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Buying a Lift

By Jonathan Bird

When I bought my 308 a few years ago, the previous owner told me to visit FerrariChat to learn more about the car and how to work on it. Within a week or so on F-Chat, posting the usual newbie questions, Tech Q&A guru Verell Boaen invited me to bring my car to his house to help me out. Talk about luck - living so close to Verell! Of course, I took him up on his offer and drove over the following weekend. I knew I was in the right place when I drove up the long driveway and saw his red 308 parked outside. Verell came out and introduced himself, then said something that changed my life forever: “Lets throw it on the lift.”

Say what?

He led me into the garage and there before me was something I had never seen before: a two-post hydraulic car lift in someone’s home garage. "Wow," I thought, "Verell must be rich! Maybe I really don’t have enough money to own a Ferrari after all." We pulled my car into the garage, slipped the lifting arms beneath it, lined them up with the lifting points on the frame and up she went. Within minutes, we were standing under the car, inspecting, tinkering, and cleaning. Now this is the way to work on a car.

The following winter I replaced my rear suspension bushings with the car on jack stands at home. It was then that I decided I needed a lift of my own. Working on a car is so much easier when you have one and you don’t have to crawl around on the floor or worry about the car falling off a jack stand. A lift of my own would round out my new garage! My wife thought I was nuts. My friends rolled their eyes. But after getting to know a lot more car enthusiasts since I bought my 308, I realized that having a home lift is not uncommon anymore. A lift can be used not only for working on a car, but storing one as well. But what kind of lift to buy, and how much would it cost?

Lifts can be broken down into three general categories: two post, four post and mid-rise (sometimes called a “scissors” lift). A two post lift has two large columns, one on each side of the car, that bolt into the concrete floor. Each column has two arms that come out. They swivel back and forth and telescope in and out so they can reach the lifting points on the car. You end up with 4 chassis lifting points, two on each side. The advantage of a two post lift is that, when the car is lifted, the wheels hang down with no load on the suspension. The lift has very little interference with the car so you can work on virtually anything, except perhaps the doors, which are obscured by the posts (this can be reduced somewhat with an asymmetrical lift). While you can store a car on a two post lift, there is some question if long-term storage with the suspension unloaded is good for it. It certainly gives the springs a little R&R but may not be good for the shocks long term. It has not harmed my 308, which spends 3 months a year suspended in mid-air.

A four post lift has a rectangular layout with a column at each corner and a set of “runways” on each side. The car is driven up a set of ramps onto the lift and, once lifted, it rests on the runways. In this type of lift, the car remains sitting on its wheels and suspension while in the air. The disadvantage is that, in order to work on the suspension, you must use a jack package to jack the car up while on the lift. However, this kind of lift is easier and faster to get the car up on. Just drive it on and lift. The sides of the car are accessible without a post in the way, so the doors can be fully opened. It’s also a better option for storing a car since it sits normally on its suspension. Some four post lifts can be purchased with a caster option as well, so they can be rolled around in a large shop. Even without casters, many four post lifts do not need to be bolted to the floor, so they can be moved to a new garage easily. Moving a two post lift is a real project since it must be unbolted from the floor, after which, the floor has holes that must be plugged.

If you do a lot of body work, need a lift for additional car storage and only do minimal under-car work, particularly suspension, the 4 post lift is probably better. If you do more drive train, suspension and restoration work, a 2 post lift will probably work out better. You need to choose the type of lift you want based on your needs. I would like to have a lift of each type, but so far my wife isn’t going for it!

A mid-rise lift is a smaller, portable unit that sets up under a car and lifts by rising up from flat into an X shape. It takes up space sitting directly under the car, generally right between the doors, so it has limited usefulness for working on the underside of the car. Typically you can still reach engine areas and of course you can work on the suspension easily. While this lift cannot go very high (usually about four feet), it still beats jack stands by a mile and has the added benefit of being portable. Two guys can throw it in the back of a pickup truck and take it some place else easily, something that can definitely NOT be said about the other lifts here. This kind of lift is often carried by “mobile mechanics” who will come and work on your car in your garage, rather than theirs. Unless you have a particular need for a portable lift, most people find that a two post or a four post is a more useful product for a home garage.

Most people will have a preference for a quality, heavy-duty American-made lift given the choice. I hate to brag, but some of the very best lifts in the world are made in America with American steel. But when comparing the prices of brand new lifts, the Chinese lifts often come in at 1/3 to 1/2 the price of an American one. Like anything, there are good and bad lifts no matter where they are built. As much as I would like to say that all Chinese lifts are junk, this is not the case. There are some excellent ones out there, and some real junk as well. You need to do some research and figure out what you can afford. The fact of the matter is that a home enthusiast does not need the kind of build quality that a professional shop needs, lifting cars up and down all day long. Lifts almost never collapse but they can wear out from repeated use. A better lift will last longer before the hydraulics, chains, rollers, etc. give out.

A lift has a rated weight. This is the amount that the lift can safely hold with a large safety de-rating factor. A typical lift might be rated for 8,000 pounds. That means the lift can carry 8,000 pounds safely without worrying about anything breaking or the car falling on your head. Manufacturers typically test lifts to twice their rated capacity. Unless you happen to have a Suburban or a truck that you need to lift, most people don’t need a lift rated at more than 6,000 or 8,000 pounds. Considering that my 308 weighs in around 3,000 pounds, I can technically lift twice the weight of a 308 on my “small” 6,000 pound lift.

Many people buy a lift without considering the used option. Nearly every city has at least one if not several automotive equipment dealers that sell lifts. Check your local yellow pages. As cars and trucks get heavier and more people buy SUVs, a lot of shops are trading in their perfectly good 6,000 and 8,000 pound lifts on 10,000 and 12,000+ pound models. Once considered the mainstay of lifts, the “small” units are now considered whimpy. But guess what? You can buy these smaller lifts used for 1/3 to 1/2 of the new price. I bought a Mohawk 6,000 pound lift (premium U.S. made lift) used for $2,000 from a local dealer, one third of the new cost. For an extra $500 they delivered and installed it for me. They leveled it, drilled the floor, put in the anchors, hooked up the hydraulic lines and filled it with fluid. All I had to do was wire it to 220 V and I was lifting cars the same day.

People often search on-line for deals on new lifts. You can find excellent prices for lifts on-line, but when you add up the shipping (considerable on a lift that weighs 700+ pounds) and installation, you may find you that can actually do better locally. It’s worth making a few phone calls. I discovered three dealers in the Boston area that were eager for my business. The other benefit to buying locally is that you have someone in the area that can service your lift if something needs replacing. In my experience, the guy who sold you the lift will almost always go the extra mile for you.

I have now had my two post lift for over a year. I did, not one, but two majors (with Verell’s help of course!) this winter with the lift and I can only imagine how much harder it would have been without it. Since we added a Mondial to the collection, I store my 308 above the Mondial on the lift for the winter, which has added a parking space to my garage. Overall, it was one of the best uses of $2,500.00 I can think of, proving that you don’t have to be rich to have a lift. Furthermore, my friends come and visit more often when they need to put their cars up  for anything from simple oil changes to more complicated work. If you have a lift, your friends will come… and you can make them bring the beer. Need I say more?


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