Lifts: Laws of the Universe

Lifts: Laws of the Universe

have in common? Each of these items is subject to the law of gravity. The law states all items are attracted to the earth with a force that is exactly equal to their specific weight.

Why, you ask, do I care about this? Well, let me give you another little statement that will start to make some sense out of this: “What goes up must come down.”

Here is the scenario: it’s 7:45 on Monday morning. You’ve just opened the bay doors at the shop. Sitting in the drive is a plumbing company service truck. It’s fully loaded with tools, equipment and supplies. The truck is in the shop for a full brake job, front and rear. You start doing some quick math in your head: 3/4-ton truck chassis with V8 motor, trade service body, all the equipment and cargo, hmm… Now bounce that up against a 10-year-old, two-post lift with leaking seals and a cranky safety latch that sticks some of the time without engaging. You know the lift was originally rated at 10,000 lbs. when it was new. Now after all these years and hundreds of cycles with minimal maintenance, you aren’t sure how you feel about standing under all that Detroit iron.

It might be time to think about replacing that lift. While the basic design of two-post surface lifts has not changed a great deal in the last 50 years, there have been significant improvements in safety components and manufacturing techniques, as well as the design of subcomponents. There are many factors to consider when shopping for lifts. I will attempt to address some of the most important issues. In no specific order, you need to consider: vehicle types serviced, frequency or volume of vehicles in your shop; types of service performed; space available to you in the shop (both square footage and ceiling height); electrical power availability (single phase versus three phase); ease of operation; cost; installation cost; maintenance cost; options for expandability; colors available; service network; and technical support available.

Vehicle Types
This is probably the most important factor to address first. What kind of vehicles do you work on? The two issues are weight and wheel base. Do you service light-duty pickups, service body trucks, limousines, medium-duty trucks? All of these vehicles have special needs in terms of lifting them safely and efficiently. Pickup trucks present special problems due to the locations of their centers of gravity. A large percentage of a pickup truck’s weight is in the engine and cab area of the truck. The bed is much lighter and this can cause you big problems from a lifting standpoint. This single issue alone will help you decide whether to buy symmetric or asymmetric lifts.

Shop Design Limitations
Does your shop have a dirt floor and 9’ ceilings? How about electricity? Do you have single-phase, 220-volt service with a low amperage rating? Or even worse, is the power in your shop prone to “spiking” (fluctuations in voltage)? These examples may be a little extreme, but there is a point to them. Any one or all of these issues can cause you headaches when having your lift installed.

You can’t install a lift without enough ceiling clearance to accommodate the lift and the height of the vehicle that you want to raise.

The floors are a major issue for installing lifts in an existing shop. Is the slab thick enough? Many installers and inspectors will not install a lift on anything less than 6” of concrete (this varies by areas of the country). Are there any cracks or seams near the area you intend to install the lift? This can be a real problem. Most manufacturers require a minimum distance between the mounting fasteners and any cracks or seams.

Is there room in the shop for you to get vehicles on and off the lift? This is especially critical when installing alignment racks. The car needs to be positioned properly on the lift to get accurate readings.

Today’s low-profile vehicles can be problematic for a shop. Alignment racks, or drive-on lifts, require drive-on ramps behind the lift, so you’ll need to allow enough floor area for the length of the ramps in your plan.

One final design question: “Is your shop on the level?” No, I don’t mean are you honest! How is the level of the floor? If it’s too uneven, this will be a problem for installing a lift as well.

Service Type
What kind of service does your shop offer? You can either save money in the long run (or lose it) based on the answer to this question. Does your shop offer alignment work? This is probably the most important factor to decide when shopping for lifts. Alignment racks are quite a bit more expensive than traditional two-post lifts and they are actually somewhat limited in the types of repairs you can use them for.

Does your shop only do tire/wheel/brake service? You might be able to use a low-level lift. Sometimes called “knee-high lifts,” this type of lift is a scissor-style lift that raises a car from 30” to 48” off the ground. These lifts are extremely flexible in that they are portable. The lifts are on wheels and can be moved, and also can be left in a bay in the down position and driven over when not needed. This type of lift is less expensive than a traditional lift. Their downside is that there are many repair operations that would be difficult or impossible to perform on them.

Service After the Sale
If you’re like me, you have been promised great service many times. There are many low-cost lift providers in this industry. Some of these companies are able to offer good product, good prices and good service after the sale. When I say “some” I really mean “a few” of them are able to do this.

