NAPA Guide: How to choose a car jack for your car, truck, or SUV

You’ll need to know how to choose a car jack if you’re going to do vehicle maintenance or repairs, like oil changes or brake maintenance.

Gravity keeps your car or truck firmly planted on the pavement. Cars weigh 900 kg to 1,500 kg (2,000 lb. to 3,000 lb.) and some trucks and SUVs weigh up to 3,000 kg (6,000 lb.). You need a car jack and jack stands to work on them. How do you choose the right car jack for you and your vehicle? When it comes to car lifting, there are several types of jacks available, such as the scissor jack, floor jack, Z-jack, screw jack, bottle jack, and farm jack.

Compact car jack

Economical and lightweight, scissor jacks, Z-jacks, and screw jacks usually come in the vehicle tool kit to help you change a flat tire. Operated by turning a crank handle, the jack lifts the vehicle mechanically. Its small footprint makes it prone to tipping.

Bottle jack

This compact jack is operated by a pump handle, building hydraulic pressure to lift the vehicle. It’s a simple and strong design. The small footprint makes it prone to tipping, so it’s best used on a floor, not on dirt. Its small saddle is more prone to slip off round or curved surfaces.

Floor jack

The floor jack is strong, stable, easy to maneuver, and lifts the vehicle more quickly and easily than other types. Wide floor jacks are more stable than narrow trolley jacks. Because the lift arm swings in a curve, you need a smooth surface to allow the jack frame to move under the vehicle.

Farm jack

The versatile farm jack has been around for over a century. For lifting vehicles, its small footprint makes it prone to tipping, and it can only be used on vehicles with external lift points, such as bull bars or solid bumpers.

How to choose a car jack in three steps:

Compact jacks should only be used with the vehicle with which they were shipped. A small-car compact jack may not be strong enough or lift high enough for an SUV. One that engages a pinch weld may not mate properly with a locator hole on another vehicle. A compact jack was designed for limited use, not as a regular service tool. Similarly, farm jacks have their place, but are not regular service tools. Here are three things to look at when choosing a car jack.

1 - Capacity

The jack’s capacity needs to be matched to the vehicle you’re servicing. Recommendations vary, but you need a jack rated for at least three-quarters of your vehicle’s weight, giving you an adequate safety margin. For example, this Evercraft 2 Ton Floor Jack with Jack Stands is rated for 4,000 lb. (about 1,800 kg). This is good for vehicles up to 2,400 kg but might not be a good idea for a 3,000 kg truck. No rule of thumb here: your vehicle’s gross weight is indicated in your owner’s manual.

2 - Minimum height

Floor jacks are as short as 5 cm, so they slide more easily under unibody pinch welds and some lower subframes. Bottle jacks are taller, starting at 20 cm, good for frame rails or spring perches. The tallest jack that will fit will give you the most jacking height advantage. Check your vehicle’s clearance by measuring the distance between the ground and your jack supporting point.

3 - Maximum height

As with capacity, taller is better, giving you more clearance to work on your car once it’s safely supported by jack stands. How do you choose a jack for a truck or SUV? Check online for information or forums about your vehicle. Or use the jack provided by your vehicle’s manufacturer, raise the vehicle, and measure the clearance required. Note that this jack is for emergency purposes and is not intended for SUV or truck maintenance.

Safety first

After choosing the best car jack, always practice safe lifting technique. Set the parking brake and chock the wheels opposite the lift. Lift only on a level surface. Always set the car down on jack stands before beginning work on your vehicle. Once your vehicle is ready to be worked on, check out our guide to choosing a mechanic’s tool set.

By Benjamin Jerew

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