There are really two major uses: Storage Lifts and Service Lifts. Let’s take a look at each and break down the models, options, and look at things you may not have thought about yet.
Car Lifts – Storage Lifts
Home garage storage lifts are the ideal way of getting an extra car into a tight garage, assuming you have height to spare. They are usually 4 post lifts with ramps. Simply drive the car onto the ramps, lift the ramps, and lock in place. Most are designed to be tall enough so that another car can be stored underneath. Some storage auto lifts models have optional addons like casters that allow you to roll the whole setup, car included, around your garage. Some models also have flooring attachments that creates a solid ‘floor’ between the two ramps so you can store motorcycles, boxes, or just whatever.
Car Lifts – Service Lifts
Home garage service lifts are designed to help you work on your cars. The big difference is they don’t have ramps but instead are generally 2 post designs with arms that swing in under the car. You drive the car up between the two posts and then the arms swing under the car and lifts from the side. This does several things:
- frees up the tires and wheels to be worked on (can’t do that if the car is on a ramp)
- creates a lot more space available under the car, makes it much easier to work
- takes up much less space in the garage or shop
Types of Car Lifts
Inside each of the two categories above there are different types of auto / car lifts that can accomplish those tasks.
- 4 Post Lifts with ramps
- 2 Post Lifts with arms
- Scissor Lifts
- Portable Vehicle Lifts
4 Post Lifts With Ramps
These are the most common storage lifts. They offer the best stability and are designed to hold a vehicle up high for long periods of time. Downsides include no ability to work on wheels/tires/brakes without using a jack on top of the ramp and limited work space under the vehicle since the ramps take up a lot of space.
2 Post Lifts with Arms
The primary type of service lifts. Compact and offer exceptional access to the vehicle including wheels/tires/brakes. Downsides: the weight of the vehicle is balanced on just two arms. If you are removing an engine, transmission, or otherwise drastically modifying the weight balance you can destabilize the vehicle.. that means it can fall off. Generally not ideal.
Scissor lifts are portable. They don’t get bolted down to the shop floor in most cases and are much lighter to transport than post lifts. They are laid down on the shop floor and the car is driven over the top of them and the car is lifted with a scissor mechanism. They are very compact, most less than 5 inches tall.
Portable Vehicle Lifts
Portable car lifts are not designed to get a full size work truck 8 feet off the ground. Instead they are designed to be carried by one person and used just about anywhere to give some much needed clearance for work either in the field or home garage that doesn’t need a full sized lift. They may be small but they can make a big difference.
So now that you have some idea of the high level differences in car lift designs and hopefully you’ve done some thinking about which one is best for you.
2 Post Portable
Storage Lifts – 4 Post Car Lifts
As we discussed earlier, 4 Post Car Lifts are used mostly as storage lifts. As you can see in the picture the vehicle sits on its tires which makes it impossible to change tires or do brakes without jacking up the vehicle while on the lift (with the use of an auto lift jack).
Make sure you measure your garage or shop ceiling height. You will need plenty of room.
Also measure the width of the posts. If you plan to store another car underneath then the smaller car should go underneath. While it may seem counter-intuitive at first you have to remember that the car underneath needs to fit between the posts where the larger car on top just needs to fit the ramps.
The BendPak HD-9XW (pictured above) is our recommended 4 post car lift. The ‘9XW’ stands for 9,000 lbs (recommended maximum weight of the vehicle to lift) and the XW stands for eXtra Wide with 100 inches between the posts. This means your smaller car can be up to that wide and still fit underneath (well, minus a few inches for safety). If you don’t need that much width and want to save space BendPak makes the HD-9ST (standard width, at 88 inches between posts, saving you a full foot). If you need a super heavy duty truck lift BendPak makes the HD-35X, rated at a staggering 35,000 lbs.
Danmar also makes superior quality 4 post auto lifts. Their D-12 Model is rated at 12,000 lbs. If you aren’t in the habit of lifting small military vehicles the Danmar Commander 7000 is rated at 7,000 lbs.
One thing to note about just about all the 4 post lifts is that they are heavy. So heavy in fact that when you order them you’ll need to have some way of assisting the freight service to unload them. They are too heavy for liftgate trucks to handle on their own. Since all vendors have to use the same freight companies this is true across the board.