Be sure that your lift provider will be there to support you after the sale. Buying from a reputable manufacturer and distributor that offer strong warranties, local service and factory-trained technicians will make the difference between a cheap lift and one that provides a lifetime of service. And “parts are not just parts.” Make sure that you or your service provider has or can even get parts for your lift. Insist on reputable original equipment manufacturer parts. These parts have been engineered to the lift’s specs and are reliable for long-term performance.

Ease of Operation
When considering a new lift, be sure you’re happy with the way the controls are laid out and how they work. You’ll be using this lift for many years; if something bugs you now about the lift, this is the time to say so. Some of the new time-saving devices are interesting and may greatly benefit your business.

One of the nicest features out there is dual controls. This allows the technician to raise or lower a vehicle from either side, eliminating the need for the tech to have to walk all the way around the vehicle. Over the course of a week, those steps add up to fatigue and money lost.

Certification Alphabet Soup
I’ve talked about features of lifts, but not the actual certifications. This is a complicated part of the lift-buying process and one that you should become more familiar with. The organization and certification that has become the recognized standard for lifting equipment — the Gold label with ALI/ETL — is the benchmark for lift certification.

ALI (Automotive Lift Institute) works in conjunction with a company called Intertek ETL Semko. This is the company that issues the ETL certification based on criteria developed by the ALI. For complete criteria details, go to

It’s important to know that just because a certain model is certified by ALI/ETL doesn’t mean that a manufacturer’s entire product line is certified. The only way to be certain about a product is to check the item on the ALI website, which provides a listing of all equipment that has current certification.

Sales and Technical Support
The process of choosing a lift and installing it is a complicated one. The good news is that there are many good resources for you to rely on to help you make the right choices. Several of the larger manufacturers have sophisticated networks of well-trained installers that are great resources for you. These companies can help you on the choice for a single replacement item or with complete facility planning.

If you’re considering building a new facility or remodeling an existing shop, the lifts are probably the most critical decision you’ll need to address. The shop revolves around the lift, its position and its function. The lift has to be placed first in any remodel or new construction work in a shop.

My advice is to rely heavily on the recommendations that these folks offer you. First and foremost they are experts in this area and have probably seen pretty much every kind of shop there is out there. The next reason to follow their advice is if there is a problem later on in the process, they will be there to help you sort it out.

No Free Lunch!
There are no free lunches here! What I mean is, you need to consider all issues when evaluating which lift you’re going to purchase. This decision is too important to buy strictly on price. Does cost matter? It sure does! But here is the point I am trying to make: There are many factors to consider besides the cost of a lift. Is the product the right one? Is it certified? Is the company you’re buying from capable of helping evaluate your needs? Do they offer after-the-sale services such as setup, training, repair and parts sales? How long has the company been in business? Do they have a good reputation for customer support? Are they a prime manufacturer or an importer/distributor?

There are many sources for lifts and some amazing prices out there. My question to you is: “If it’s you standing under that 10,000-lb. service truck doing a brake job, do you really want to buy the cheapest lift you can find?

Remember: What goes up must come down! Take care to make the right decision and keep you and your technicians safe.

Purchase Price Is Just the Beginning

When you’re in the market for new vehicle lifts, it’s important to consider total cost of ownership: how much it will cost you to buy and use a particular lift during its lifetime. Total cost of ownership includes purchase price, plus maintenance, repair and parts costs, as well as downtime.

A vehicle lift is the center of most service bays. Technicians rely on it to provide them with comfortable access to all of a vehicle’s systems so that they can work efficiently for maximum productivity. Productivity is key to the shop’s profitability — more productive technicians generate greater revenue.

A lift that is well-matched to the task at hand and that can properly pick up the vehicles you service increases productivity. A well-made, reliable lift offers this enhanced productivity for years without costly downtime and repairs. However, a lift that cannot properly raise all the vehicles you service or that is down frequently for repairs can wind up costing you much more than its purchase price during its lifetime.

Consider how much productivity decreases when a lift is out of commission. When a lift isn’t working, bay productivity can be cut in half. If it takes technicians four hours to complete a job that would take them just two hours using a lift, lost revenue adds up fast!

The average light vehicle service bay generates $210,000 annually, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA). That’s about $800 per day. So if a lift is down for repair or replacement, it’s costing you $400 every day while you wait. Long, expensive delays are possible with older lifts that may no longer be supported with parts or with lifts where parts have to be shipped from overseas. A single out-of-warranty repair may cost 30% of the price of a new lift.

So when you’re shopping for a new lift, look beyond the price tag and consider the long-term costs. The profitability of your shop depends on it.

Courtesy of Rotary Lift

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