Need a Lift? Start Shopping for the Right Choice to Raise Your Profits

Oct. 29, 2015
You may be in the market for a new additional or a replacement lift. If it’s been a while since you shopped for one, you probably have questions about the various types or lifts, accessories, installation, training and safety. We’ll try to help you make an informed decision.

Bob Weber is president of Virginia-based Write Stuff. He is an award-winning freelance automotive and technical writer and photographer with over two decades of journalism experience. He is an ASE-certified Master Automobile Technician, and has worked on automobiles, trucks and small engines. He is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and numerous other automotive trade associations. He has worked as an auto service technician, a shop manager and a regional manager for an automotive service franchise operation.

You may be in the market for a new additional or a replacement lift. If it’s been a while since you shopped for one, you probably have questions about the various types or lifts, accessories, installation, training and safety. We’ll try to help you make an informed decision.

Of all the tools in your shop, a vehicle lift offers the greatest opportunity for improving service and productivity and your bottom line. Yet, it also can open your business up to severe liability for injury and property loss if the lift does not meet structural and performance standards, or if the manufacturer lacks the commitment and service network to fully support it.

Lifts provide a natural stance for undercar work. Technicians can conveniently access parts and components and be able to develop better muscle torque with their feet on the ground. Additional work is easily spotted and corrected before it becomes a major issue for the vehicle owner. Of course, you already know that.

Like anything else, buying a superior quality lift may cost more up front, but usually pays for itself in terms of reduced down time and fewer lift repair issues. You should consider the total cost of ownership and the risk of lost productivity and income. Nobody has to tell you it’s all about the bottom line.

According to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), the national average gross income from a service bay with a lift is $800 per day. A bay without a lift generates only half that much — $400 per day. Service bay productivity is cut in half whenever the lift is out of commission.

That is why it’s important to consider the potential hidden costs if you buy a lift that is not well designed and built. Consider the cost of buying a lift against the potential costs of owning a lift. A low price may be initially attractive, but you often wind up with a less useful piece of equipment. In other words, the cost of ownership for a cheap lift may ultimately cost you more.

You want to consider the cost of ownership over the cost of purchase. A unit that needs constant repairs or updated accessories actually means you bought less of a lift.

When your lift is out of service, so is half of that service bay’s revenue. Suddenly that low-priced piece of equipment is eating away at your productivity while also costing you for repairs.

Do your homework

Before you can begin your search, you have to do your homework. Ask yourself what kinds of vehicles you will be lifting. Also, ask yourself what types of work you will be performing on those vehicles. Will it be transmission work, exhaust work, brake service, quick oil changes? List all of your needs. Some lifts are better for particular jobs than others.

For most shops, a light-duty vehicle lift is adequate. It should be capable of lifting a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) of 7,000 to 16,000 pounds. Mohawk Lifts suggests choosing a higher-capacity lift as opposed to one with a lower capacity rating. There are times when either the front or rear of the vehicle may become unbalanced, such as during engine removal or on a work truck with plenty of weight in the back. Unbalanced weight can cause the lift to flex and stress. In such cases, it is also prudent to help support the heavy end with a support stand.

Now that you have evaluated your lifting needs, evaluate your shop. How much space do you have between service bays? How high is your ceiling? Do you have any pass-through bays where one is located beyond another? Do you own the shop and real estate or do you lease it? For instance, you may not want to install an in-ground lift that you cannot remove when the lease expires.

Let’s consider two basic types of lifts: in-ground and above-ground.

The advantages of in-ground lifts

In-ground lifts commonly have one or two posts powered by hydraulics. Twin post, in-ground lifts are often preferred by auto dealerships and tire shops with multiple bays. They offer 360-degree access to the vehicle and rapid ascent and decent.

In-ground lifts also are a good choice for both small shops as well as large service facilities because they take up less space than above-ground lifts. Even if you have limited space, you can install an in-ground lift in only the space required for a vehicle. If you have a large space you can generally fit 11 in-ground lifts in the same amount of space as 12 above-ground, two-post lifts.

Since in-ground lifts do not have large columns like an above-ground lift, door damage from door-to-column contact is eliminated. They are very versatile, lending them to almost any type of automotive service.

In-ground lifts require little service, are easy to keep clean and provide ease when cleaning the shop floor.

Although in-ground lifts have traditionally used hydraulic oil, some newer lifts are going green by using tap water. Even if a leak should develop, there is no fear of pollution.

Advantages of above-ground lifts

Above-ground lifts cost significantly less than in-ground lifts, and also are easier to install if there is already an existing floor. Above-ground lifts are installed on top of concrete that is already cured, assuming the concrete is in good condition and there are no cracks around the area of installation.

