Buying a Lift

There are literally hundreds of different vehicle lifts on the market, made by dozens of different companies. Every one of those companies wants you to buy the lift that you really need, but choosing the right lift for your shop is not a simple matter...

Although this is the most common type of wheel alignment lift, it’s also used for quick lube service, long-wheelbase vehicles, exhaust work and other jobs requiring loaded suspension. It’s available in a variety of lengths and capacities, and it can be made as a drive-through model. When fitted with jacks between the runways, they can be used for almost any type of job. Compared with in-ground hydraulic lifts, they tend to be less expensive to purchase, install and maintain, and they can be relocated because everything is above ground.

A four-post drive-on lift is more expensive than a two-post lift (although cost of ownership is usually about the same). When not in use, they have a larger footprint and are several inches high, limiting the utility of that service bay. Earlier models have a service life of about ten to 15 years, but newer designs last much longer.

Scissor Lift

Scissor lifts use a scissor design to lift the vehicle. There are no columns. They are available as frame-contact models or with runways for drive-on lifting. Alignment models are available, and while there are usually low-rise models, there are also several types that can raise a vehicle a full 6 feet. Many are rated only for light-duty vehicles, but there are also models that will lift a city bus. Drive-on models are typically used for quick-lube service, exhaust work and, when properly equipped, for alignment and suspension work.

Light-duty, frame-contact scissor lifts have a very low profile and a small footprint. They’re completely self-contained, so installation is fast and easy. They can be surface mounted or, with larger models, ‘flush-mounted’ into the shop floor, and some models are portable. Frame lift models are commonly used for quick-lube service and the types of jobs done in shops that specialize in tires and/or brake work. Although light-duty models have a small footprint, the working cylinder is often inside that footprint, limiting access/working space directly under the vehicle. For light-duty vehicles, these are usually the least expensive lift to purchase.

Parallelogram Lift

The parallelogram lift is for lifting heavy vehicles. Like a scissor lift, the parallelogram lift has no post. It’s mounted on the floor, often flush-mounted or recessed into the floor, and it’s a drive-on lift. It’s available in different lengths up to 48 feet and can be fitted with additional jacks, plumbed for air lines and wired for lights and electrical outlets. Typically used for busses and other long, heavy vehicles, there are models that will lift up to 100,000 pounds.

If you need a lift with these capabilities, purchase and installation costs are only part of the total picture. The cost of scheduled, professional maintenance is more important because of the cost to your business if the lift becomes unavailable for any reason.

Low-Rise and Mid-Rise Lift

Low-rise and mid-rise lifts are designed to raise vehicles 2 to four feet off the ground. They are either frame-contact or drive-on lifts, and they are often portable so they can be rolled around the shop, or even used outside. Lifting capacity is typically from 6,000 to 10,000 pounds.

Low- and mid-rise lifts are above-ground devices with a small footprint and a low profile. They have no special requirements; they’re usually electric and operate on 110V. They’re typically used for wheel and tire work, brake work, body work and even auto detailing. They’re ideal for jobs like these in shops with low ceilings, and portable models add even more flexibility. Although they usually raise the vehicle no higher than a floor jack, it is a full-vehicle lift that’s usually the least expensive type available.


No matter what kind of lift you buy, your insurance company, your finance company and/or local government regulations may require the lift to be certified as safe to use.

Every lift manufacturer advertises the certifications bestowed upon their products by various safety organizations and trade associations. The list of certifications is long and covers manufacturing standards, electrical standards, safety standards and more. However some of those certifications may be incomplete, obsolete or not applicable. Some are issued by trade associations or “testing” organizations with highly questionable credentials, and some product certifications are intentionally misleading. However, there is one certification that matters more than any other to a professional service facility, to their insurance company, and to health and safety regulators: the gold sticker issued by ALI/ETL.

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