Service Lifts – 2 Post Car Lifts
2 post auto lifts are ideal for servicing vehicles. They don’t take up as much garage or shop space as a 4 post lift does and then give you maximum access under the vehicle. There are two primary types of 2 post lifts: Symmetric lifting arms and Asymmetric lifting arms. Symmetric lifting arms face each other face to face. They lift exactly up. This is great for well balanced vehicles but normally puts the posts right in the way of opening the door. Asymmetric 2 post lift systems have the 2 posts offset from each other as well as the arms offset. This works better for unbalanced vehicles like long pick up trucks and also makes getting into and out of the vehicle easier.
2 post lifts are not that common in the home garage even for those wanting to do their own service simply because they are so tall. You need at least 12 feet, usually 13 feet ceilings in your shop or garage for a good 2 post lift. 2 post lifts are a bit more finicky to get a vehicle on than a 4 post ramp. However if you are usually just lifting the same vehicle all the time you can make it easier on yourself by getting your vehicle in the right position and then marking the garage floor by the front wheels so you know exactly where to pull up to next time.
Our favorite 2 post auto lift is the BendPak Asymmetric XPR-10A (pictured above) rated at 10,000 lbs. The asymmetric arm arrangement makes it much easier to get in and out. It also easily lifts the F350 crew cab long bed we have(very long and unbalanced) with no problems. BendPak makes the XPR-12FD model which is roughly the same but rated at 12,000 lbs for commercial vehicles.
Danmar’s Admiral 9000X is a 9000 lb symmetric lift. The big win here is that it is designed for smaller ceiling hits. The Admiral stands at less than 9.5 feet so with some care can be installed in a garage with 10 foot ceilings. Remember to factor in the height of your vehicles to see if it will work for your garage though.
As you continue your search be careful of brands. As with most things these days there are plenty of chinese knock offs that might look like the better name brands when in reality they skimp out in ways they shouldn’t.
Compare the Bendpak build quality versus that of a chinese-made competitor. Click to make it bigger and really look at the differences in how these are built. I’m all for saving money but I’d prefer not to trade my personal safety to do so.
Scissor lifts aren’t normally what people think of when they start looking for a lift for their home garage or shop but we are going to make the case that this just might be the best lift for you.
They are small, take up little room, moveable, don’t require any big time installation, are safe to operation with a little bit of care (ie common sense), and can be used in rentals or even be made portable if necessary (we do go over truly portable lifts down below). While they don’t get vehicles sky high like the bigger lifts we’ve found them more than do the job we needed done.
The BendPak SP-7X is an amazing little lift. It is a ‘frame engaging’ lift meaning that it lifts from the frame like a 2 post lift, not from the wheels like a 4 post lift. It is also split down the middle so you can easily change your oil or work from the underneath. The lift pads slide to accommodate vehicles from 63″ to 71″ wide. It has automatic safety locks that engage at multiple heights. It rises to a full 6 feet high and collapsed down to 5 inches. As always don’t forget to measure your vehicle height to make sure it will fit in your space. This little power house requires 220v single phase power. If you don’t quite need that much height they make the low-rise LR-60 rated at 6000 lbs and the low rise but heavier duty 10,000 lb LR-5T model.
Portable Car Lifts
Portable car lifts come in a lot of difference configurations. A mobile shop tech will need something durable and able to handle a wide variety of vehicles where an adventurer may need something he’ll only use once or twice and can trade off cost and weight for durability.
If you need true lifting power but in a portable configuration then the Danmar MaxJax is the clear winner. It is rated at a full 6,000 lbs and is actually two separate lifts synced up to act as one unit. You can even get an adapter that will let you lift ATVs or motorcycles with just 1 arm. Pretty slick.
If you want something between the two options Danmar also makes a scissor jack. The Danmar Cadet XL 6000 is rated at 6,000 lbs and is highly portable and lifts to a height of 3 feet.
If a car lift is still a bit out of budget, check out our Creeper Reviews for some pretty dandy mechanics creepers that will keep you happy until the day your lift becomes reality.