A rugged yet fairly lightweight aluminum jack. Capable of fitting under low chassis, yet powerful enough to lift 3 tons. Easy to use w/smooth-moving wheels and extra-padded lift arm.
Pricey. Some jacks with issues have been reported, but the 1-year warranty provides peace of mind.
A compact floor jack made of solid steel. As versatile as most larger models. Fits most compact and low-setting cars. Easy to lift; can obtain a height of around 18 inches.
Only capable of lifting 2-ton vehicles, though this weight rating is acceptable for most. Surprisingly heavy for its low-profile size.
Solid steel with a weight capacity of 3.5 tons. Provides a 20.5-inch lift that's ideal for trucks and SUVs. Backed by a 1-year warranty.
Heavy. Occasional issues with the lift arm malfunctioning or breaking. Takes more effort than expected to lift heavier vehicles.
A mid-priced jack that isn't too heavy thanks to steel and aluminum construction. Accommodates a wide range of lift heights. Saddle's rubber coating has rugged feel.
Challenging to assemble, and instructions aren't very helpful. Some lift failures after a few months have been reported. Known to occasionally leak hydraulic fluid.
Can lift low sports cars and high SUVs thanks to its just under 3- to 24-inch lift range. Dual pistons get high marks for their fast-lifting abilities. Steel build and 1-year warranty.
Rated for just 2 tons, yet it is extremely heavy. Expensive in comparison to similar models.
There are several types of jacks available for lifting your vehicle, but for power, ease, and versatility, nothing beats a good pneumatic floor jack. Also known as a trolley jack or portable hoist, a floor jack is a tool you’ll often find in professional auto repair and body shops. Floor jacks are equally valuable for the home auto enthusiast.
A floor jack has one or more pneumatic cylinders to create great lifting power, as well as a long handle that gives superb leverage. And because it sits on four wheels, the rear of which are castor-style, it’s highly mobile and easy to steer. But perhaps the biggest advantage a floor jack wields over other types of jacks is its low profile in the “down” position. It can fit under vehicles (like sports cars) where other jacks won’t, yet it’s equally capable of lifting SUVs and trucks.
At BestReviews, we researched the floor jack market and put together the following guide. If you’d like more information about this indispensable tool, read on.
There are many factors to consider when buying a floor jack, but the two biggest relate to the kind of vehicle (or vehicles) you need to lift and the ground clearance of those vehicles.
Maximum load capacity
Every floor jack has a maximum load capacity. Most we looked at were either 2-ton, 3-ton, or 3.5-ton jacks. Exceeding stated limits is dangerous, and most floor jacks have safeguards, like relief valves, so you can’t do it.
A 2-ton jack can comfortably lift a mid-range compact car. However, a pick-up truck that weighs more than twice that would require a 3.5-ton floor jack to cope. If you’re going to be lifting more than one vehicle, you need to take into account the heaviest of your load when choosing a floor jack. Otherwise, if you were to choose a lighter option and then a large van or SUV came along, you’d be unable to lift it.
Minimum and maximum heights
All floor jacks have minimum and maximum heights. If you’re working on a low-slung sports car, you need a low-profile floor jack. Some of the best could sneak under three inches. But SUVs and trucks often have high ground clearance. If you need to lift one (to remove a wheel, for example), you’ll want plenty of height available. Some quality floor jacks will exceed 18 inches, giving you plenty of room for even the largest of off-roaders.
If your floor jack is going to consistently lift several tons of weight, it had better be robust. Therefore, construction quality is a big issue. Heavy-gauge steel is frequently used for the whole chassis, which is good, but it does make the trolley jack heavy. Other floor jacks have frames made of steel and other components made of aluminum. Still others are made solely of aluminum with thick slab sides. These offer excellent rigidity, yet the weight is comparatively low – sometimes 25 pounds less than other types.
Nuts and bolts
The nuts and bolts that hold the floor jack together should be of substantial diameter. Anything too small is a weak point. If you can see welds, check the quality – it’s another indicator of how much attention to detail the manufacturer has put into the tool.
