Most of the common auto maintenance tasks that you can do at home (e.g., changing oil, tire rotations, brake pads, etc.) require you to lift your vehicle. This is most often achieved with a jack. When used improperly, however, jacks can lead to injury—potentially serious injury. In this post, we are going to show you the right way to safely lift your vehicle.
Start on Level, Solid Ground
In a perfect world, your cement garage floor is the perfect place to lift your vehicle. Not everyone has a garage, though. In the case of a flat tire, the shoulder of the road might be all you have to work with. In the absence of a garage or even paved driveway, look for the most solid and level ground you can find. That means no loose dirt, gravel, or rocky surfaces that could undermine the integrity of your jack and/or jack stands.
Check the Specs on Your Jack and Stands
Jacks and jack stands come with recommended weight limits for a reason. Pay attention to them. Using them for weights beyond the recommended limit could lead to failure. Collapsing jacks or jack stands can cause damage to your vehicle or, even worse, get you a ride in an ambulance.
Park and Chock
For vehicles with an automatic transmission, be sure you've shifted into park before your start using the jack. This might seem like a no-brainer, but in some instances, you may need to have the vehicle in neutral to move it to the location you need. Trying to jack a vehicle in neutral is one way to hurt yourself and damage your vehicle. If your vehicle sports a manual transmission, be sure it's also in park and depress the parking brake for added security.
If you have wheel chocks available, place them behind any wheels that will remain on the ground. Again, in emergency instances, you make need to find a large rock to use as a chock. It's not ideal, but it's better than nothing.
Lifting Your Vehicle
Whenever possible, use a floor jack to lift the vehicle. The crank jack that comes with your vehicle is for emergencies only. You don't drive on the spare donut tire if you don't have to; likewise, the crank jack is only to be used when you have no other option.
Because the undercarriage of vehicles will vary, manufacturer's include proper placement for jacks and jack stands in the user manual. The last thing you want to do is damage your vehicle when you are trying to maintain or repair it.
Once you have your jack positioned, you can start to lift the vehicle. Once lifted enough, place the jack stands under the vehicle where the manufacturer specifies. Be sure that the stands are on flat ground that is free from debris.
In most cases, you'll want to lift both sides of the vehicle to maintain balance and stability.
Lowering Your Vehicle
Once your jack stands are in position, slowly lower the vehicle onto the stands. If the jack stands start to lean, lift the vehicle back up, reposition the jack stands, and try again. A leaning jack stand is a serious injury waiting to happen.
Once you have the vehicle on the jack stands, check the stability by pushing on the vehicle from several different angles. If it is unstable, you'll want to discover that before you get under it.
Finally, never, never, NEVER work under a vehicle that is only being supported by the jack. This is not what the jack was designed for. If you have a maintenance or a repair issue that requires you to work under the vehicle, go buy jack stands or take your vehicle to a mechanic. It's not worth risking your safety—or even your life—for any vehicle repair.
Back on Terra Firma
Once you are done working on the vehicle, lift it from the jacks stands, remove the jack stands, and lower the vehicle onto the ground. Finally, remove the wheel chocks.
Lifting your vehicle with a jack and jack stands seems like a straightforward process, but any time you are dealing with a 2,000+ pound vehicle, there is always potential for injury. By following the manufacturer's recommendations and the steps above, you should be able to safely lift and lower your vehicle.
In some instances, you may not even need to make the repairs. With an extended vehicle warranty, like a Mopar Vehicle Protection plan or Ford Extended Service Plan (ESP), you could have the repair made by certified dealership mechanics at a fraction of the price it might otherwise cost… or even no cost at all.