A guide to automotive lifts and lifting equipment - Transmission Digest

A guide to automotive lifts and lifting equipment

“Need a lift?”

This greeting isn’t something you hear too often anymore. Sure, hitchhiking used to be common, but it also used to be safe. People were different. Times were different. Now, it’s just too dangerous. Whether you are picking someone up or being picked up, you are potentially taking a chance with your life.

So, where am I going with this? Over the course of my career, I’ve worked in eight different auto repair shops. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least 10 lifts from those shops that wouldn’t pass a safety inspection. Problems ranged from the absence of a functioning safety, to bleed down, rusted out uprights, uneven arm height, and worn-out chains and cables. Luckily, I never experienced an injury to any person, but I did see many vehicles damaged.

The frustrating part is that I had advised shop management many times that the lifts should be repaired or replaced. In the end, the damage that was caused by equipment failure could only be blamed on them.

So why are so many lifts ignored? This is not a worn socket or teeth of a ratchet. This is the single most important piece of equipment in the shop. A properly operating lift means efficiency. A properly operating lift means safety. Serious injury or death can occur if something goes wrong. It’s not a risk I like to take, but then I don’t hitchhike either.

So now, back to my question: Do you need a lift? I wish I could see how many technicians and shop owners alike are nodding their heads right now. I’d bet there are quite a few.

Lift standards

Whether you are replacing one or adding one, it’s not a daunting process. Buying a lift is probably one of the easier things you can do. Sure, there are a lot of them out there, and it can be time-consuming to look through them all, but there are several things on your side.

One of your biggest allies is the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI). ALI has one primary purpose: the safe design, construction, installation, inspection and use of automotive lifts. They developed the original automotive lift safety standard and have revised it numerous times over the years. The current standard is ANSI/ALI ALCTV:2017.

Included in this standard is:

  • Design criteria and analysis methods.
  • Requirements for electrical components, control devices, speeds, wireless controls and the strength of drive components.
  • Specific construction requirements for lift components such as columns, runways, ramps, swing arms and load-holding devices.
  • Manufacturer quality assurance systems and procedural requirements.
  • Lift testing procedures.
  • Documentation and labeling requirements.

While you can study the ALI lift standard, all you really need to know is if the lift you’re looking at meets the current ALI lift standard. Different lifts may have different features, and some may work better for you, but when comparing similar lifts, if they both meet the ALI standard, they are both built just as well. If you’re unsure about a lift being certified, ALI has a Directory of Certified Lifts on its website.

The ALI website contains a wealth of information for buying a new lift as well as installing it. It’s a great resource that favors no one. It just lists the facts.

Choosing a lift

When you begin the process of getting a new lift, early on you will be narrowing down your choices. Most who have been in the field have an idea of what type of lift or lifts they need, but there’s a lot to choose from, so if you’re not sure, lift manufacturers are your best contact. They are the experts and can help you determine what you need.
When it comes to lift design and construction, even when comparing identical type and capacity lifts, you’ll find many differences, both visible and in specification. Think of it like buying a car and comparing two models. They both run and drive and will get you there and back, but you look for the features and options you like. Then you compare price. Maybe it comes down to color.

This can happen in the world of lifts, too. If you can’t decide because the features are the same and you like one better because the color matches your shop decor, then get it. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you get the features you are looking for and as long as it carries the ALI certification.

Here’s a look at some of the features we like the best.

Single-point safety release. Many lifts have dual-point safety releases, meaning you have to disengage the safety from each side before lowering the lift. I’ve worked under many of these, and while it only takes an extra second to release the second one, when you do this every day, all day, it’s the little things that add up to saved time, and it’s just nice to be able to release both sides and lower the lift from one spot. This might not be a deal breaker, but it’s a nice feature.

Equalization cables. Many lifts are designed with equalization cables, and this is true for both two- and four-post lifts. They allow you to adjust the lift arms from side-to-side so they will be level. Lifting a car crooked because the arms aren’t level is high on my list of pet peeves, and threaded, adjustable lift adapters are not meant to correct this problem.

Adapters. Opinions differ as to the type of adapters technicians like to use, but I like to have all the options available. Stackable adapters work great, and they are quick. But sometimes you need to get the lift pad right up to the vehicle and there’s not an adapter of the right size, so threaded adapters are a must. This is critical because lifting points vary and lifting a vehicle level front-to-back and in the correct location is a matter of safety. Extended adapters are also important for many trucks and vans. Personally, I don’t think you can have too many adapters.

Options: I’ve seen many useful options offered by different lift manufacturers, some of which will come down to personal preference, but here are some of my favorites:

  • Foam door guards. It’s impossible to prevent bumping the door against the lift every now and then, no matter how careful you are. Hardware store foam can work, but it’s hard to get it to stick sometimes and cover the areas you want. It’s just nice to have something that’s designed for the lift.
  • Head guards for the swing arm. This is self-adhesive foam designed to fit the end of any swing arm. I know I’ve hit my head plenty of times and I‘d prefer that doesn’t happen again.
  • Swing arm lifting pads. I think this is my favorite. It’s uncommon, but every now and then there’s a car that just doesn’t line up well and the swing arms themselves (instead of the sliding arm) are the only way to lift it under the pinch weld. Swing arm lifting pads fit on the swing arm to protect the lift finish and the vehicle.

