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What I learned from buying a portable low-rise vehicle lift

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Work on cars long enough, and eventually you’ll want some kind of automatic lift that offers freedom from the floor jack and jack stand shuffle every time you want to wrench. The gold standard is the two-post lift that can raise a vehicle overhead in minutes, but my garage has a low roof — anything that goes up more than a few feet won’t work. The good news is there are plenty of low-rise and mid-rise lifts out there that work even in tight garage spaces. I finally took the plunge myself and bought a Quick Jack portable lift based on a fellow gearhead’s recommendation, with a sale at Costco sealing the deal.

Two key benefits of the Quick Jack are its affordability and portability. The two lifting frames allow for unrestricted access to the middle of a vehicle, and they fold flat for storage when not in use. You could even haul them to a track day or friend’s garage without much trouble. The list price of the 5,000-pound model I bought is $1,416 as of this writing, while Costco offers it for $1,200 online and hundreds less in the warehouse.

Quick Jack hydraulic pump with quick-connect fittings

The hoses for the lifts attach to the quick-connect fittings in the middle of the hydraulic pump. I put cord wraps on the power and control box cords to keep everything tidy.

The Quick Jack comes in three boxes, one for each lift and another for the hydraulic pump and accessories. It also comes with two sets of rubber blocks, 2 and 3 inches respectively, to set your car on. The lift frames are heavy, at 76 pounds each. A pair of wheels on the end of each lift makes them semi-mobile without too much strain, but this is not the kind of equipment you can just toss around. Lifting blocks with channels in them, to use on cars that have pinch weld jacking points, are an extra $88 before shipping. You can also get taller adapters, for trucks and SUVs, for an additional $233.

Raising and lowering a car is done using hydraulic pressure from a pump that connects to both frames with hoses. The lifts themselves swing up, cantilever-style, and locking bars automatically engage at a middle position and at full height. To lower the jacks, you raise it to take the weight off the locking bars and flip the release cams down, which allows the bars to slide over the locking positions. The hoses from the pump to the lifting frames hook up with quick connect fittings, allowing for easy set up and removal.

Some assembly required

Quick Jack hydraulic hoses quick connect install

There are four hoses: one for each lifting frame and two longer hoses that connect the lifts to the hydraulic pump. Part of the assembly is attaching the quick-connect fittings to the hydraulic lines.

Getting from an open box to a working lift involves a few steps, most of which are connecting fittings to the hydraulic cylinders, hoses, and hydraulic pumps. You also need to check the air pressure in the air chamber on each lift, and then bleed the air from the hydraulic cylinders. Finally, you need to fill the hydraulic pump with fluid, which is not included. My leisurely assembly, including a trip to the parts store for two quarts of Automatic Transmission Fluid, took a little over two hours.

Measure four or five times, lift once

After a quick check of the lift’s operation I was ready to try it out on my 1987 Alfa Romeo Spider Quadrifoglio. The Alfa, and specifically its leaking transmission, was a major motivating factor in this purchase, which made it a good test case. This is where I encountered my first hiccup. The Quick Jack specifications say that my 5,000-pound capacity model can go as short as 70 inches between the tire treads, measured 3 inches above the ground. Before purchase, I checked this dimension on the smallest car in my garage, the Honda Beat (a Japanese-market microcar). The thing is, the Alfa actually has a shorter wheelbase (and larger tires) than the Honda, despite being more than three feet longer. The Quick Jack fit between the Spider’s tires, but without much room to spare.

Quick Jack portable lift safety lock

The support bars default to a safe, auto-locking position. Flip the release cam down to lower the jack.

It took some practice to line up everything correctly, but some of the issues with the Alfa won’t be a problem on my other, longer-wheelbase cars. The cantilever design means that, if you start with part of the lift too far under a tire, it will catch the rubber on the way up. Once that was solved, I had to do some fine tuning, lifting the jack up close to the car’s frame and nudging the rubber blocks into just the right place. Depending on the car, you also have to be wary of the 11-inch width of the metal frame. When pushed too far inward on the Alfa, the Quick Jack would catch on a rear suspension trailing arm, which was obvious only after the lift starts rising. In the middle of this initial setup one of the lifting frames was dropping much faster than the other. I yanked it out from under the car, bled the hydraulic cylinder again, and a couple of tiny air bubbles escaped.

The key here, especially in the early going, is basic safety and common sense. Start slow, and check all four pads to make sure they make contact in the right points, and nothing makes breaking noises when you shift the car’s weight onto the jacks. If anything is off, stop, look, and make a correction before proceeding.

We have lift-off

Now that I have the lift, it’s time to seal up the sources of those drips on the garage floor.

After I had everything lined up with secure contact on the car’s jacking points, the Quick Jack worked great. Raising the car to the second position is much higher than I can achieve with a floor jack, and there’s no shuffling around to install jack stands. The correct procedure is to hit the “down” button to put the weight of the car on the safety latches, relieving the pressure on the hydraulic system; this also means you can leave a car raised indefinitely.

I had visions of the Quick Jack turning my garage into a one-man NASCAR pit stop, or at least saving time compared to the floor jack and jack stand method. In reality it’s not quite that quick. Lining up the blocks probably gets faster with practice, however, and there’s no worrying about whether a jack stand has stable contact with the car’s frame. On cars with more accessible lift points, like a pinch weld, setup is probably easier than on my Alfa. Once it’s in place, the Quick Jack is exactly what I hoped it would be: an easy mechanical lift that works inside my low-roof garage that I can move around as needed and stash away for storage.