. 

The Space Case
Before you start the hunt for a lift, you need to do some measuring. Lifts don’t fit very well in garages that are less than 22 feet deep. Ideally, the ceiling should be at least 11 to 12 feet high (though this author has used one – carefully – with a 9 ½-foot ceiling). Don’t forget about overhead hazards such as garage door openers, door tracks, and the doors themselves. Chances are excellent that you’ll want to open the garage door with the car on the lift at some point, so measure your clearance with the garage door both opened and closed. For garages where the open door may collide with the roof of a lifted car, consider backing the car onto the lift. It requires extra effort and precision, but a car’s lower hoodline may squeak under the open door where a roof or a trunk collides.

Now that you’ve measured the ceiling and the walls, take a look at the floor. Although weighing it at 1,500 to 2,000 pounds (yes, without a car aboard), most garage lifts will work on a typical residential concrete slab, or one that is between 4.5 inches and 5 inches thick. If you don’t know your slab thickness, buy a 3/8-inch concrete drill bit at the local hardware store and slowly and carefully drill into the slab near where you plan to locate the posts of your lift. Don’t drill at the corner of the garage; concrete thickness can vary near the perimeter. Use a light-duty drill rather than an impact drill, which could fracture the concrete when the bit breaks through. Once you hit dirt, clip a straight section of coat hanger and bend a little 90-degree elbow at the end. Stick it down the hole and try to catch the edge of the concrete with the elbow. Mark the wire where it emerges from the hole and measure the length. If the hole bothers you, fill it with concrete epoxy, which is strong enough to repair fractured holes as well.
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