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The Lowdown on Garage Lifts: Part 3

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by Barry Kluczyk  More from Author

Decisions, decisions…picking the garage lift that is right for you.

As we have discussed in previous installments, a home garage lift has increasingly become an investment that more enthusiasts are making. Assuming you have a minimum of 10 feet clearance, floor to ceiling, it enables you to store one car over another, while also offering the professional-style service assistance when it comes to working on your classic. And with an investment of around $2,500, they are great values that pay for themselves quickly when you consider the cost of offsite storage.

So, if you have the clearance space in your garage and the clearance in your checkbook, you’ll need to weigh your needs against the variety of lifts on the market. That’s what this installment is all about – outlining the different types of lifts and features that will match your hobby lifestyle.


Four-post vs. two-post

The typical garage lift that suits most home hobbyists is the four-post “drive on” type, which features a pair of ramps stretching the length of the lift. It’s perfect for the enthusiast who wants the lift primarily stacking one vehicle about the other for storage, because the top vehicle rests naturally, without suspension droop that can be damaging to the suspension during extended storage periods.

A two-post lift is compact, less intrusive and better suited to repair work, because it “grabs” the vehicle on the underside of the chassis to raise the vehicle. That leaves the wheels free and clear, which makes working on the suspension, doing brake jobs, swapping wheels and tires, etc., much easier. A two-post lift is typically less expensive than a drive-on four-post lift, too, but it’s definitely not the way to go if service work is secondary to storage. That’s because when a vehicle is lift on two-post, the suspension droops, which can be damaging during extended storage periods.

 
110-volt power vs. 220-volt power

Most lift manufacturers offer standard 110-volt lift and 220-volt lift motors. If your home garage isn’t already wired for 220, don’t bother going to the expense. The conventional 110-volt motor (and commensurate 15-amp circuit) will do the job just fine. Yes, a 220-volt motor will raise your vehicle faster, but unless you’re aiming for a world-record oil change time, it’s no big deal. Also: the 110-volt motor can be driven by portable power sources, which makes it possible to raise or lower the lift if there’s a power failure in your house or, frankly, you don’t have a nearby outlet to run the motor.

Bottom line: Save a few bucks and skip the 220-volt motors. You’ll gain bragging rights and that’s about all.


Safety features

Of course, the last thing you want to worry about with a garage lift is the chance it will lose its grip, especially when you’re storage one valuable collector car above another. To that end, you want the most secure safety latch available and generally speaking, that’s the slack-cable type – also known as a slack safety lock. It automatically locks the lifting cable in case it were to go slack for some awful reason, enabling the lift to hold in place on the last locking pawl – the spring-loaded metal “tabs” that click into position as the lift rises.

Also, because most home garage floors are sloped for drainage, the lift you select should have adjustable safety locks, so that the holes for the locking pawls on each post will be even. If they’re not, the pawls from one end of the lift will click into place before the other ends, causing the ramps to droop. It can be enough to allow the vehicle to roll of the parking brake isn’t set or working properly. It also alters the balance of the car on the lift.

Finally, you’ll want a lift that has a self-lubricating pulley system or at least one that can be externally lubricated. The pulley systems on most lifts – known as “sheaves” – don’t have bushings or bearings or anything like that and must be kept well lubricated. And if you find a lift with bearings or bushings, that’s all the better!


Accessories

Just like buying a car, buying a lift comes with plenty of accessories to pick from – and if it doesn’t offer them, the first and mandatory accessory you need is a set of wheel chocks for vehicles stored on a four-post lift. If for some unforeseen reason, the ramps at one end drop, the chocks could be the only things standing between you and a headache of a call to your insurance agent.

Drip pans are another accessory we recommend for four-post lifts. They straddle the ramps, preventing fluids from the top vehicle dripping onto the one below. They’re cheap insurance, so don’t skimp on them to save a couple of bucks.

Casters – wheels that allow the lift to be easily pushed around and repositioned – are also offered with many lifts and their value is determined by what you plan to do with the lift. If you’ve got a large pole barn and plenty of room to maneuver, they can be very helpful, but if you’ve simply squeezed the lift into your suburban two-car garage and don’t plan to move the life again, then don’t bother with casters.

We’ll wrap up our look at home garages soon with installation tips and tricks. Stay tuned!

 


Just about every home-style garage lift is hydraulically driven, with either a 110-volt or 220-volt motor. If your garage isn’t wired for 220, don’t sweat it. The 110-volt motors are a tad slower, but do the job just fine.

 

A secure locking system is paramount and the slack-cable type is the best. It automatically locks the cable if it goes slack, preventing the lift from falling.

 


It’s a fact of life: Old cars leak. That’s why you’ll want to invest in drip pans for the lift if you’re storing one car above another.

 


Casters and other similar devices enable the lift to be moved around your garage’s floor – even with a car loaded on it. It’s not a necessary accessory for most enthusiasts, but a handy one if you have a lot of floor space.

 


Some lift manufacturers offer power-operated jacks that mount on the lift’s ramps, enabling the car to be raised off the deck surface, for maintenance work such as brake jobs, wheel changes, etc. It’s an accessory that allows a four-post lift to offer the convenience of a two-post.

 


There are a lot of small decisions to make when shopping for a garage lift, but the investment is one that pays dividends in convenience and storage value.  



Return To Our Garage Lift Buyer's Guide

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