Car lifts are an invaluable means of lifting cars for maintenance or storage purposes. Several car lift designs have been developed for different applications and space requirements. The lifting mechanism can also differ depending on the design.
Some car lifts are designed for automotive maintenance at a commercial level, while others are designed for home or portable use. Certain car lift designs are intended for car storage only to maximize the use of space in a home or parking garage.
1. Scissor Lifts For Cars
Scissor lifts come in several designs, but the lifting mechanism is what gives this car lift its name. The lift can be a solid drive-on platform or have runners for the wheels only. Some scissor lifts use lift points on the vehicle to support it as it is elevated.
The lift has a series of “X” steel structures on either side that concertina up or down to raise or lower the car. The number of “X” struts on the lift will determine how high the car can be elevated.
Scissor lifts can be a central, single lift or a pair of lifts used simultaneously on either side of the car or at the front and back.
Most scissor lifts are fixed to the garage floor and are popular because they use less physical space than many other car lift types. A disadvantage of scissor lifts is that they are often unsuitable for cars with very low ground clearance.
Two-part scissor lifts can sometimes malfunction, with one lift operating out of sequence with the other. This problem can cause the car to tilt and fall off the lift, potentially causing major damage or serious injury.
Single platform lifts are considered the safest of the scissor lift types.
2. Portable Car Lift
Portable car lifts are usually based on the scissor lift principle but are smaller physically. These smaller lifts are usually self-contained, with a battery-powered electric motor operating the hydraulics.
Certain portable car lift models do not include a battery but can be plugged into the car battery to operate the electric motor.
Some simpler models are operated with a hand pump to pressurize the hydraulics and lift the car off the ground.
The entire unit is on wheels, making it portable and easy to maneuver to where it is needed rather than move the car to where the lift is located.
Portable lifts usually have a single lift point and can only lift either the front, rear, or one side of the car at a time.
Portable car lifts cannot fold as flat as most fixed lifts, which limits their use on cars with lower ground clearance.
3. Two Post Car Lifts
Two-post car lifts have two vertical steel posts where the hydraulic mechanism operates. The posts are usually bolted to the garage floor at a fixed distance apart. The distance between the posts limits the width of the vehicle that can fit on the lift.
A steel bar joins the foot of each post to the opposite post to give the structure more rigidity and stability.
The part of each post facing inwards is usually open for the lifting mechanism to operate and raise and lower.
Two-post car lifts usually have adjustable length “V” shaped arms that slide up and down each post. The ends of the arms in each “V” are the contact points that will be positioned under the vehicle in locations to balance the car’s weight.
These car lifts can be raised to variable heights, depending on the area of the vehicle that requires attention.
These lifts are favored by motorsport and commercial car repair shops because they leave the maximum amount of the car’s underside exposed to carry out maintenance and repair work.
Two-post car lifts can also be installed in home garages since they do not have a large footprint, and the “V” arms can be rotated out of the way when the lift is not in use. This feature allows the space between the two posts to be used as parking.
4. Overhead Car Lifts
An overhead car lift looks very similar to a two-post car lift because it uses the same vertical two-post system.
Instead of a horizontal bar joining the base of each post, a horizontal bar joins the top of each post. This bar provides additional stability and allows the two posts to be connected with a cable and pulley system to ensure even raising and lowering of both sides of the vehicle on the lift.
The disadvantage of the overhead lift is that it limits the height to which the car can be raised on the lift. The roof of tall cars, such as SUVs, may come close to making contact with the overhead horizontal bar before the car is elevated enough to work comfortably under the car.
Two-post car lifts generally suit smaller cars, minivans, and pickup trucks. The equalized balancing of the load on the “V” arms makes this lift design stable and secure.
5. Four Post Car Lifts
Four-post car lifts are the most stable and secure of all car lift designs because their structure distributes the vehicle weight across a wider surface area.
A four-post car lift has four vertical steel pillars, usually bolted to the garage floor. A drive-on platform is situated between the four posts, usually, two drive-on steel runway strips that support the two wheels on either side of the vehicle.
Four-post lifts are stronger and safer than most other car lifts. They are also easier to operate, making accidents using four-post lifts less risky.
