All About Garage Jacks

Knowing how to properly lift your vehicle is essential to working safely in your garage.

Tackling your vehicle maintenance is a great way to save cash. But to do so, you’ll need to lift your vehicle off the ground in a safe, secure manner. Sure, you can run down to your local auto parts store and buy a floor jack, but do you really know how to safely use it?

When you’re underneath any vehicle, safety is paramount. Follow these simple steps and take all necessary precautions to prevent mishaps and empower yourself to work with confidence, no matter the project.

Examine and chock
Before you begin the lifting process, examine the area around your vehicle. Work only on a flat, level surface. If there is a slope of any kind, don’t even think about jacking the vehicle; either move it to a flat location or call a professional.

To prevent the vehicle from shifting, chock the wheels that will stay in contact with the ground during the jacking process by placing 4x4 blocks of wood or chocking wedges made specifically for this purpose both in front of and behind the tires (see photo, below). Then set the parking brake and engage the transmission. If the vehicle has an automatic transmission, simply shift it into park. If it’s a front-wheel-drive stick shift and you’re lifting the rear axle, place the transmission in reverse. If it’s a rear-wheel drive vehicle and you’re lifting the front axle, shift the car into either first or second gear.

To prevent the vehicle from rolling, place chocks both in front of and behind both wheels of the axle that will remain in contact with the ground.

Lift 'er up
Position the floor jack according to your vehicle’s recommended jacking points, which are listed in the owner’s manual. (Common jacking points include frame members or the rear differential.) If you’re working on a soft surface such as asphalt, place a ¼-in.-thick (minimum) section of plywood under the jack to prevent it from sinking into the asphalt as you raise the car.

Begin raising the vehicle using the floor jack. Watch for shifting or for any damage to the jacking points during the process. Do not get under the vehicle during this time — it could slip from the jack and crush you.

Provide support
Once you’ve raised the vehicle, place two jack stands under factory-approved locations (see photo, below). Again, if you’re working on asphalt, place scraps of plywood under the jack stands just as you did under the floor jack.

Notice the proper jacking point on the frame member. Place jack stands beneath the vehicle once you have it sufficiently raised. Never rely on the jack alone to hold the vehicle while you work under it.

Slowly lower the vehicle onto the jack stands while watching for any interference caused by the chassis, engine, driveline or suspension parts. Make any necessary adjustments now; never attempt to adjust the jack-stand positions from underneath the vehicle. Once you have double-checked everything, give the vehicle a slight nudge to ensure that the forces you will exert during your mechanical procedures will not cause the vehicle to shift or fall off of the jack stands.

Following these steps allows you to safely work under your vehicle with confidence. Now you can fearlessly tackle all those dirty little chores (such as changing the oil) that you’ve been paying someone else to perform for far too long.