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In the world of automotive gear, where tech often takes the front stage, there exists an unheralded analog soldier calmly serving its purpose: the trusty car jack. Like any unsung hero, the car jack steps into the spotlight only when needed, transforming the lifting of your vehicle from a Herculean task to a clear and easy series of movements. As handy as a set of car ramps can be, a trustworthy jack provides the necessary muscle when it comes to at-home car repairs and DIY maintenance jobs and should never be left out of any at-home tool kit.
Since the car jack and jack stand combo is such a necessity, here at the Gear Team we've set out to honor, compare, and test these humble heroes for all your car jack needs.
Our Top Picks
Things to Consider
Weight Capacity: Jacks have different weight capacities, so it is crucial that you choose a jack that can safely lift your vehicle. Confirm the vehicle's gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) on the door placard, and shop accordingly. Getting jacks that exceed your vehicle's GVWR is never a good idea.
Lifting Points: Confirm the lifting points on your owner's manual. Typical lifting points include cross members, frame rails, and reinforced pinch welds. If your vehicle is equipped with air springs, make sure to select the "jack mode" or a similar setting within the vehicle's settings. Failing to do so may result in massive frustration. Trust us.
Portability and Storage: If you plan to travel with or move your car jack frequently, you should take into account its weight, footprint, and portability.
Safety Features: Safety is supreme when it comes to working under your car, and you should always put jack stands under your vehicle before you creep beneath it. However, there are additional safety features that a typical car jack may offer, including locking mechanisms and bypass valves to prevent overloading.
Starting Height: The jack won't be doing much lifting if it can't fit beneath your car, so make sure you purchase a jack that can fit beneath the clearance of your vehicle. Take note, low-profile owners: This will be one of your largest considerations.
Lifting Range: How high should you go? You'll want to ensure the lifting range is, at the very least, high enough to fit the lowest setting of your jack stands. Also, consider the type of maintenance or repair you are conducting and ensure there is enough height clearance to perform that task.
Excessive Rust: It is important that your car does not show any signs of excessive rust. Excessive rusting could cause the jack to break through the lifting point, causing catastrophic failure. Not only is this dangerous, but it has the potential to render your car completely undrivable.
Scissor Jacks: Scissor jacks are typically provided with your vehicle for use in case of emergency. These are generally not recommended for regular garage use, which is why we've opted to leave them out of this test.
How We Tested Car Jacks
When testing our selection of car lifts, we kept it simple and data-driven. Equipped with a fancy laser measuring tool and a middle-of-the-road 2004 Toyota Corolla, we tested the following parameters:
- Lowest pad height (to determine vehicle clearance)
- Maximum lift height
- Pumps to reach max height (no load)
- Stress test: Does it sag over time?
After looking over our data and testing notes, we assessed which jacks were the best for certain situations. Here are our picks for the best car jacks.
How We Tested Car Jacks
Since the car jack is a simple machine, we decided to follow suit and keep our evaluations simple. As Michigan burst into full spring bloom, we pulled a personal vehicle—the crowd-pleasing 2004 Toyota Corolla—for an afternoon of getting jacked. (Fun fact: Two of the three testing team members own a 9th-generation Toyota Corolla.)
In this spirit of simplicity, before the jack went beneath our Corolla, we hand-measured each jack's specifications to verify their manufacturer's claims. We measured the dimensions of the jack themselves, including the length of their handles. Next, we measured the minimum pad height to verify the lowest height the jack could theoretically fit beneath. Lastly, we measured the height extension each pump gave us. Note: we did not report this number in our specs above as we quickly discovered it changes drastically under load and will vary from user to user.
While the jack was still out from beneath the car, we gathered the same scales used in the Car and Driver testing protocol to test the weight of the jacks. Lastly, we measured how many pumps it took to achieve maximum height. Again, this will vary depending on the weight of your vehicle, but we opted to report these findings as they varied greatly between products and we thought it a fair consideration for consumers.
After the "off-stage" testing, it was time to put them through the wringer (aka the Corolla). To assess maneuverability and ease of use, we lined up the lifting points, raised the vehicle to the maximum height, and recorded that number using the Bosch GLM20 laser measure. Lastly, we conducted our stress test, leaving the car on the jack for 30 minutes and afterward measuring any sag.
Can I work under my car while it's jacked up?
Yes and no. When jacking your car up, it is imperative that you put jack stands beneath the vehicle before you begin working under it. Jacks are not meant to hold up any vehicle for long periods of time and do not typically come with a locking mechanism. Use the jack stand and jack combo every time you are beneath the car.
What types of car jacks are available?
There are scissor, hydraulic floor, bottle, inflatable, and jack stand jacks. Each has its own features and qualities.
Can I use the car jack that comes with my car?
Most car jacks come with a scissor jack, which is mainly used for emergencies. If you're using a jack to prepare for at-home repairs, you should purchase an aftermarket jack, which is more robust and less prone to disrepair.
How do I determine the lifting points on my vehicle?
The lifting points should be mentioned in your owner's manual. Common lifting points include areas on the frame and reinforced pinch welds.
Are car jacks safe?
If a jack is used according to manufacturer instructions and at the correct lifting locations, it should be safe to lift your vehicle. Remember to always put the vehicle onto jack stands if you are working beneath the car.
Why Trust Us
Hearst Autos combines the talent, resources, and expertise of three of the largest, most influential automotive publications in the world. The Gear Team has tested a wide variety of automotive products, parts, accessories, and gear, such as GPS trackers for cars, OBD-II scanners, and electric car chargers. We get our hands on each and every product we test. Most are purchased; some are supplied by manufacturers.
Hearst Autos doesn't need to game algorithms for traffic or promote lousy products to earn a buck. Instead, we're more concerned with our legacy, our reputation, and the trust that our readers have in Autoweek, Car and Driver, and Road & Track to deliver honest opinions and expert evaluations.
Katherine Keeler is an Assistant Testing Editor at Hearst Autos. By day she evaluates tools for your enjoyment; by night, she Frankenstein’s her ever changing fleet of rust-bucket-oddities back to repair. Her dream is to open a roadside attraction where the public can view, drive, and learn repairs at her emporium of curious cars.
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