Safety Instructions Before Using Vehicle Lifts

Auto Detail of a 1998 Ferrari 355 by Esoteric Auto Detail
Source: Flickr


Lifts are used to raise a vehicle on a stable platform, allowing automotive mechanics unrestricted access to inspect and repair the underbelly, transmission and wheels of the vehicle.
Multiple vehicle lifts are standard equipment in most auto repair shops. In addition, some automobile enthusiasts install lifts in their homes for vehicle storage.

Prior to 1920, only service pits were available for repairing and doing preventive maintenance on the undersides of vehicles. The hydraulic auto lift was invented in the 1920’s to reduce the time and equipment needed to hoist vehicles off the ground. Depending on the design used, .today’s vehicle lifts can raise up to 50,000 pounds and can cost between $9,000 and $45,000. Installation not included.

In the beginning, there were no industry standards and vehicle lifts varied in design and construction. After World War II, there were only fifteen auto lift manufacturers in the United States. They recognized the need to develop standards to guide the industry. In 1947, the U.S. government issued its first set of standards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration developed its own regulations in 1974.

Today, there are three major manufacturers of heavy lifts: Mohawk Resources Ltd. of Amsterdam, NY; Advantage Lift Systems based in San Diego, CA; and Rotary Lift in Madison, IN. Electric controls for lifts are standard, and lift features vary according to price and model. They vary depending on where they make contact with the vehicle, usually the axles, frame or wheels. They include single-, two-, four-post, and scissors lifts. The single- and two-post lifts are ideal for small trucks and cars. The four-post auto lift is used for most commercial and transit vehicles. The scissors lift saves space by having the posts in the middle of the lift, operating like an open pair of scissors.

Over the years, the structure of the automobile body has changed. Vehicles previously built onto underbody frames are now being constructed into frameless or unibody styles. Lifts have evolved to better handle the structure of newer vehicles. Rotary, for example, has developed the three stage lift. It has three telescoping sections, giving it a greater range of extension and retraction than other lifts. As a result, it can reach a broader range of vehicle pick-up points. It has become the preferred lift of many vehicle manufacturers, including Honda, Volkswagen and Audi.

Despite changes in the design of lifts over the years, many injuries and accidents occur annually. This is usually due to human error rather than any flaw in the lift design. The most simple things often lead to disaster. Auto mechanics sometimes fail to keep the lift area free of debris, grease/oil and obstructions. Not paying close attention when working around the lifts or allowing untrained individuals to use them are two more potential problems. Some forget to wear the right safety gear, including goggles, a hard hat, and steel toed boots.

Proper use and maintenance of the equipment is essential. Blocking or overriding the controls is dangerous. The manufacturer’s rated capacity is shown on the nameplate affixed to lift. Despite this, some mechanics use the lift to hoist vehicles that exceed the weight limit.

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Mistakes made before the vehicle is lifted are accidents waiting to happen. The lift arms must be properly positioned before the vehicle is raised. If the center of gravity of the car is not on the center of the lift, cars may tip off. With some vehicles, removing or installing items may cause a critical shift in the vehicle’s center of gravity and result in instability. Mechanics should always refer to the lift manufacturer’s recommendations. If there is not ample overhead clearance space, the vehicle may be crushed. Mistakes also occur when the transmission is not in neutral, doors are not securely closed or the ignition is not turned off. Some repairmen fail to lock the lift into place before going under it. Others raise the car while someone is inside the vehicle.

Numerous accidents occur during the lifting process. The vehicle should be loaded on a lift carefully. Mechanics should ensure that the lift supports are in contact with the manufacturer’s recommended lifting points. When a secure contact is made, the lift can be raised to the desired working height. If work will be done under the vehicle, the lift should be raised high enough for its locking device to be engaged.

Before lowering a lift, the mechanic should ensure that everything is removed from under the vehicle. Locking devices should be disengaged before the lift is lowered.