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Why You Need a Garage Lift NowPrintable version
Degree of DifficultyDifficult
Estimated Time300 minutes
300 minutes
Which lift?
Lifts come in a variety of configurations. For a good basic overview, check out the Web site of the Automotive Lift Institute. Figuring out which lift is right for you depends on what you plan to do with the lift and how much space you have for it. Lifts for home use fall into two basic categories based on how they lift the car.
  • “Frame-engaging” lifts have arms that reach under the car to lift it at secure jacking places near the perimeter of the frame, such as at the suspension attachment points and rocker panel boxes. Some have fixed-position pads, while others use four heavy steel arms which swing horizontally and can be pulled out or pushed in so that the lift pads can be easily adjusted to align with your vehicle’s securest lifting points. Because these lifts raise the frame, the tires dangle and wheels-off work on the suspension and brakes is easy
Frame-engaging” Lift
  • “Wheel engaging” or drive-on lifts support the car at the tires, as if the entire road surface is rising. Between the two decks supporting the tires is a large open space allowing free access to the car’s engine and underbody. These lifts are better for overhead storage of the vehicle while providing good access to the center of the underbody. For wheels-off work, an extra set of crossbeams and hydraulic jacks must be purchased.
From there, the lifts break down into several types. Here are the most common, with their advantages and disadvantages. As for cost, figure that professional installation of an above-ground lift may add another $500-$600 to the bill.

  1. Scissor-type or hinge type. These frame-engaging lifts lie flat on the floor, allowing the car to drive over them. Once the arms are positioned to align with the jack points, an electric, hydraulic-electric, or pneumatic system raises the lift by means of scissor-action joints or a hinged parallelogram of beams. Home users usually buy them in low or medium lift heights, ranging from 36 to 48 inches. Cost: $1,000-$2,400.
Pros: Cheaper than other lift configurations; compact so it can be used in any garage; doesn’t need to be bolted to the floor; leaves the wheels dangling for easy brake and suspension work.
Cons: Consumes space on the floor; low-riding cars will have trouble clearing some models; low lift height; access to the underbody is hampered by the jacking mechanism; often billed as “moveable” but they weigh 500-700 pounds.
  1. Two-post surface lifts. This common frame-engaging lift design supports the vehicle’s weight with metal arms attached to two posts at the side of the vehicle. There are a multitude of designs, but they generally fall into two categories, “symmetrical” lifts that support the vehicle in the middle, and “asymmetrical” lifts that offset the posts forward, mainly to allow the doors to open. Cost: $2,000-$3,400.
Two-post Surface Lifts
Pros: Can support heavier loads; can lift the car to six or seven feet; allows full access to the wheels and underbody; uses relatively little floor space.
Cons: Must be bolted to the floor and, because the posts rock slightly during normal use, the bolts must be checked periodically for correct torque; more challenging to use than drive-on lifts; body work can be harder because posts partially block access to the body sides.
  1. Four-post drive-on lifts. These are wheel-engaging lifts with two runways on which the vehicle parks and four posts to support the runways as they rise, generally by means of a hydraulic piston pulling on heavy cables. Access to the underbody is through the large gap between the runways. Cost: $2,500-$3,800.
Four-post Drive-on Lifts
Pros: Easy to drive on and off; four-post stability means no bolting down is required; the lift can be easily moved if necessary; the best for long-term overhead car storage.
Cons: Wheels-off work is more cumbersome and requires extra cross beams and jacks; the lift takes up a lot of space; runways block access to parts of the car.
  1. In-ground lifts. This ultra deluxe frame-engaging lift design raises the car with one or two cylinders that rise out of the floor. These are typically found in dealerships and service stations, though some well-heeled hobbyists swear by them. The machinery is below ground, located in a nine-foot-deep pit dug into the floor. As you might imagine, installation costs can be steep – usually $3,000 to $4,000. New “cassette-style” designs prevent hydraulic leaks and are thus more environmentally friendly. Manufacturers often specify using Mobil 1 synthetic grease to keep them lubricated. Cost: $8,000-$10,000.
In-ground Lifts
Pros: Full 360° access to the body and wheels; uses the least amount of floor space; practically disappears when not in use.
Cons: Princely priced; lifting cylinder doesn’t allow for multi-car overhead storage; hard to take with you if you move.
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