If you own a car, you will need a jack sooner or later. At some point, you will find yourself in a situation where you need to squeeze your head under the car to tighten a bolt, or to change the wheels, or for some other light work.
That is not reason enough to visit the repair shop. A jack will come in handy in those situations. A jack/floor jack is a manually operated mechanical lifting tool, that is used for lifting heavy objects, that are otherwise impossible for an average human.
Jacks are not power tools; they work based on the fundamentals of a lever. However, some models do work with power. These models usually are portable and work using your car battery.
What Is Jack?
A jack is a tool that you use to lift your car to do maintenance underneath. They are mainly levers with a modern structure to ease your task. They can be of any shape or form. They are usually portable and not so pricy; thus, one can easily buy and keep one in his garage or even in the car all the time.
There quite a few types and sub-types of jack available, floor-jack being one of them. Jacks can be as simple as the good old jack screw/scissor jack that comes with many of the car models.
Types of Jack
Despite being of many kinds, they can be categorized in groups for simplicity.
The main types are:
- The Scissor Jacks
- The Hydraulic Jacks (Floor Jacks)
- Hi-Lift Jacks (Farm Jacks)
- Pneumatic Jacks
As I mentioned before, All the types of jacks have their subtypes. They work in different mechanisms, but some of them are somewhat close to others.
For example, the hydraulic jacks and pneumatic jacks are somewhat similar. But I put them in different categories because there are other differences other than mechanism.
Let’s take a closer look.
The Scissor Jacks
The scissor jacks are the simplest and arguably the most common types of jack when it comes to cars. This type of jack usually has two arms that can bend in the middle, and a screw holds them together in place.
It also has a handle to rotate the screw. It is very common for almost every car to have one of these. They come in handy for replacing a flat tire, or other simple on-the-spot repair works.
Using a scissor jack is as simple as the structure of the thing. You simply put the thing under your car, near the flat tire, and start winding the screw. Make sure to follow the instructions of the car, about where you can lift the car on, without damaging anything or yourself.
When the maintenance is done, all you got to do is simply wind the screw in the opposite direction, and the car will be back on the ground.
Scissor jacks are also known as jackscrews, for a definite reason. They kind of resemble a scissor. These types of jacks are very light, thus easy to carry around.
However, they aren’t the strongest types. They are usually used for lightweight cars. Besides, friction is kind of a big deal for this kind of jack, drawing from the efficiency of the device.
The Hi-Lift Jacks
You may have known this kind of jack as farm jacks. But Hi-lift jack is the modern name. The jack has a long straight bar in the middle with lots of holes, and the jack body climbs on it using resting pins.
These types of jacks are heavy-duty jacks. They are mostly used in farms, hence the name. But they can be really helpful at times, especially for heavy cars.
Using a high-lift jack is pretty simple, though. Place the jack on the side of your car, switch the reversing lever upwards, this will make the car go up. Then all is left to do is to start jacking. Afterward, flip the reversing lever and again, jack your way down.
The Hi-lift jack lifts the load pretty high, sometimes even reaching 6 feet or so. On average, these kinds of jacks are able to lift your car higher, thus making themselves useful for off-road/mountain cars.
High Lift floor jacks re powerful tools that can easily lift a truck or a SUV. If you want to do some heavy-duty lifting for trucks and SUV’s look for the best floor jack for trucks.
The Pneumatic Jacks
The pneumatic jacks are more of an automated device to further ease the strain of the user. These jacks use air pressure from a compressor or a compressed air tank.
The air is channeled into the piston chamber, raising the pressure inside, which in turn lifts the load, which in our case is our car. Operating a pneumatic jack is as simple as turning the motor on, or in other words, safely operating the compressor.
When the high pressure enters into the piston chamber, the piston pushes outwards, lifting the load. Pneumatic jacks can be used in various tasks thanks to their heavy strength and efficiency.
However, one big downside is that they consume a lot of power, making them virtually impossible to carry around and operate away from the garage.
The Hydraulic Jacks
The hydraulic jacks, also known as floor jacks, trolley jacks, bottle jacks, or whiskey jacks are kind of similar to pneumatic jacks, in terms of functionality. Hydraulic jacks use liquids instead of air to do the lifting.
Any kind of liquid can be used as long as it is incompressible. However, for the most part, oil is used, since oil is self-lubricating and gets the job much better than other alternatives.
Bottle jacks are slightly smaller than the floor jacks, but they work in the same way. Floor jacks can be automated, like a pneumatic jack, or they can be manually operated. Usually, they tend to be manual machines, where you jack the lever up and down to channel the liquid into the piston chamber.
Hydraulic jacks are used for cars, SUVs, trucks and more. Keep in mind that the floor jack you want to use on a car should be rated for at least three-quarters of the gross weight of your vehicle.
Additionally, you can rely on the best floor jack for cars to do all the heavy lifting. We have a separate article on this topic if you want to check that out.
How Does A Floor Jack Work?
