Safely Jack And Support a Car Or Truck
DIY auto repairs can save you a boatload of money. But if you have to use a car jack, read this first!
You can save quite a few bucks by doing your own car or truck repairs and maintenance. But if that involves jacking up your vehicle, and you want to live long enough to spend all the money you’ve saved, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to bone up on jack safety. Start by parking on a flat surface and engaging the parking brakes.
If you plan to remove your tires, loosen the lug nuts slightly while the car is still on the ground. That will keep the wheels from spinning while you turn the lug wrench once the car’s raised.
Lifting the whole car
Nearly all cars have a “unibody” construction; that is, they don’t have a frame. So each type of vehicle requires different points of support for jack and jack stand placement. Start by checking the owner's manual. Lift and support the front of the car first. If you start with the rear, the front end may be tilted so far down that you can’t roll a jack under it. Place the jack stands at the pinch welds usually located behind the front wheels and in front of the rear wheels. With the vehicle up on all four jack stands, gently shake the vehicle side to side and up and down. This ensures that the vehicle is sitting squarely on the jack stands and that the jack stand saddles have full contact with the support points. If the vehicle wobbles, stop immediately and reposition the problem jack stand before crawling under the vehicle.
Jacking the front of cars
Most front wheel drive cars have heavy steel engine cradle cross members that can be used with a floor jack. However, some late-model cars have one-piece cast aluminum engine cradles. These vehicles require special jacking procedures. Using the incorrect procedure is not only dangerous; it can also cause extensive damage to your vehicle. Slowly pump the jack handle until the front wheels leave the ground. Then stop jacking and double check the jack placement. Look at the front of the vehicle to make sure it’s not leaning to one side. If it is, lower and recenter the jack. Otherwise, continue pumping until the vehicle reaches the desired height.
Jacking the rear of cars
Place the floor jack so it contacts the rear lift point (see manual) and raises the vehicle Slowly pump the jack handle until the rear wheels leave the ground. Then stop jacking and double check the jack placement. Look at the rear of the vehicle to make sure it’s not leaning to one side. If it is, lower and recenter the jack. Otherwise, continue pumping until the vehicle reaches the desired height.
Jack and support a truck
Trucks and most SUVs have steel frames that support the entire vehicle. Some two- and four-wheel-drive trucks can be lifted by placing the floor jack under the front and rear differentials. However, not all differentials are designed for lifting, so consult your owner’s manual or shop manual for proper jack placement. Always place jack stands directly under the frame or axles after raising the truck.
Place jack stands on plywood support plates to avoid damaging asphalt surfaces. This is always a good idea, but is especially important on hot days when asphalt is much more susceptible to damage and marking. Also, if you want to be serious about doing your own auto repairs check out our story on the top tools that every auto mechanic needs.
Meet the expert
Rick Muscoplat has decades of automotive repair experience and a great website: ricksfreeautorepairadvice.com
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