If you believe you haven’t seen a vehicle you don’t know how to lift, or that spotting is just common sense, you’re destined for an accident. Don’t assume that lifting is the same from vehicle to vehicle or from lift to lift.
Have you ever seen a vehicle slide off of a lift? They can, and do fall off of all kinds of lifts. It’s not a pretty sight, especially if the service technician is under the falling vehicle. Don’t be an accident statistic. Learn how to properly spot vehicles on the lifts in your shop. Take time to examine each vehicle and the lift you’re going to go under before starting a job. Exercise your own discretion and judgment.
Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before lifting any vehicle on any lift:
- Where is the center of gravity for this specific vehicle?
- What are the contents of the vehicle and how does this impact balance? For example, what’s in the truck box? What’s in the pickup with the camper cover? What’s in the trunk? Is the bus engine in front of the front axle? Are the water tanks on the fire engine empty?
- Does the work you’re going to perform have the potential to shift the weight of the vehicle? Will you be removing heavy components from the vehicle? Should you use vehicle support stands to stabilize the lifted load?
- What type of lift are you going to use?
- Does the lift have a fall prevention system or a fall arrest system? Is the load prevented from falling because it is structurally supported or is the load suspended and then arrested after it begins to fall? If the lift uses a fall arrest system, you should inspect the suspension chains or wire rope(s) prior to lifting.
Drive-on lifts seem so straightforward, that it may appear that there’s nothing to worry about when using them.
Wait a minute:
- Do the runways slope when they are loaded?
- How about when the load is placed at one end of the runway?
- Does the lift have a dedicated set of chocks for the vehicle wheels?
- Does the lift have front and rear runway stops in case the chocks get overdriven?
- Have you ever left the engine running on a raised vehicle? Do you think the vehicle could drop into gear if it gets bumped?
Wheel-Engaging Mobile Lifts
- Are the tire forks making full contact with the tires?
- Are the forks wet or oily?
- Should you use high-reach fixed stands to totally support the load?
- Do you really know exactly where to place the stand adapters? Lifting information for heavy-duty vehicles is sparse at best.
- Do you know the weight distribution? Is the column capacity adequate for each lifting point?
- Do you really need the lifting columns somewhere else right now? If not, then do not transfer the load to stands.
- Are the column connecting cables a tripping hazard?
- Is the lift’s wireless control signal getting interference from other systems?
It’s easy to get complacent and think that all you have to do when using a frame-engaging lift is find a hard spot like the frame or the jack points on a unibody car. This is a risky assumption and one likely to lead to an accident.
The first step in making a proper lift is to find the vehicle manufacturer recommended lifting points for that vehicle. Here are a few common sources of reliable lift point information:
- If you work in an automobile dealership, you can go to the internal vehicle manufacturer website to find lifting and jacking information. You can also consult the vehicle service manuals.
- If you work in an independent shop, franchise store, or fleet maintenance operation, you may or may not have the service manuals for the vehicle. If your employer subscribes to one of the independent vehicle information services, you may be able to access lifting information there.
- The Automotive Lift Institute publishes an annual Quick Reference Guide to Vehicle Lifting Points for Frame-Engaging Lifts. The Lifting Point Guide is developed from information obtained directly from the vehicle manufacturers.
Since frame-engaging lifts are the most popular style in light duty shops, here are some additional tips regarding their use:
- Never assume the lift swing arm restraints will keep the arms from coming out from under the vehicle. If the adapters aren’t placed on a flat, level surface, the horizontal force developed on the adapter pad can be greater than the vertical force applied to it. Swing arm restraints are only designed to resist 150 pounds of horizontal force.
- Take the adapter design into consideration. Does your lift have flip-up adapters, screw-type adapters or stacking adapters? Are the adapter surfaces steel or rubber? Are there features on the adapters that would inhibit lateral movement? Do you need to use extenders to prevent swing arm contact with sills, rocker panels, pipes, dams, steps or running boards?
- What about lifting on the spring hangers? Some vehicle manufacturers approve this in some cases. If you place the adapter on the spring hanger, does the spring rest on part of the adapter pad? If the leaf spring is on the adapter, the vehicle can walk right off of the adapter if it is rocked up and down. Due to the upsweep of the frame forward of the rear suspension on some long wheelbase vehicles, the front-most rear spring hanger may be your only practical choice, even though it is not ideal. If you select the spring hanger as the lift point, be sure the adapter is not supporting the vehicle on the spring itself and always use vehicle support stands.
- Never use blocks (wood or other materials) between the adapters and the vehicle lift points, even if the vehicle manufacturer recommends them. The use of blocks can only lead to instability.
- Never lift one end of a vehicle using only two swing arms of a swing arm style lift.
- If the adapter pads on the lift won’t reach the recommended vehicle lift points, use a different lift.