Submitted by Jay Carter
There's a lot of reasons you might want to jack up your vehicle. Change a flat, install some performance parts or maybe you need an oil change. Unfortunately most people don't follow any safety guidelines when they're jacking up their vehicle and when working underneath it.
Unless you have a lift at your disposal, as a car enthusiast, at some point you're going to find yourself under a vehicle that was raised up with a jack. When that day comes, I hope some of the guidelines in this article make you take that extra step so you don't end up with a car on your head.
Check the owners manual!
First and foremost, check your owners manual. Why? Well, a lot of cars have manufacturers guidelines regarding jacking up your vehicle. Naturally if you're using a floor jack, you wont want to jack your car up at the same points the owners manual specifies for a scissors jack but if there are any vehicle oddities in regards to raising the vehicle up with a jack, they'll be in the owners manual.
For example, the Ford owners manual for Mustangs tell you not to jack up the vehicle under the rear end housing. Know why? Because its easy to bend the differential cover and spring a leak. It's little things like that that are the reason you should check your owners manual before putting the jack under your car.
Know Your Equipment
There are several different kinds of jacks. For the purpose of this article, Im going to stick to 2 kinds.
There is a scissors jack, which is what almost all the manufacturers include with your spare tire. They look something like this, depending on what kind of you have.
Then you have floor jacks which come in different sizes and lifting capacity. For this article, we're gonna talk about large and small ones.
Jack stands also come in various shapes and sizes. These are a necessity if you're going to be working under the car. Never, EVER work underneath a car help up by a jack only.
Knowing your equipment is helpful when developing a strategy to get the car off the ground. More on that in the next section.
Have A Sound Strategy
Sounds simple enough, you're jacking your car up.. well.. its not as easy as it used to be. When cars had full frames, jacking your vehicle up was much easier. If you're still fortunate enough to have a full frame car, finding points to jack the car up underneath are very easy.
Look underneath the car and you can see the frame running from end to end. Anywhere the frame is boxed, you can put a jack there. If it isn't, the weight of the vehicle will most likely bend the frame.
Unibody cars are a little different. They usually come with scissors jacks and have to be jacked up in specific spots (If you use the scissors jack, check your manual). If you're going to use a floor jack on a unibody car, you need to scout out your jacking locations before you roll the jack under the car. Rear end housing is usually okay if you're jacking up the rear (Check your owners manual) and usually up front you can find a spot on the crossmember or by a point where the suspension is attached.
If you're using a large floor jack, you can usually slide it up under the car and have enough of the handle sticking out that you can work the jack and make sure the correct point is being lifted. With a smaller floor jack, this isnt always possible so you're going to need to either crawl under the car to work the jack (Bad idea) or jack each side up separately.
So you've found your jacking spots. Make sure that you're going to be able to reach them okay and that there are no ground effects, etc in the way of the jack reaching your jacking location. Now before you even get the jack out, pick a flat location for the work you're going to do. Never jack a car up on an incline.
You got the location to do it, got your jacking spots, got you jack and jack stands (If needed), so what else? If you're going to be jacking the rear up, you need some wheel chocks for the front wheels to keep the car from rolling when you raise the back wheels off the ground.
If you're jacking the front up and keeping the rear on the ground, you can set the emergency brake (If it works) or put wheel chocks underneath the backwheels also.
Go For It!
If you've made it this far, its time to raise the car up in the air. If you're jacking all four wheels up, I would recommend starting with the front wheels provided this doesnt interfere with jacking up the rear later. Be sure your emergency brake is set (or you have wheel chocks) and slide the jack under your jacking point and raise the jack. When the jack contacts the vehicle, double check your jacking point. If you ARE doing the front first MAKE SURE YOU ARE NOT ON THE OIL PAN!! This is really easy to do if you arent paying attention.
Once the car is in the air, find a couple of points under the car (Same rule as picking jacking points) and slide a pair of jackstand under the car. Once they're in place, lower the car down until it rests on the jack stands. Be sure to check them and make sure they aren't leaning and that the car is safely perched on them. Once you're satisfied with the front, if you're doing the rear, move to the rear of the vehicle and do it all over again. If you're going to be working on the rear end, put your stands elsewhere so the rear end can hand by the suspension. It makes working on the rear end much easier when it's hanging down.
Couple of things to note...
- If you're not happy with the stability of your jack, put something underneath it. A piece of wood works well for this.
- Same thing with your jackstands. If you feel you need a little more surface area for your jackstand, put a 2x4 or a 4x4 in between the jackstand and the vehicle.
- Last but not least, you may end up having to do the same thing with the jack. You may need to get the vehicle just a tad higher or want a larger contact area for your jack. That's another advantage the larger floor jacks have over the small ones. The jacking pad is usually much larger.
If you made it this far, you know have a good working knowledge of how to jack up a vehicle. I realize that for a lot of people this knowledge is very basic and I'd imagine a lot of people are going "Wow, if this guy so bored he's writing about jacking cars up?" but the truth is, everyone gets slack in this department, even yours truly and Ive been at this for almost 30 years.
It's easy to get slack or think "Well, this is only going to take a second, I don't need a jack stand" but when someone has to find you with a car sitting on your head, those couple of seconds it would have taken to jack the car up properly won't really seem like such a big deal.
A lot of this is common sense and there are times you may have to do some creative engineering to jack up your car. I have a Mazda 3 and its a nightmare to jack up with the side skirts on it. I end up using blocks of wood, etc to get the thing in the air and forget about using a 4 post lift. However, armed with the basics Ive outlined in this article, you should have no problem getting your car up in the air and it staying there safely while you perform your work.