Lifting heavy loads is not a new concept. A quick search in history reveals that around 236 B.C. a Greek mathematician, Archimedes, invented a screw lift; but it wasn’t until 1852 that Elisha Otis designed the first lift with a safety mechanism. In addition to making buildings with more than a few floors practical, his innovation also made lifts practical for anything more than the occasional grand piano you didn’t mind dropping.
After Henry Ford began building the Model “T” in 1908, anyone with an automobile design idea, a little capital and the desire to build automobiles entered the market. Of course, as more automobiles were distributed throughout the United States a demand for better roads rose nearly as fast as the demand for repair shops. In one of these shops a mechanic by the name of P. J. “Pete” Lunati invented the automobile lift. Why did he do it? He claimed he was lazy and lifting an automobile off the ground made it easier to work on the vehicle. This first automobile lift was hydraulic, utilizing compressed air. His patent, #1,552,326 was filed on September 1, 1925, and car maintenance was changed forever.
Pro Tools for Home Use
Fortunately automobile lifts have come a long way since the innovative Mr. Lunati built his automobile lift in Memphis, Tennessee. Today automobile lifts are not limited to professional shops nor are they limited to just working on a vehicle. Home owners install lifts in their garages for two reasons. First some are DIYers (do-it-yourselfers). These are the mechanically inclined folks who were once called “backyard mechanics.” What once started as guys and gals doing oil changes and brake jobs, has now progressed to rebuilding front ends and engines. As capabilities improved for the DIYers so did their work space. Installing an automobile lift is one such improvement. DIYers install automobile lifts to make their work easier and safer.
Gaining additional storage is another reason home owners install automobile lifts. By lifting one vehicle up off the floor it allows another to be stored below it, thereby storing two vehicles in one spot. The lift can also be used for stacking boxes, bicycles, camping gear or virtually any items you desire to stow away. Once your items are stacked on the lift it is raised and a vehicle can be driven underneath your “stuff.” Some lift manufacturers make flooring to fill in the space between the ramps on their four post lifts to promote this option. By taking advantage of the vertical space in a garage, a homeowner essentially doubles the storage space wherever a lift is located. Some homeowners have even elected to install several lifts in their garage.
Choosing a lift manufacturer
BendPak was started 45 years ago making pipe benders for automotive exhausts and grew from there.
With so many companies manufacturing automobile lifts how do you choose the right one for you? “Typically, there’s four main lift manufacturers out there, BendPak being one of them,” says Jason Tuttle, Domestic Sales Manager for BendPak. “And of those four, we are priced probably the most competitively. We’ve probably got the lowest prices out there of those top four manufacturers. Aside from that, you’re looking at probably a few hundred different kind of fly‑by‑night manufacturers. Most of those guys will have list price maybe half the cost of ours, but with that you get a huge decrease in quality and safety as well.” BendPak maintains high quality by designing their products in Santa Paula, California then manufacturing their racks in China. Why overseas? Regulations on the steel industry has made a once thriving business in the US nearly extinct. Since most of the raw material in an automobile lift is steel, they like so many other companies that rely on steel to build their products have built manufacturing facilities overseas to stay competitive.
”Always check out the company, check out the Better Business Bureau, check online just to see if there’s any complaints, and a big help is reading all of the car forums,” Jason says. “The other thing I usually point out is longevity of the company. There’s so many companies out there that have been around two or three years, nobody ever heard of them and they’re gone just as quickly, whereas BendPak was started 45 years ago making pipe benders for automotive exhausts and grew from there. Today we’re a well‑established company within the industry and we’re going to be here tomorrow.”
Service is important. Determine what kind of service network the manufacturer provides for its customers. That may not be important today, but all lifts have moving parts, electrical components, utilize hydraulic pumps and some use air cylinders. If something is not working properly, who do you call? The better manufacturers have a service network to make sure their customers get top-notch service.
You Can’t Put a Price on Safety
A two post lift, whether you are talking about a homeowner or an established automotive mechanic, is going to give you the most versatility.
Now that you have decided whether a two post or four post lift will fit you needs, it’s time to look at the installation requirements. At this point you’ve measured the space the vehicle, and selected the lift that best fits your needs. You’re now ready to visit city hall to determine if a permit is required and the necessary paperwork to obtain one. One caveat: The following specifications were based on BendPak lifts. Always check the manufacturer’s installation requirements.
