Selecting your Trolley Jack. Which is best for me?

Choosing Your Jack

Looking to undertake maintenance on your car and the need for a trolley jack to safely raise and lower your vehicle will be integral to these tasks? Whether you're changing oil and filters or replacing worn brake pads and rotors, you will rely on the ease and functionality that a quality trolley jack provides. But which one is best for your purpose, and what features and functions should you look out for in your search for a jack? Bigger doesn't always necessarily mean better and buying the best one for your needs will ensure it becomes an invaluable part of your garage inventory.

Hydraulic Trolley Jacks

Hydraulic Trolley Jacks

Hydraulic Trolley Jacks are the most associated jack when it comes to working on your vehicle in a garage or workshop environment. A true all rounder when it comes to elevating your vehicle, the manoeuvrability of castors or wheels means they can be easily and accurately positioned. Constructed of a range of materials from aluminium, alloy or steel these jacks use a hydraulic mechanism to provide varying lift heights based on piston length. Advantages of these types of car jacks are that they have a wide footprint that ensures stability and with various rated capacities can lift significant loads. Ranging from 1.5 tonne capacities up to 3 tonnes these load ratings will determine what they will be most effective in lifting. Due to the larger footprint of these jacks they are more at home in the garage rather than being transported in the back of your vehicle. The larger 2 and 3 tonne jacks can also weigh significant amounts based on their construction.

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Bottle Jacks

Bottle Jacks

Bottle Jacks are another jacking option that has various pros and cons when it comes to elevating your vehicle. Their smaller size allows them to be stored and transported easily, yet their comparatively smaller footprint does not provide the stability that a trolley jack will. Produced in various load capacities up to 20 or even 50 tonnes, these jacks are usually better utilised in 4WD or heavy equipment settings rather than your standard family car. These jacks also should only ever be used on flat, level surfaces such as a concrete garage floor to ensure a stable footing.

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Scissor Jacks

Scissor Jacks

A Scissor Jack is another lifting option that can be utilised to raise your vehicle prior to work. Their lightweight construction and compact dimensions make them perfect for being housed in the boot of your vehicle but should only be considered an option for short term use. Changing the occasional roadside tyre will be fine using a scissor jack but for more frequent and heavier duty maintenance, it would always be recommended to use a suitable trolley jack. The small base and small top pad mean that jacking should only be undertaken on a hard, flat surface and directly upon the vehicles jacking points. Load ratings on these units can be up to 2 tonnes.

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High Lift Jack

High Lift Jack

If you need a jack to best suit your 4x4 that will prove versatile and reliable on the trails, a High Lift Jack is the best option. Often regarded as an irreplaceable piece of 4x4 equipment, the High Lift Jack design dates back over 100 years and hasn't been changed since thanks to the proven reliable and effective design. A High Lift Jack utilises sturdy construction and few moving or fragile parts when compared to a standard bottle jack or scissor jack which makes it ideal for lifting heavy 4x4s in difficult situations or when performing difficult recoveries. As the name suggests, High Lift Jacks also have the capacity to lift a greater distance from the ground which is essential for lifted 4x4s in the event of a flat or de-beaded tyre when tackling aggressive terrain. For most lifted 4x4s a standard jack simply won't lift the vehicle high enough off the ground to be able to remove the tyre. If you're willing to get creative on the 4x4 trails, your High Lift Jack can also be used to clamp together broken parts, spread bent roll-cage tubes and even move the vehicle out of ruts or other situations where the vehicle would otherwise be stock.

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Which Jack is right for me?

As can be seen from the quick breakdown of jack types and styles, each cater to different functions and have their own place in providing lift for your vehicle. The most functional jack for regular use would be the trolley jack and from there it is about determining what size or features are necessary for your purpose.

As you will only ever be lifting half your vehicles weight at most, any trolley jack from 1400kgs upwards will be enough to lift the average family car. The limitations on a smaller trolley jack however come from a shorter raised height and lighter construction using less substantial material. These jacks will be fit for purpose but usual require more effort to lift the vehicle due to their smaller hydraulic piston.

