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Sizing up a shop auto lift

Tired of rolling under vehicles on a creeper, Larry and LeDene Rutt made an investment in an automotive lift when building their shop several years ago. The Chappell, Nebraska, couple opted for a 10,000-pound-capacity unit made by Rotary Lift that provides enough capacity to easily lift a four-door pickup.

“I'm getting too old to crawl under vehicles to change oil,” Rutt says about the investment, adding that he has found numerous other uses for the lift. “Truly, it is one of the handiest things I have in the shop. It handles a wide variety of jobs beyond oil changes.”

Can be retrofitted

Indeed, an auto lift is a hot item in a new shop, and a device can be readily retrofitted in an existing shop due to the wide availability of surface-mounted lifts. In most cases, a concrete floor under a farm shop provides enough support for a lift. (Be sure to check with the lift's manufacturer for mounting recommendations.)

Popular two-post lift

The most popular of the surface-mounted lifts is a two-post model, which offers rated load capacities ranging from 7,000 pounds upwards to 30,000 pounds. The general opinion among most lift makers is that a light-duty vehicle lift is capable of lifting a vehicle with a gross weight rating of 7,000 to 16,000 pounds. The cost of a two-post lift varies greatly, not only by capacity but also by features; it ranges from $3,000 to $12,000.

A two-post lift consists of two sets of lifting arms attached to two columns. A vehicle is driven between the columns, and the lift's arms are manually positioned under the vehicle at designated pickup points on the frame.

Across the country, two thirds of all auto lifts sold are two-post, side-by-side above-ground lifts. The reason for this is that a two-post lift provides the most unobstructed access to a raised vehicle. “It's nice to be able to get a vehicle up about 6 feet and work on anything on the chassis,” says Doug Masuen, who farms near Le Mars, Iowa. “Anything I need to do, short of major body work, I can complete on the auto lift.”

Masuen got lucky when he scored a used auto lift at a car dealership auction. “I wasn't planning to buy it, but it went reasonable, so I moved on the lift,” he says. “I've worked in different shops with a pit, and I don't like it as much.”

An alternative to a two-post unit is a four-post lift with runways for a vehicle to drive up on. This type of lift offers the fastest lifting speeds because no setup is required.

Shopping pointers for auto lifts

When shopping for a lift, be warned: Not all auto lifts are built to the same levels of quality. In recent years the U.S. market has been invaded by cheaper, offshore lighter-duty lifts. This is particularly true of the two-post model market. Often the columns (C-channels) on these lifts are fabricated by thinner material that is 3/16 to 5/16 inch thick. Heavier-duty lifts will feature columns made from ¾- to 1-inch-thick C-channel.

Make sure the lift you are considering has been certified by the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI). ALI operates as the watchdog for the entire automotive lifting industry. A lift that has this certification will have a gold label signifying that the lift has been independently tested and verified to meet American National Standards Institute performance and safety standards that apply to automotive lift service lifts throughout North America. ALI also provides a list of certified accessories online at The list is searchable by manufacturer, model number, or rated capacity.

Determine capacity before buying

A two-post lift varies greatly in price due not only to its lifting capacity but also to other features it offers. Cost can range from $3,000 to $12,000. Prior to buying a lift, take an inventory of the vehicles you need to service in order to determine the capacity and features you will need.

Here's a tip from a Successful Farming magazine reader who purchased a lift: Consider buying a device with a rated load capacity that is higher than the heaviest vehicle you plan to place on the lift. This extra capacity helps ensure stability in those instances when there is a vehicle on the lift that is heavily loaded on the rear. This situation puts a lot stress on a lift by flexing it backward. A fore-and-aft shift in vehicle weight can also happen if you remove a transfer case or transmission from a vehicle that is on a lift.

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