These lifts may be able to lift greater weights than a two-post lift, but they come in different weight ratings. It is important to install a lift that will handle the weight of the heaviest car you expect to elevate on the lift.
Four-post car lifts are excellent for cars with low ground clearance since these are drive-on lifts that do not have lifting mechanisms under the car.
One major disadvantage of four-post lifts is that they are not suitable for working on the wheels, tires, and braking systems. This disadvantage arises because the car is lifted on its wheels and not via lift points on the chassis.
6. In-Ground Car Lifts
In-ground car lifts are a space-saving option because the lifting mechanism is hidden under the garage floor. When the lift is lowered, it is almost flush with the floor, leaving the floor space open and accessible.
There are no vertical posts that can damage cars due to careless driving, and the lifts are safe to operate.
In-ground lifts come in various designs and can lift the car via lift points on the chassis or engaging with the wheels.
These lifts use cylindrical hydraulic pistons that telescope up and down to raise the lifting platform. The major advantage of these car lifts is their simplicity and durability, making them a popular choice for automotive shops.
In-ground car lifts can be more expensive to install, but their longevity and low maintenance costs make them a cost-effective long-term option.
Various lifting capacities are available as in-ground lifts, from light sedan lifts to heavy-duty truck and bus lifts.
7. Car Lifts For Wheel Alignment
Checking and adjusting the wheel alignment on a vehicle requires the vehicle to be completely level. This is only possible on a lift designed to maintain the car level enough to produce high precision accuracy on the wheel alignment test.
These lifts do not need to lift the car to a high elevation but require accurate electronics and sensors to keep the car properly positioned to calibrate the wheel alignment.
Wheel alignment lifts can use a four-post design or a scissor lift design and have swivel plates under the front steering wheels to allow the wheels to be positioned completely parallel to each other.
These lifts are only used for wheel alignment and are not intended to allow unhindered access to the car’s underside for engine maintenance.
8. Low-Rise and Mid-Rise Car Lifts
Low-rise and mid-rise lifts are often portable lifts but can also be permanently fixed to a garage floor. They are most commonly scissor lift designs and use lift points on the vehicle chassis to elevate the vehicle rather than the wheels.
These lifts do not elevate the vehicle enough to stand under it but lift it high enough for a mechanic to easily access the vehicle’s underside on a wheeled mechanic’s dolly.
9. Portable Column Vehicle Lifts
Portable column vehicle lifts are similar to a four-post lift, but each post is portable and operates independently.
The posts are moved into position at each wheel of the car, and the wheel is used as the lift point to elevate the car.
Each post has a lifting mechanism that can be operated individually or in tandem with the lift mechanisms on all the other posts.
These car lifts are usually more difficult to operate, and there is a higher likelihood of accidents, making this lift unsuitable as an option for a home garage car lift.
10. Parallelogram Car Lifts
Parallelogram car lifts are a form of in-ground lifts. They consist of two drive-on runways that the vehicle is driven onto with two wheels on either runway.
The lifting mechanism is under the two runways and lifts the vehicle up and forwards, with two or three lifting struts under each runway.
When the vehicle is elevated, the runway, struts, and floor are shaped like a parallelogram when viewed side-on.
Most parallelogram lifts can be configured to lift with the wheels as the contact point or the chassis, offering versatility for working on the vehicle’s wheels, suspension, and braking systems.
The main disadvantage of the parallelogram lift is the limited height to which the vehicle can be raised.
11. Parking Lifts
Parking lifts are generally based on the four-post car lift, but the concept is expanded to stack multiple cars above each other.
A common configuration for a parking lift is two cars stacked above each other or a four-car stack. This concept allows parking garages to maximize their available parking space by using otherwise underutilized vertical space.
High-density parking garages have installed parking lifts that can stack as many as ten cars in a single stack.
Most parking lifts have a solid drive-on lifting platform, making them unsuitable for vehicle maintenance. The underside of the vehicle is not exposed when the car is elevated.
Some parking lift manufacturers make parking lifts for residential use for people with multiple cars but limited parking space on their property.
Car lifts can make working on cars or parking cars in high-density areas significantly easier, but the right type of lift must be selected for the appropriate purpose.
Most car lifts come in a range of lifting capacities, making it important to size the lift appropriately for the vehicles you need to elevate.