Fourth in a Series of Occasional Posts on Shop Maintenance

Photography and Story by Jim Marotta

Whether you use the in-ground or above-ground variety, a lift is one of the most important pieces of equipment in your shop and should be foremost on your inspection and maintenance list. Not only do malfunctioning lifts pose a safety concern, but it's difficult to perform your work without one.

Weight Capacity

Every type of lift requires specific safety procedures for safely lifting vehicles.

The most common type of vehicle lift is the two-post, above ground style. Weight capacity on these lifts can range from 7000 lbs. and higher, so consider the total lift capacity as well as the individual arm capacity (total capacity of the lift divided by the four swing arms) so you will not overload an arm.

Let us say a contractor's pickup truck is in the bay for an oil change. Our 10,000 lbs. lift (each arm lifting up to 2500 lbs.) can easily lift the 1-ton truck into the air. However, the truck's toolboxes and ladder racks make the rear of the truck heavier than the front. If the truck and tools have a total weight of approximately 9000 lbs. and the front/rear weight distribution on the truck is approximately 30/70 (3000 lbs. front and 6000 lbs. rear), we could overload the lift's rear arms and cause the lift to fail.

To ensure safety, manufacturers offer scales on lifts. The scales alert operators to overloaded lift conditions and avoid situations like the rear-heavy work truck scenario.

Proper Lifting

Once we know our lift can handle the vehicle we are lifting, we need to determine proper lifting points. A two-post lift engages the vehicle's frame or lifting points, so it is critical to know the specific lifting points for every vehicle.

Lifting a vehicle at the wrong points can damage components under the vehicle, such as brake lines, suspension components, or body parts. Failure to use the vehicle manufacturer recommended lifting points might cause the vehicle to slip off the lift, resulting in severe vehicle damage and personal injury.

It's critical to know the specific lifting points for every vehicle as specified by the manufacturer. (Photo: Jim Marotta)

As the vehicle's weight comes to rest on the lift arms, a mechanical safety lock system bears the weight of the vehicle at rest, rather than the hydraulic pressure of the lift pistons.

A mechanical safety lock system bears the weight of the vehicle at rest rather than the hydraulic pressure of the lift pistons. (Photo: Jim Marotta)

Maintenance and Inspection

Why is maintenance so important? What shop can afford to have jobs stacked up in the parking lot and employees standing idle? More importantly, you want to ensure the safety of anyone underneath or near your lifts.

How often should you inspect your lift? According to the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI), an association of automotive lift manufacturers promoting the safe design, construction, installation, service, and use of automotive lifts, an automotive lift should receive comprehensive annual inspections, or more frequently when specified by the manufacturer. In addition, ALI lists critical items to inspect every day:


  • Make sure the operating procedures, safety tips and generic safety material are accessible and legible.
  • Check for proper operation of the lift controls, restraints and locking devices.
  • Look for deformation or excessive wear of any of the lift structural components.
  • Inspect for deformation or excessive wear of other components such as hoses, electrical wires, drive chains, cables, or screws.

By keeping the lift components well lubricated, you can prevent excessive wear. Lubricate the lift cables with an all-purpose silicone lubricant. (Photo: Jim Marotta)

  • Look for damage or excessive wear on any of the lift contact points, which engage the vehicle during lifting.

The lift pads are where the rubber meets the vehicle. Prevent vehicle damage by replacing cracked or worn pads. (Photo: Jim Marotta)

  • Inspect for evidence of hydraulic or pneumatic leaks.

Oil seepage past the seals and down the hydraulic pistons is a good sign of a leak. (Photo: Jim Marotta)

  • Check for unusual noises, sudden movements, erratic operation or evidence of chips or filings during use.
  • Visually inspect for cracks or loose concrete around floor anchor bolts.

Follow the lift manufacturer's specified inspection and maintenance schedule and in addition, the ALI recommends these periodic inspections:

  • Confirm there is enough clearance around the lift.
  • Check all fastening devices for tightness, including the floor anchor bolts.
  • On lifts equipped with lateral synchronization or equalization systems, check the operation of the systems.
  • Operate the lift and check the operation of the positive stop and the lift locks.
  • On lifts with pumping units, confirm there is sufficient oil when the lift is fully raised.

Keeping the pump oil at the proper level is vital to smooth lift operation. Always check the level with the lift fully raised. (Photo: Jim Marotta)

  • With the lift loaded, stop the load at the midpoint of travel and observe that the load is being properly carried and that the lift does not change position. 
  • With a representative vehicle on the lift, check the lowering speed.

By properly and consistently maintaining your equipment, and properly mounting vehicles on the lift, you will be taking care of one of your most important tools and paying yourself back many times over.

For more information on lifting points, just turn to A subscription to Chilton's comprehensive service procedures, specifications, and wiring diagrams, gives you the information to do the job right the first time.

A muscle car enthusiast and drag racer, Jim Marotta is a freelance automotive writer with more than 20 years experience in the automotive industry.