A recommended all rounder for a trolley jack usually come from the units rated 2000kgs upwards. These units are a good mix of size and weight and will stand up to the rigours of workshop life for many years. Providing a greater range of lift these jacks will allow quicker access to jacking points and chassis rails for positioning your axle stands prior to work. Making an investment in such an integral piece of garage kit will provide a variety of features not usually found on cheaper or lower rated trolley jacks, such as;

  • Quick lift mechanisms, that require less strokes to raise the jack head to the body of the vehicle
  • Lightweight, in the form of aluminium and alloy components
  • Low profile, with minimal pad height to fit below lowered cars or under tighter spaces than standard height jacks

Any trolley jack sold in Australia must meet the mandatory safety standard AS 2615:2016 meaning that it has conformed to the specifications for performance, load rating and durability.

Additional products to complement your Trolley Jack

Once you have purchased a suitable jack for your requirements it is then about choosing the correctly rated axles stands and wheel chocks to enable you to support your vehicle. Jacks alone are not to be used for supporting a raised vehicle and from 2009 to 2013 at least 10 people in Victoria died from being crushed under a vehicle.

Axle Stands

Axle Stands

Axles stands come in a variety of load ratings and in this instance, it is always better to go for a pair that may be considered overkill for your requirements. Available in pin type or ratchet type these units provide a solid, stable footing when your vehicle is elevated. Be sure to test that the vehicle’s weight is correctly taken up by the axle stand against the jacking point or chassis rail and ensure no movement prior undertaking work. Always try and have your jack raised and situated under another jacking point as another safety measure, whilst even placing the spare tyre under the body of the car never goes astray in providing extra insurance.

Wheel Chock

Wheel chocks are another small but important piece of the puzzle when raising a vehicle and should always be on hand when jacking a vehicle. The handbrake will be able to assist but should never be relied upon, so chocking the back wheels is vital to limiting any forward movement when you have one or both wheels off the ground.

Servicing and Maintenance of your Trolley Jack

Prior to using your jack, you should always check that the hydraulic system is operating effectively. A few pumps on the handle may show slow or sluggish action on the jack and this is usually caused by air in the system that needs to be bled. This can happen through inactivity or transportation prior to purchase.

The bleed screw or filler plug on your trolley jack may be in the form of a hex head bolt or screw located in the body of the hydraulic cylinder. This needs to be loosened for the air to be removed.

With the jack release valve open, pump the handle of the jack rapidly several times and leave the jack handle at its lowest point. Slowly release the filler plug enough to let the air escape. Once done, tighten the plug and close the release valve to resume pumping of the jack handle. If done correctly the jack should respond quicker and if still sluggish repeat the process.

Over time the hydraulic oil may need topping up to restore performance. This can be done by repeating the steps to purge the air but by opening the filler plug and refilling with hydraulic oil. Once refilled ensure any air is purged from the system.

Tips for safely raising and lowering your vehicle using your Trolley Jack

  • Always have the vehicle on solid, flat and level ground prior to beginning work.
  • Engage the handbrake and if manual transmission, have it also in gear
  • If working on the front of the vehicle chock the rear wheels and vice versa to stop forward or rearward momentum
  • Familiarise yourself with your vehicle jacking points which are found in the owner’s manual
  • Place the car jack under the most accessible jacking point to the area you are working on
  • Pump the jack handle to raise the jack head to the jacking point and ensure solid contact prior to lifting higher
  • Pump jack to elevate to required height, always ensuring solid contact and the trolley jack moving freely on its castors (It will creep forward as the vehicle lifts)
  • Once at height, position one or each axle stand against either the chassis rails or other jacking points on the vehicle. Ensure both axle stands are extended to the same height to have the vehicle as horizontal on its axis as possible.
  • Slowly lower the vehicle onto the axle stands and ensure the full weight of the vehicle is taken up by the stands. The jack should be left in situ to provide another point of load bearing if required.
  • If jacking multiple points, work your way around and elevate and brace each point.
  • Once completed, ensure the vehicle is stable and stationary prior to placing any part of your body beneath it.

Summary

Purchasing a quality trolley jack, coupled with axle stands and wheel chocks, will allow you to undertake a range of routine maintenance on your vehicle. Through regular maintenance of your trolley jack you will have a vital piece of workshop equipment that will last many years, and if used correctly will provide a safer working environment.