When choosing a floor jack, check the number of pneumatic cylinders a potential purchase has. Twin cylinders reduce the amount of muscle you need to use. This may not be a big deal if you’re only lifting the vehicle once, but if you’re doing it all day long, it can make quite a difference.
What’s the finish like? Bare aluminum is fine because it doesn’t corrode. Steel should be painted, or better yet, epoxy resin-coated.
Because floor jack handles are long, you may want to look for a product with handles that fold or break down for easier storage. You may also wish to look for handles with a padded section, as this can make the work kinder on your hands. Some handles slot into a receiver, which is both quick and convenient. Some have a fixing bolt; while these may be a bit frustrating, they are arguably more secure.
The lowering mechanism on your floor jack could be a release valve or a universal joint. Both are fine, but the latter is considered to be more precise.
Floor jack wheels support a tremendous amount of weight and should therefore be made of metal. Your floor jack should have a wide stance – as much space between the wheels as possible – for maximum stability.
Most floor jacks in the $20 to $50 price bracket have small ranges. The lowest setting is actually quite tall (starting around five inches), and at the highest, these budget jacks only lift a foot or so. The saddles are small, too, making them tricky to position safely.
The capacity of these low-cost floor jacks is generally claimed at two tons, but when you consider the build-quality – or lack of it – we wouldn’t trust them to do that very often. If the seals pop (a known problem), you’re left with some scrap metal and nothing more. So, if you’ve got less than $50 to spend, we recommend you buy a good-quality scissor jack instead.
The best floor jacks actually sit within a narrow price band of $150 to $250. Within that range, most people will find everything they need, from very low-profile models to maximums approaching two feet. Load capacities for these floor jacks can be 2 to 3.5 tons.
The priciest jacks you’ll find tend to be called “service jacks.” They are capable of lifting up to 10 tons, but you’ll pay $700 or more for a tool like that.
Always make sure your car is on a solid, level surface before attempting to lift it. Make sure the hand brake is on, too.
For your own safety, it’s recommended to use axle stands or jack stands once the vehicle has been raised to the required height. A trolley jack is for lifting, not for keeping it up while you work underneath.
Don’t rush. Position your jack correctly and use long, slow strokes. It’s not just easier on the arms; you’ll also have more time to notice problems – like the jack slipping or the car over-balancing.
Children often want to help fix the car, but when it’s up on a jack, it’s not the right time. Keep kids away from your vehicle until it’s back on the ground. Keep pets out of the area, too – accidents can happen when you’re distracted.
Don’t leave the lifting handle attached to the floor jack when not in use. It could easily cause you or someone else injury.
Q. What’s the difference between scissor jacks, bottle jacks, and floor jacks?
A. A scissor jack is the kind most often found in your vehicle, with the spare wheel. It is operated by a screw thread and a winding bar. Scissor jacks are compact and cheap, but they do require a little muscle to operate.
A bottle jack uses hydraulic fluid in an upright cylinder. It’s compact but also relatively tall, which can be a drawback. Bottle jacks don’t always fit under a vehicle – especially if the vehicle has a flat.
Floor jacks are what we’re featuring here. Because the hydraulic cylinder is near horizontal, floor jacks start from very low to the ground. They are the most expensive option, but you can’t beat them for power and versatility. The only drawback is their physical size.
Q. Where under the car does the floor jack go?
A. Every vehicle has specific jack mounting point, and it’s important that you use them. Trying to lift a car with a floor jack under a body panel or frame member could result in serious damage. Jack points are often just behind the front wheels or ahead of the rear wheels. Check your car manual to be certain.
Q. Do floor jacks need much maintenance?
A. Not a great deal. Dirt or grit can damage hinging mechanisms and hydraulic seals, so give it a wipe down and, if possible, store it somewhere free of dust. If that’s not practical, wrap it in a cloth. Check for leaks regularly. If you find one, replace the seal immediately. It’s not safe to use a jack if it’s leaking fluid.
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