- Permit: Usually your city will require a permit to install a lift in your garage (home or business). This may actually be the hardest part of a lift install, but with a little research, your local city hall should also be able to direct you to any county or state requirements.
- Overhead clearance: Be careful with the overhead clearance. Depending on the vehicle to lifted, it may be necessary to lower the garage door before raising the vehicle. Otherwise to gain additional overhead clearance it may be necessary to relocate the garage door track, replace the door or change the automatic door opener.
- Electrical: Although the majority of professional-quality lifts are prewired for 220 volts, most homeowners choose to have the wiring on the lift converted to a standard 110 volt. While the lift could be powered by an extension cord from a wall receptacle most installers obtain their power by dropping a line from the ceiling to the lift tower.
- Air supply: A BendPak lift requires a 25 PSI air line to release the safety locks. There is a pin connected to an air cylinder and as the lift is being raised, the safety pin slides past slots placed every 4 inches in the safety rail. Once the lift reaches the desired height, the lift is lowered until the pin locks into the next slot down. The air cylinder pulls the safety pin back to allow the lift to be lowered to the floor.
- Concrete: The concrete floor should be at least 4 inches thick and able to handle 2,500 PSI or greater which is a usually a standard core for home garages. For lifts with capacities greater 12,000 pounds, check the specifications.Jason also pointed out the two post lift is available in two different configurations. One configuration is considered “standard” when the columns are directly symmetrical to each other. In a two post “asymmetric” lift the columns are turned about 30 degrees back. The asymmetric lift is designed for sports cars or body shops where the vehicle will sit further back than a standard lift would allow it. That position allows the vehicle doors to be opened while the vehicle is on the rack. This is good for body shops because it gives them more room to work around the vehicle.
A four post lift, in its simplest terms, can be described as two ramps that a vehicle is driven onto before it’s lifted vertically. Since the ramps are hydraulically lifted carrying the vehicle with them, these lifts are also referred to as “wheel engaging” lifts. A two post lift will typically have two adjustable arms on each post that extend, contract and swing. Once the vehicle is in position between the posts, the arms are swung under the vehicle and adjusted to contact the frame or other lifting points when the lift is raised. “A two post lift, whether you are talking about a homeowner or an established automotive mechanic, is going to give you the most versatility, and typically they are not used for storage, just because when there’s a vehicle on the lift you have the suspension hanging down and the wheels aren’t touching anything,” Jason explains. “A two post lift exposes everything underneath the vehicle, and from there you have the most range around the vehicle to do body work, to do engine work or to do transmission work.” Both designs have their advantages and disadvantages.
However, there are lift accessories that can partially level the playing field between a two post and four post lift. For example, in the BendPak product line, scissor-style jacks are used as bridge jacks on four post lifts. Suspension work sliders and rollers enable a mechanic to position the hydraulic bridge jack exactly where it’s needed. Bridge jacks allow you to easily raise two or four wheels off the runway ramps for brake jobs or any other service that may require a wheel to spin free. These air hydraulic bridge jacks provide a four post lift with some of the versatility of a two post lift.
Another consideration when choosing between a four post and a two post lift is the fact that a two post lift must be bolted to a concrete floor, which may make a difference to a homeowner installing a lift in a garage. This gives rise to another advantage of the four post lift — mobility. Installing casters on each of the four posts allows it to be easily relocated.
“If there’s a customer out there who wants to store a vehicle and also wants to possibly work on that vehicle, or just do regular maintenance, I’d probably try to get them into a four post lift. The reason being, the four post lift come in four different versions. Basically, varying width, length and rise height to accommodate most vehicles while still working within the limits of a standard garage. With the exception of a few big SUVs, it covers most everything.” Jason added.
On the other hand, shops tend to opt for the two post lifts. According to BendPak, a two post lift in the lower weight capacities of 10,000 pounds has become the industry standard for a regular automotive garage. A two post, 10,000 pound capacity would cover almost all passenger vehicles, sports cars, all the way up to F150-F250 sizes of vehicle. It will handle a wide range of vehicles. For the DIY’ers in a home garage or small shop the lift selections should be based on how it will be used and the space allocated to the lift. In the BendPak product line both the two post and four post lifts are offered in similar capacities: starting at about 9,000 pounds and going all the way to up to 18,000 pounds. So the deciding factor is how your lift will be used.