Choosing the Best Floor Jack is More Than Just Weight Capacity
We find ourselves captivated by the mechanical prowess of hydraulic jacks. The amalgamation of physics and engineering enables us to effortlessly lift loads significantly heavier than our individual capacity. Now, the question arises: how does one go about selecting the optimal floor jack for their specific needs? To shed light on this, we engaged in a conversation with Bob Fox from Sunex Tools, leveraging his extensive experience spanning nearly five decades.
SELECT THE APPROPRIATE MATERIAL
Steel: Heavier, yet highly durable and more budget-friendly
Aluminum: Lighter, but not as long-lasting and comes at a higher cost
Hybrid: Blends steel and aluminum components for a balance of benefits from both worlds
CHOOSE THE CORRECT CAPACITY
Identify your gross vehicle weight, front, and rear weights from the sticker inside your door or your vehicle’s manual.
Ensure the chosen jack has a weight-lifting capacity exceeding your actual requirement.
Avoid excess – a higher capacity results in a slower and heavier jack.
THE BEST FLOOR JACK: MATERIAL TYPE
Steel jacks are widely favored due to their affordability and durability, making them the most popular choice. However, the drawback is their weight, as they are also the heaviest. Professionals, especially those in repair shops and dealers’ service bays, often choose steel jacks. This preference is attributed to their primary tasks, which typically involve tire changes, and the jacks do not need to be moved over long distances.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are aluminum jacks, which are the most expensive and least durable. However, they can weigh less than half of their steel counterparts. Aluminum jacks find their ideal use in scenarios where speed and mobility take precedence, such as with mobile mechanics, roadside assistance, DIY enthusiasts, and at race tracks. Based on Bob’s experience, some roadside assistance professionals anticipate that aluminum jacks may need replacement within 3-4 months of use.
A few years ago, manufacturers introduced hybrid jacks that combine aluminum and steel components. In these hybrids, crucial structural elements such as the lift arms and power units are made of steel, while the side plates consist of aluminum. Predictably, these hybrids offer a compromise in terms of both weight and cost.
While hybrids can serve the needs of mobile professionals, those with the most extensive and regular usage are likely to continue favoring steel for its extended durability. This option is also appreciated by serious do-it-yourself enthusiasts and automotive enthusiasts seeking weight savings.
THE BEST FLOOR JACK: TONNAGE CAPACITY
1.5-ton steel jacks are yielding their popularity to heavier-duty 3- or 4-ton versions. However, the question arises: is such high capacity really necessary?
For most professional users, 2.5-ton machines suffice, but repair shops typically lean towards at least 3 tons to ensure comprehensive coverage.
It’s essential to note that higher capacity jacks come with a tradeoff – they tend to operate at a slower pace and carry a heavier weight. To address this, many professional-grade jacks incorporate a double pump piston system. This system facilitates lifting during both the upstroke and downstroke until the jack is under load. Once the load is applied, one of the pumps is bypassed, and the speed returns to normal.
Determine the suitable tonnage capacity for your vehicle by identifying the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) located on the sticker in your driver’s door jamb. Most vehicles also specify the weight distribution for the front and rear, and this information can be found in the vehicle’s manual.
Ensure that the selected jack has the lifting capacity exceeding the higher of the two weights. For instance, if you require a lift capacity of 3100 pounds for the front (just over 1-1/2 tons), opt for a floor jack that accommodates 2 or 2-1/2 tons. There’s no need to escalate to the weight of a 3- or 4-ton jack unless you simply prefer the assurance of being able to lift a larger vehicle.
A Short Interjection
Another consideration is to verify the maximum height of your service jack. While a height of 14″ or 15″ might be suitable for most cars, it may pose limitations when dealing with trucks equipped with 20″ wheels. In such cases, lifting the truck fully may not be possible, or you might find yourself needing to crawl under the vehicle to locate a lower contact point.