Above-ground lifts also are easier to service because all components are above-ground and easily accessible.

Both the initial cost and installation cost is lower for above-ground lifts as opposed to in-ground lifts.

Another advantage is that above-ground lifts can be removed from one shop and installed in another. Not only does this make them somewhat portable, it provides residual value as they may be sold to someone searching for a bargain, and the money can be rolled into a newer lift with the latest technology and accessory options. Some accessories from your old lift may not be backward compatible.

Additionally, if you do not own the shop, you can simply remove the lifts and move them to another location. Another advantage is that the lift can be installed outside (weather permitting) or in various locations throughout the shop. Above-ground lifts provide a lot of flexibility.

If you have the option, choose a lift that uses a 220-volt, two-phase (or even three-phase) motor. They are robust and reliable in the long run. If you don’t have 220-volt service, lift manufacturers offer 110-volt systems. Rotary Lift, for example. offers a 12-volt lift that uses two standard Group 24 vehicle batteries and includes a battery charger operating on standard 110-volt power.

The big advantage is that it can operate even when there is a power outage.

The advantages of scissor lifts

Scissor lifts are ideal for quick service or express bays. The pad style scissor lifts allow technicians to quickly and easily hit pick-up points. Low rise scissor lifts make tire, suspension and brake work much more simple, and allow the technician to easily and quickly get the car off the ground.

Above-ground scissors lifts allow the technician to simply drive on the runway and raise the vehicle. If your shop does lots of quick LOF (lube, oil and filter) jobs, a scissor lift is not only efficient, but has a low initial cost.

Double scissor lifts are a good choice for undercar service because of 360 degrees of access around the vehicle with no cross beams or columns getting in the tech’s way.

Capacity considerations

As we said earlier, you should consider the vehicles you service most when considering lift capacity. Also the types of vehicles serviced come into play. For instance, if you are considering a 10,000-pound capacity twin-post lift, the overall lifting capacity is 10,000 pounds. But this actually means that each arm is rated at 2,500 pounds capacity.

If you often service heavily laden work trucks, most of the weight may be placed on the rear two arms so you may want to consider at the least a 7,000-pound arm capacity.

Always purchase a lift where the capacity of the lift exceeds the heaviest vehicle you will lift by a factor of at least 15%.

Popular accessories

Frame-engaging truck adapters are among the most popular accessories. The adapters are designed to engage the frame to prevent lateral movement of vehicles with frames while on the lift.

With many trucks and SUVs sporting running boards, the adaptors may prevent the arms from coming in contact with running boards.

In the case of two post lifts, the key accessories are lifting pads and extensions that allow for safe, snug contact with the vehicle axle surface in order to prevent slippage. Consider adding lights to illuminate the underside of the vehicle and weight gauges to monitor the weight being lifted. Saddles and head plates ensure proper contact between the lift bolsters.

All accessories sold by the lift manufacturer must also have ALI certification. Avoid any accessories that don’t have it.

Above all, ALI

It is easy to get confused by the claims made by sellers. Some claims made by “bargain” lift distributors may mislead you into believing that the lift is of high quality. The surest way to know that you are getting a safe and reliable lift is to look for the gold sticker carrying the “Automotive Lift Institute (ALI) Certified/ETL Listed” designation. It is the only industry-recognized proof that the lift has been tested by a third party and meets safety and performance standards. Most states or localities have required building code standards requiring that lifts are certified. If you are not sure if the lift you are considering buying is certified, check with the ALI website (

Other labels are insufficient. A UL (Underwriters Laboratories) label on the electric motor pertains only to that motor, not the lift. Ditto if the seller claims that the lift meets OSHA requirements. There is no such certification. In fact, many lifts may carry labels that feature one or more compliance marks such as UL, ETL or CSA. However, none of these are proof that the entire lift has met industry standards. They only cover components, some of which ALI-certified lifts may use. Also, there is no such thing as a “certification pending” ALI approval. Only lifts with the ALI/ETL label are certified. Manufacturer’s that claim to be self-certified are only misleading you.

When it comes to replacement parts, replace them only with parts approved by the lift manufacturer as a sign that the parts are of equal or better construction.

Unfortunately, the lift you already have cannot be certified in the field.

A word about warranties

Most lift manufacturers offer a minimum one year warranty on parts and labor and you should demand at least that. Depending on the manufacturer, warranties can extend to several years for parts and labor. Make sure that the warranty clearly states what is covered and if labor is included. Ask whether there is a qualified repair person in your locale and if replacement parts are either readily available or available by overnight delivery. You also may be able to purchase a service contract.

Raise your profits and start shopping.   ●

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