I haven’t mentioned anything about lift capacity or different overall designs such as two- or four-post, or scissor lifts, but these factors are all determined by what you work on, how much space you have, what type of floor you have, and the type of work you do. These are things, if you don’t know already, that a lift manufacturer will help you determine.

What I do want to mention is not to overlook the type and height of the swing arms on a two-post lift. With so many cars sitting lower than they used to and the importance of using specific lift points, there’s a lot of action at the swing arms. You want to make sure that clearance and adjustability is high on your list, so your new lift is the most efficient with the vehicles you work on the majority of the time.

In conclusion, the information is there. The lifts are there. The manufacturers are there to help. There’s no excuse for worn out and dangerous lifts. If you decide to hitchhike, that’s up to you.

Editor’s Note: This article initially appeared in TD’s sister publication, TechShop, and is being printed here as part of a series for transmission shops that offer general repair services.

You May Also Like

Snap-on announces upgrades in diagnostic software release

With its latest diagnostic software release, Snap-on said it has added more location images and larger connector diagrams to its Fast-Track Guided Component Test feature to “give professional automotive technicians increased confidence and certainty in their diagnosis.” “Fast-Track Guided Component Tests take oscilloscope testing of individual electrical components or circuits to the next level by


With its latest diagnostic software release, Snap-on said it has added more location images and larger connector diagrams to its Fast-Track Guided Component Test feature to “give professional automotive technicians increased confidence and certainty in their diagnosis.”

“Fast-Track Guided Component Tests take oscilloscope testing of individual electrical components or circuits to the next level by providing vehicle-specific, visually illustrated test procedures that show exactly where to connect, how to connect and what the results should look like,” said Helen Cox, marketing and client services director for Snap-on Diagnostics. “With our newest software upgrade, we have enhanced the images and added crisp looking connector diagrams to further streamline the diagnostic process so technicians can quickly get to the root cause of the problem.”

Tub O’ Towels debuts heavy-duty cleaner and degreaser spray

Tub O’ Towels announced a new heavy-duty cleaner and degreaser spray, which the company says is aimed at taking care of grease and grime in service shops, oil change bays and engine or transmission shops. Related Articles – ADD Group to exhibit at Automechanika Shanghai – Gray Tools releases insulated socket sets – PRT launches

ADD Group to exhibit at Automechanika Shanghai

ADD Group, a manufacturer of shocks, struts and complete strut assemblies, will be exhibiting its products at Hall 3 Booth 3N35 at Automechanika Shanghai 2023. Related Articles – PRT adds 32 new products to complete strut assemblies line – PRT expands line of complete strut assemblies – PRT will present various product lines at AAPEX

Gray Tools releases insulated socket sets

Gray Tools offers two new insulated socket sets, available in 1/4-in. and 3/8-in. drive sizes. According to the press release, each set contains a 42-tooth round head ratchet with two extensions and a variety of SAE and metric sockets. Each piece is individually insulated to 1,000 volts and tested to 10,000 volts in compliance with

PRT launches seven new complete strut assembly products

PRT announced that it has added to its line of complete strut assemblies for light vehicles, SUVs and pickup trucks. The new products cover models such as the BMW 3 Series, Subaru Legacy, 2022 Chevrolet Malibu, 2019 Kia Soul and 2019 Cadillac ATS, among others. Related Articles – Shop Boss adds new user interface to


Other Posts

BendPak introduces new full-rise scissor lifts

BendPak has introduced the new SP-7XE Series of full-rise scissor lifts. They are rated for a capacity of 7,000 lbs. and can raise most cars and light trucks nearly six feet. BendPak says these lifts are made for shops with space constraints. Related Articles – American Powertrain introduces ProTwin disc clutch for GM, Ford and Mopar –

Transtar launches new AC ad campaign with Vanilla Ice

Transtar has launched a new ad campaign that features musician Vanilla Ice, the “Ice Ice Baby” hitmaker, promoting its vehicle air conditioning (AC) product line. The Transtar AC product line is the organization’s first entry into non-transmission or driveline parts. Related Articles – Transtar announces Texas product expansions – BendPak founder Don Henthorn passes away

Is your shop ready for a service EVolution?

The auto industry is investing more than $1 trillion into shifting new vehicle production from internal combustion to electric power. Forecasters estimate that EVs could account for up to one-third of the North American market by 2029. And with dozens of electric models from domestic and import brands already on the road, chances are good

Rotary introduces XA12 Alignment Scissor Lift

Rotary announced the release of the new XA12 Alignment Scissor Lift, a small bay alignment lift with a large four-wheel alignment wheelbase range. Related Articles – Sonnax introduces oversized low reverse/overdrive clutch regulator valve kit – Alto introduces aluminum oil pans for Chrysler transmissions – Sonnax introduces heavy-duty ‘A’ clutch backing plate The lift has