How to Jack Up a Car
Jacking up a car is one of the first steps of nearly any automotive repair at home. If you don’t have a vehicle lift (and most don’t), or you’re not using drive-on ramps (which limit the work you can do), you’ll be jacking up a vehicle to remove tires and gain access to parts you plan to repair or replace. While there are a multitude of jacks – both garage and emergency, the most important point is understanding how to properly jack up your vehicle, and remain safe.
If you don’t feel comfortable jacking up your own car, check out our list of preferred repair shops in and around your area.
Support points and other factors differ from vehicle to vehicle, so you need to consult your owner’s manual for the specific information for your vehicle. However, there are some general tips about jacks to know and understand.
Types of Jacks
- Jacks are generally divided into several categories. For garage or shop jacks, these are bottle-type jacks and rolling floor jacks. Understanding how both work and properly function will be vital
- Emergency jacks, such as what is supplied in your vehicle for spare tire emergencies, or also recovery “bumper jacks”, should only be used for emergencies. Know and understand how they work and function before attempting to use it!
- For rolling floor jacks (the most popular by far), in order for the jack to properly lift, it must also have the ability to roll, which repositions the jack as you are lifting. If you’re attempting to use a rolling jack in dirt, gravel, or concrete that doesn’t give the jack the ability to roll, this can be dangerous, as the jack pad can slip off of its lifting location
- Jack stands should always be used to support the weight of the car while it is off the ground
- Use metal wheel chocks, bricks, or wooden wedges to prevent wheels from turning while you jack up the vehicle
- Never attempt to jack up a car on a busy street or highway unless is it absolutely necessary. Work to get your car as far on the shoulder as possible
- Never attempt to jack up a car that is on ground that is not level or soft
- Make sure the transmission of your car is shifted into the park position before you begin lifting it from the ground. If your car has a manual transmission, put the car in neutral. Also, make sure the parking brake is engaged
Once you have taken all the required safety precautions, the following steps are necessary to jack up your vehicle.
How to Properly Jack Up a Car
Proper Jack Placement
The first step when learning how to use a car jack is understanding where to put a jack on a car. Most vehicles today incorporate a “unibody”, or body and subframes rather than a full-frame car. The only exception would be trucks and vans.
On any vehicle, you will notice under the door both behind the front wheel and in front of the rear wheel, jacking points where the body often has a rigid seam, sometimes called the “pinch weld”. This seam runs along the entire underside of the body and has reinforced points in the front and rear. Place the jack under your car at these exact positions and you can safely jack the car up. Each vehicle has slightly different support points, so you should make sure you know the support points for your vehicle before attempting to lift it from the ground as you can damage the underside of the body by jacking in a spot not meant to hold the weight of the vehicle. Most emergency jacks on vehicles are designed to straddle this protruding seam that runs along the bottom of the body, in order to safety jack the car up. Trucks and Vans can safely be jacked up along the frame itself. Typically, the engine cradle cross-member and rear transaxle on most vehicles is a solid support point if attempting to insert a rolling jack and jack the front or rear of the car up.
Double-check for your particular vehicle because placing a jack in a position that will not properly support the weight of your car is extremely unsafe.
Use the Jack to Lift the Vehicle
As stated before, there are many different types of jacks. You will need to know the specifics of how to jack up a car with the jack you own. If you are using a scissor jack, insert the rod and crank it once you have placed the jack under your car. A hydraulic jack (either bottle or rolling) will require you to place the handle in its proper position before pumping it up and down.
You can reduce the amount of labor necessary to use a hydraulic jack by using smooth and even strokes that take the handle from the lowest to the highest point possible with every completed motion. As noted before, with a rolling jack, be sure the jack continues to roll forward and reposition as the vehicle rises.
Place Jack Stands in the Proper Position
In addition to knowing how to jack up a car, you need to ensure your jack stands make contact with your car near the point you placed your jack. Raise your jack stands to the point at which they can barely fit under the car, and then lock the stands in place. The final step is to lower the jack until the car is resting on the jack stands.
Many people substitute boxes, bricks, or other things they find in place of jack stands. However, this is a dangerous action that is strongly discouraged. One exception to this would be in emergency situations. When jacking up a vehicle in the case of emergency, such as a flat tire, a good practice is to place your flat tire near the jack, directly under the vehicle as a safety-net until you install the spare and lower the vehicle. Attempting to get a car off the ground because of a slipped jack is extremely difficult, not to mention the fall can cause damage to the vehicle, where surface damage to the wheel is much less of a problem. Likewise, any off-roaders doing a tire change, the same process is often a good idea.
Keep in mind, these situations are rare, and any time you are jacking up a vehicle that you plan to get under, jack stands in good working order should always be used.
Make Sure Your Car Is Secure Before Removing Your Jack
The fourth step in how to use a car jack is to use your hand to wiggle your vehicle just a bit. Doing so will allow you to see if the car is secure on the jack stand or not. You will also be able to see if the wheels are properly blocked so that they will not roll.
After you have finished making the necessary repairs or inspections to your vehicle, it is time to lower the car to the ground.
First, reinstall the jack in the same location you lifted the vehicle, lifting it slightly up and off the jack stands.
Next, remove the stands by pulling up on the release handle, which drops the stands down to their lowest location, where they can be easily removed. If there is any resistance or weight on the stands, you will need to lift the vehicle slightly higher. Once these are removed, safely lower your vehicle.
When removing and replacing wheels/tires, a good practice is to always double-check your final torque on your lug nuts once the tires come in contact with the ground and the jack is ready for removal. This habit will help you constantly remember to check final torque on your lug nuts before completely removing and stowing the jack. Many people make the mistake of putting the wheel on, and getting the lug nuts snug while the vehicle is in the air, and get side-tracked once they lower the vehicle, forgetting to check final torque.
When it is time to jack up your car to perform routine maintenance and inspection, it is important to follow all safety protocols. If you have questions regarding how to jack up your car or need supplies to complete the maintenance, you can find helpful assistance at your local AutoZone.