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...

For two-post lifts, make sure you see the arm sweep diagrams for each of the lifts you’re considering. This is particularly important for shops that service vehicles that are low to the ground or have a short wheelbase. These often have pick-up points that cannot be accessed by all lifts.

Preparing the shop

Whether you’re replacing an existing lift or designing a new shop, it’s worth consulting an experienced architect or shop planner. Some lift manufacturers and/or their installation contractors offer free planning assistance, including recommendations on which lifts to install and where to position them.  Some of the factors they’ll consider include space availability, traffic flow, concrete and soil quality, vehicle length and turning radius, and whether the property is leased or owned.

Even if there’s already a lift in place, the shop floor should be evaluated before a new lift is installed. Water and soil conditions in some areas may be unsuitable for in-ground lifts, while others may not support surface lifts. The typical two-post above-ground lift requires a concrete floor that’s at least 4 inches thick. Jon Bailey said it’s surprising how often the customer assures him that the floor is suitable, only to discover otherwise when drilling the hole for the first bolt. It’s highly recommended to drill a test hole before ordering a lift. If the floor is not thick enough, Bailey said one option is to pour concrete piers under the floor to support the lift posts.

The size of the typical service bay has grown over the years. It’s possible to fit a two-post above-ground lift into a bay that’s only 10 feet wide, but that creates a difficult and exhausting working environment. A 12-foot bay is acceptable, but today's shops are being designed with 14-foot service bays. Many of the lift manufacturers offer layout design tools and detailed dimensional drawings of their lifts, and most installation companies offer design services to make sure your lift is located properly in the bay.

Ceiling height and overhead clearance are other important details that are often overlooked. Bailey doesn’t rely on a customer’s estimate; he asks the shop owner to actually measure the height. Even so, just because the shop has a 14-foot ceiling doesn’t mean you’ll be able to lift that dually all the way. It may be necessary to relocate or work around roof members, door tracks, ventilation systems or other equipment.

Most commercial lifts operate on 220 volts AC. It’s recommended that each lift be powered through its own circuit breaker. In addition to not having to share power with a compressor or other piece of equipment, this also makes it possible to shut off the power to an individual lift when it’s time for service or repair.

Field research

Ask your lift supplier what design elements make a particular lift reliable. Ask technicians and other shop owners about their experience with various lifts and which brands they recommend. Talk to them about the utility of lifts they have used, how often they are down for repair, how easy they are to maintain, how user-friendly the owner’s manual is and how installation went. Ask your lift supplier for shops in your area that use lifts you’re considering so you can check them out yourself.

Remember that another measure of product quality is after-sale support. Make sure that factory-trained installers and technicians are available locally to handle all of your lift installation, inspection and maintenance needs.


The most important safety consideration is whether the lift is certified to meet the ANSI/ALI ALCTV-2006 safety standards described earlier. Look for the gold “ALI Certified/Validated by ETL” label. Only lifts that have passed independent safety testing can use this label. Without ALI certification, buyers have no guarantee that a lift meets accepted industry safety standards.

Compare safety features and systems on the lift models under consideration. Safety systems should be user-friendly, or technicians will be tempted to ignore or override them. Some of the most common safety features on the market are:

  • Mechanical locks
  • Air locks
  • Automatic wheel chocks
  • Emergency stop buttons
  • Non-skid ramp surfaces and runways
  • Lockable disconnect switches
  • Arm restraints
  • Multi-position locking systems
  • Wheel spotting dishes
  • Work steps
  • Slack cable guide arms

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