The floor jack usually comes with wheels, making it easy to port them from one spot to another. They have a pumping lever, which is pretty simple to locate. On the inside, a plunger moves back and forth as you are jacking.
There are two valves connected with the plunger chamber. One controls the oil intake from the reservoir, and the other controls the oil intake into the piston chamber. Both are automatic and one-way passages for oil.
With each time you pump, more oil makes its way into the piston chamber, raising the pressure to a very high level. Some floor jacks can lift as much as 2-3 tons. Learn more on best 3 tons floor jacks
Now, when you are done dealing with your issue, it’s time to bring your car down. You can find a rotating knob, most likely near the jacking lever.
Twisting the knob clockwise and reaching the tight state will close a valve inside. On the other hand, rotating it anti-clockwise will open the valve, creating a second passage for oil, allowing the oil to return to the reservoir, and lower your car.
Keep in mind to tighten this knob after operating with the device every time, so that it goes back to the operating state for next use.
Why Use A Floor Jack?
Imagine you have a loose bolt underneath your car. You don’t know what it is, but something is making a violent jerking noise when the car runs. Thus, you don’t feel entirely safe traveling this way.
Or maybe you want to clean the bottom part of your car. But it’s really not that big of a deal to visit the repair shop or the cleaner. Hence arises the necessity of poking your head down there. And a floor jack is just the tool for that.
But why use a floor jack, rather than other jacks? That’s because it is one of the best types of jacks for your needs.
Your good old scissor jack is not as strong as a floor jack; besides, since it is your head that’s at stake, it is always a good idea to ensure safety. A floor jack is much stronger and more stable than scissor jacks.
Other types of jacks like pneumatic jacks have high power requirements, and your car battery is simply not going to cut it, and Hi-lift jacks are just overkill for a regular car, and regular maintenance. Besides, they are bulky, a stress to carry, and they aren’t particularly stable.
A floor jack, on the other hand, is completely manual labor, with no electricity requirement (Electric versions can completely operate with your car battery).
They are somewhat bulky too, but the wheels make it much easier to move around. They are also far more stable than other types.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Do jacks work on all cars?
Ans: Yes, jacks work on all cars. There are specific points on the chassis of every car, where the chassis can take the load when a jack lifts it. As long as one doesn’t mess it up, every car is safe to use a jack on.
Q: What are jacks used for?
Ans: Jacks are used for lifting your vehicle from the ground, freeing up the wheels, and increasing the space in between. Why you’d do that is up to you. It could be for cleaning, maintenance, repairing, replacing the tire, and much more.
Q: Why is it called a jack?
Ans:This is an interesting question. The origin of the word “jack” goes way back to the thirteenth century. The word used to be used mainly to point to a man/person who helps in hard labor.
In other words, it is saving one’s labor. Over time, language evolves, so does the meaning of things. The meaning of “jack” is no longer the same as it used to be. This specific device enables a person to lift his car all on his own while saving human labor. Thus, the device is called “a jack.”
Q: Are car jacks safe?
Ans: Yes, car jacks are safe, as long as you take proper precautions. Some jacks are safer and more stable than others, but all kinds of jacks are safe to use.
Q: Where do you put a jack under the car?
Ans: Underneath the car, there are some specific points where the chassis of the car is exposed and accessible from the outside. You can safely use these spots to rest the jack properly. Chassis of the car is the sturdiest spot of a car and meant to carry weight.
Read the manual of the car to locate the spot. It varies from car to car. The manual may also provide other useful information regarding this. Another spot is the axle. The axle is also sturdy and capable of bearing the pressure.
If you need a quick tire fix or perform some under the car maintenance, most of the time, a bottle jack should be enough. We have a separate guide on the best bottle jacks, if you want to find the most efficient model to handle heavy machinery.
Q: What kind of car jack do I need?
Ans: For instant on-the-spot repair jobs, it is a good idea to keep a jackscrew on the car all the time. They are small, light, and don’t take much space, where other types of jacks could prove to be troublesome.
For smaller repairs/maintenance, it is a good idea to invest in a floor jack. They are a little bulkier for always carrying, but they are strong, and stable, which makes them the perfect choice to keep one in the garage/house.
If you rock an off-road car, you might want to consider keeping a hi-lift jack. You do need to lift the car considerably high for replacing a tire. Besides, the car itself is higher than the reach of most other jack types.
If you have a car with low clearance, you will need the best low-profile floor jacks for the lifting job.
Now, after all those motivations to do your simple tasks yourself, I feel a great necessity of mentioning the safety measures.
- Always be sure to read the manuals and double-checking stability.
- Always use bricks, sandbags, or something else as a base while working underneath the car. Do not slip your head underneath while the car is still on the jack.
- Always put some rocks or something else on both sides of a tire that’s touching the ground to prevent the car from moving, before starting to lift.
- Wear gloves if possible, to prevent tools from slipping and leading to an accident.
- Do not enter your hands (or other body parts) directly in the way of the lever of the jack or something similar, in case if the device fails. This is especially true for hi-lift jacks.