Let safety and ideal lifting capacity be your guide when choosing a hoist for your shop


You’ve been using floor jacks and jack stands to work on your trucks and equipment. Tired of squeezing beneath vehicles, you’re thinking about moving up to a lift. But how do you know which one to choose? Will a less expensive lift perform as well as a higher priced model? What about a used lift? Are they safe? What should you look for?

Lifts come in various styles — inground, two-post surface mounted, multi-post runway (four-post surface mounted), low-/mid-rise frame engaging, drive-on parallelogram, scissor, and moveable wheel engaging — and can vary in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Before investing in a lift, determine how the lift will be used and where it will be located. Can your garage floor support the weight, is there enough ceiling height and how close is your power and air supply?

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Lifting power
Certified inground and four-post above-ground lifts, designed to do so, can hoist their rated capacity, including a 33,000-pound vehicle. Certified mobile column lifts, heavy-duty scissor lifts or parallelogram lifts are equally suited to the job. 

“Typically, when someone has buyer’s remorse it’s because they didn’t do their homework up-front,” says R.W. “Bob” O’Gorman, president of the Automotive Lift Institute in Cortland, New York. “For example, they purchased a 7,000-pound lift when a 12,000-pound lift was really needed. Perhaps a decision was made to buy a 12,000-pound lift when they needed an 18,000-pound lift. Examples like these are probably one of the biggest consumer issues we see. People buy a lift not really considering the capacity and application they will need.”

O’Gorman suggests visiting the institute’s FAQ (www.autolift.org/faq.php) and Buyer Beware (www.autolift.org/buyer_beware.php) pages to become better educated.

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Safety first
Unlike other tools in your shop that get used and abused, a lift is a safety item and should be viewed in this manner by the user, O’Gorman says. With thousands or tens of thousands of pounds overhead, you don’t want your lift to be a hazard. And while most lifts look the same, that doesn’t mean they are, even to the trained eye.

“In the U.S. and Canada we have the International Building Code, the National Electrical Code, health and safety regulations and product safety standards to help manufacturers address known hazards such as electrical and mechanical safety considerations that should be built into the product before it leaves the factory,” says Dale W. Soos, senior project engineer for the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI).

“A mandatory requirement compelling manufacturers to comply simply is not the case in some industries – automotive lifts is one such example. Therefore, if you are not careful, you get what you pay for in this market,” he says. “Speaking as an engineer and a car guy, steel is a commodity. With this in mind, lower price most likely means less steel to some degree. That may be OK if the design is solid and the quality or quantity of the steel is not lower than that required by the design.”

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O’Gorman says one way to ensure the lift you are considering will perform as claimed is to look for the Automotive Lift Institute’s Gold Certification Label.

ALI’s vehicle lift certification program utilizes OSHA’s Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories to conduct its product safety evaluations, and tests every lift model it certifies and deems eligible to bear ALI’s certification label. ALI’s mission is to promote the safe design, construction, installation, inspection and use of automotive lifts. It is not involved in the pricing or sales of lifts.

Country of origin
When deciding on a lift, keep in mind that above-ground lifts sold in North America are manufactured in Canada, Europe, China and other Asian countries, as well as the United States. Rather than base your choice on country of origin, O’Gorman suggests focusing on important aspects of product performance and design, as well as material used, stress calculations and adherence to national requirements for safety and quality control, including a model’s accessories and subcomponents.

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“For those interested in the country of origin, a label declaring this information is mandatory for all lifts that comply with the ANSI/ALI ALCTV safety standard that is recognized throughout North America as the industry standard,” he says.

Secondhand options
If you’re considering a used lift, make sure it’s in working condition and that it operates as intended by the manufacturer. For many, this might require obtaining the opinion of an experienced lift inspector. You don’t want a safety hazard that puts you or your employees at risk.

“Was the lift removed after being found no longer fit for duty as a result of wear or some form of damage?” Soos says.

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Depending on the age of the secondhand lift, it might not include some of today’s safety features or meet installation code requirements. Before relocating a lift or purchasing a used one, it’s best to check with local code officials first — even if you’re moving the lift from one location in the shop to another.

Install and inspect
Installing a lift, especially an above-ground model, might seem like a weekend project; however, ALI recommends consulting a professional installation company before attempting to install a lift. If you are confident in your abilities and find local codes don’t require a professional, proceed with caution and safety in mind while following the manufacturer’s instructions.

“We are aware of at least one professional installer with years of installation experience who was seriously injured after being pinned during a routine installation that was expected to be fairly easy,” Soos says. “Save yourself the headache and obtain the services of a professional who has experience with the lift model you select.”

Once installed, be sure you and your employees are properly trained on use and maintenance. Perform a daily check of fasteners and anchor bolts. Look for cracks in the concrete floor and for fluid leaks. And, at a minimum, have your lift safety inspected at least once a year.

Lift types
Until the 1980s, most lifts were of the inground type. Today, surface-mounted lifts are a popular choice. Typically bolted to the floor, they are powered by an electric motor that operates either a hydraulic pump or screw drive. Here are a few models:

Two-post, surface mounted
The most popular type of surface-mounted lift purchased today; arms ride up each column and are synchronized mechanically, hydraulically or electronically.

Multi-post runway
Commonly configured as a four-post, surface-mounted lift, the vehicle is driven onto two runways and lifted by the tires.

Low-/mid-rise frame engaging
The lift operates in either a parallelogram style (fore or aft as it raises and lowers) or a scissor style that moves in a straight vertical direction. Lifts might be electric-hydraulic or powered by compressed air.

Drive-on parallelogram
The surface-mounted, drive-on lift (except low rise) raises the vehicle with two runways using a mechanism that moves a short distance fore or aft when raising or lowering, depending on how the lift is mounted.

Scissor
Using a mechanism similar to the parallelogram, the scissor lift raises and lowers the vehicle in a straight vertical path rather than fore or aft.

Moveable-type wheel engaging
Traditionally used with longer, more unconventional vehicles, the lift utilizes individual columns in sets of two, four, six or more. A master control synchronizes the columns to operate in unison.

Inground
Still a popular choice, pistons raise the vehicle with the lifting assembly located below the garage floor.


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