Using a floor jack seems simple enough even to newbies, but that’s a rather dangerous attitude to take. That’s because using a floor jack can be dangerous and even fatal if you do it wrong and you casually ignore the very real safety concerns. At the very least, you may damage your vehicle as well.
So for the sake of your safety (and probably of the safety of people around you), here are the top 5 safety tips you need to follow.
- Use the Proper Equipment.
If you’re planning to raise your vehicle in your garage to rotate the tires or to work under the vehicle, here’s a list of the equipment you need:
- A suitable floor jack. This means its lifting capacity is equal to the weight of your car. You have to read reputable reviews to make sure that the floor jack can actually lift the vehicles they’re supposed to be able to lift. Better yet, you may want to get a floor jack with a lifting capacity rating that exceeds the weight of your vehicle. So if your car weighs around 6,000 pounds, you may want to get a floor jack with a 7,000-pound rating to be sure.
- 2 pairs of wheel chocks. This is to make sure that your car doesn’t roll down when you’re trying to lift it. It doesn’t matter if your floor jack is very stable if your car rolls when you’re lifting it.
- A pair of jack stands. Again, they should be able to handle the weight of your car. Jack stands are crucial, especially when you’re planning on sliding underneath the car to work on it.
- Glasses (eye protection) and gloves. These are needed when you’re going to work under the car.
- Plywood. These will come in handy if your floor surface is less than ideal for your floor jack and jack stands.
- Check Your Work Surface.
When you have your car on your garage surface, the weight is spread out across the contact patch of the tire. This contact patch is smaller when you use a floor jack, since the weight is supported only by the wheels and casters. So a soft surface won’t do, because the floor jack may just sink unevenly on it and that can damage the car.
For the most part, you’re good if you have a concrete surface to work with. It’s a different matter when the surface is made of dirt, grass, clay, and even asphalt.
You can either change location until you have a concrete surface, or you can use the plywood under the floor jack. The plywood should be at last ⅝ of an inch thick, so that you can bear the weight of the car. You need to also use the plywood for the jack stands.
- Lock Your Car in Place.
You really don’t want your car to roll while you’re using your floor jack or jack stands. That can certainly lead to damage to your car, and it can even result in physical injuries for you and others.
For this purpose, you need to use tire or wheel chocks to wedge the tires in place. That means you place them in front and behind the wheels to ensure that it doesn’t roll either forwards or backwards. If you’re putting wheel chocks on the rear tires, make sure that means both the left and right rear tires.
Now you may think that using your parking brake and putting the car in 1st gear (when your car is a manual transmission) are enough. That’s just plain wrong. Yes, you have to do all those things, but you also need to use the wheel chocks to wedge the tires in place.
- Lift the Car Slowly by Using the Right Lifting Points.
The lifting points of your car are the precise spots where the saddle of the floor jack (and of the jack stand) makes contact with your car. These spots are designed to handle the contact with minimal (or no) damage to your car.
So where are these spots? Your best bet is to check your owner’s manual, where you can usually find the info in the Emergency section. If for some reason you can’t find your print manual, go online and download the PDF manual. If this isn’t possible, then go online and find the info in reputable car forums. You can also trust your professional mechanic and ask them.
Using the wrong lifting points can damage your car, such as if you use the side frame of the car instead. You will just damage the sheet metal. The wrong lifting point may also be unstable. That’s why you shouldn’t raise the car too quickly, since you will want to double check that you’re using the right lifting point.
- Replace the Floor Jack with Jack Stands.
This is perhaps one of the most disregarded safety tips of them all, and it’s the mistake with the most serious repercussions. What you need to really understand is that a floor jack is designed to raise the car, and not to support it for a very long time. You have to assume that it will fail, which is why you need jack stands.
There are plenty of reasons why some people don’t bother to use jack stands when they’re just changing a tire. Many heavy duty floor jacks are actually so tough that they will lift the car long enough to allow you to change a tire. The problem is that you really can’t assume this. That’s why you need to replace the floor jack with a jack stand. At the very least, you won’t overly stress your floor jack as well.
The stupidest thing you can do is to go underneath the car while the car is supported by the floor jack. You’re risking life and limb just because you don’t want to take the time for safety.
So just lower the car gently onto the 2 jack stands, while you also make sure that you’re using the right lifting points. Then shake the car firmly before you remove the tire or go underneath. You need to test how it will react when the car is accidentally bumped, especially if you’re working under the car.
These are the 5 basic floor jack safety tips you need to keep in mind. Heed them all, and you minimize the risk to your floor jack, your car, and your health.