Smart buyers look for value when they shop, and value comes in different ways: price, quality, durability, etc. But how should you balance those things out? Will savings now cost you more in repairs down the road? What does that word “quality” really mean, anyway, and how should you look for it? This list will help you be a smarter car lift buyer.
- Good or bad, look for lots of reviews
There are many would-be “biggest and best” companies out there, but when you look them up, all you get is an old website that’s never updated, bad or broken links and more questions than when you started. That shouldn’t be the case. The sheer quantity of information on a car lift company should be staggering!
Pretend you find a car lift made by “Big Bob’s Car Lifts Inc.” (This company doesn’t really exist, we promise.) It’s better to find 50 reviews from people who think this company stinks to high heaven than just one review that seems to be written by the company owner and does nothing but brag and brag and brag. Even if you’re finding a mix of positive and negative reviews, at least you have a starting point for your research to sort out the smart, experienced mechanics from the angry whiners and attention-seeking liars who don’t know what they’re talking about. Hundreds of millions of people in the country are on the Internet, and people on the Internet ALWAYS talk. If hardly anyone’s talking about a particular car lift company, stay away! Think: “Houston, we have a problem.”
- Know who actually manufactures the car lift
The best car lift manufacturers are proud to display their name boldly along the columns of their products. Yet, caught up in this mix of quality professionals there are lots of off-brand companies peddling cheap, generic, non-ALI Certified garbage. These lifts are made in industrial sweatshops overseas with little to no quality control. They’re “discount” for a reason. You may even see them bill their companies as “exclusive suppliers.”
If you’re a businessperson, go ahead and roll your eyes. There’s very little reason for most lift companies not to go through distributors (unless they’re allergic to work and money, or something). Furthermore, if the major distributors aren’t willing to even carry and market a certain car lift, that’s a huge red flag (i.e., it’s time to look elsewhere).
- Measure and re-measure your garage
We hope you’re as excited—more excited, in fact—about installing a car lift in your own garage as we are to supply you with one. But it happens every once in a while where an enthusiastic buyer gets ahead of themselves and winds up with a car lift that doesn’t fit their space. This means returning the big lug, which generally voids the free shipping policy on the original delivery, as well as the replacement. Car lift companies do not hold themselves responsible if you don’t report the correct dimensions of your garage. (In other words, it’s your own darn fault if you mess that up.)
If a friend or nearby business has the car lift you want, visit them and tour of their garage. Compare what works for them with your needs. If you have your dimensions figured out, make sure you know where your electricity is (including amps and voltage), if you need a compressor to operate the locks and if your concrete can handle the bolts should you be required to secure your car lift to the floor. Basically, it comes down to really getting acquainted with your garage. One great way to keep track of everything is with a quick-reference notebook containing some of the more important dimensions of your garage, so that you stay prepared with your installation information at all times.
- Research the company’s reputation
This may be the easiest step on the list. Speaking from experience, BendPak doesn’t kid around when it comes to our reputation. We are in deep with the auto repair and DIY service community. We encourage you to Google us, as well as the names of our competitors, and look for yourself! You can even call up professional garages and ask them if they’re happy with their car lifts. Have them explain why or why not.
- Conduct a price comparison
When it comes to “20 smart ways to get value on your car lift,” please notice that price only gets one space. It’s not the first thing you should consider, nor is it the last. Car lifts make for special purchases. For instance, when we shop at Wal-Mart for enough peaches to feed our family (no idea why it’s peaches, just go with it), we know we get the same nutrients from them as we do from the expensive, organic Whole Foods peaches, but we get them at Wal-Mart for a lower price. In the case of the peaches, the quality difference doesn’t really affect us much in terms of health (some may argue). Likewise, deodorant, laundry detergent, shampoo, etc. come in dozens of brands, prices and bottle sizes. If you can find Tide cheaper one day and the next week the store’s generic is on sale for half the price, the decision is almost made for you. Few catastrophes can reasonably occur because you went with the “cheap” option.
With few exceptions, a car lift is not a bottle of laundry detergent (warning: sarcasm detected). The vehicle(s) you raise is the second-most expensive investment to your home. Oftentimes, tens of thousands of dollars are at stake with each lift and each repair. Very few people can afford a disaster that occurred as a result of “discount shopping.”
Plus, that cheap, discount “Tuxedo” lift you see advertised everywhere is constructed who-knows-where by who-knows-who using who-can-say quality equipment. Trust your instincts: if Brand A sells a 9,000-lb. capacity two-post car lift for $2,000 and Brand B sells a lift-capacity-equivalent lift for $1,200, you need to explore the difference. It almost always has to do with engineering standards, materials used for construction, safety features, availability of customer service and the product warranty. Don’t let saving a few hundred dollars, a relatively small cost at the end of the year, be the reason you sacrifice your own personal safety, as well as the safety of your property. There are smarter ways to get value: go with the best quality car lift you can find.
- Examine the warranty
A lot of things can go wrong with a piece of machinery. The most common errors on well-made car lifts are human errors, but we recognize that sometimes unexpected failures can occur. Either way, you should be covered by a good warranty. A warranty is an expression of honesty: some companies let you extend their standard warranty even further, and that’s always a good sign. Look at how many years the parts and structure are covered. Generally speaking, labor and hydraulic systems will be covered for a year on a good warranty, while the car lift and its components should be totally covered for up to five years.
- Find the ALI Certificate
We’ve done some sneaky competitor research where we’ve called up manufacturers of non-certified car lifts and asked them, posing as innocent customers, what makes their lifts safe? We heard answers like, “Because we make them ourselves to the highest standards!” When we asked what standards, they said things like, “The ones everybody uses!” Such a shame. The ALI standard exists for one reason: to make car lifts as safe as possible for people who aren’t able to eyeball good or bad mechanical workmanship from a mile away. Every single one of the large and respected auto lift brands in the world is a member of the Automotive Lift Institute and submit to ALI testing and re-testing for just about every product they develop, so clearly it’s a priority to them. Obviously, BendPak falls into this category.
It’s no easy feat to join the Automotive Lift Institute, let alone build a car lift that passes certification. There are additional expenses involved to get tested, and ALI sets extremely strict UL, ETL and ANSI manufacturing safety standards that must be met in order to qualify for certification. While you’re scouting out different cars lift, it’s very likely that you’ll find a ton of non-certified lifts out on the market. It’s just as likely that the manufacturers of these lifts will try to persuade you (con you) into believing their standards, even if they can’t name them, are up to code.
- “Practice call” their customer service
There’s a myth that floats around startups in the business world that smaller companies are able to provide more attention to their customers. Sometimes the owner of a small company will answer the phone when you call the so-called service line. While this may sound intriguing, it’s a bad sign for business down the road. A large company that has been dealing in car lifts for 20, 30, 40, 50+ years has dedicated teams that are ready to take your calls and provide service at all times. They rotate their shifts so there’s no “lunch gap.” They’re smart because they’re held accountable for their service through training and listening to their recorded calls. You’ll find out the difference quickly. In fact, your first contact with a company’s customer service center will set the tone for all the rest of your dealings with them. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to make a “practice call” and ask them about their warranties, return policies and what steps they’ll take for repairs and parts replacements.
- Understand the features offered and what you want
Once you know whether you want a four-post, two-post, mobile column, scissor or alignment lift, there are still a ton of customizable options. Car lifts come in extra tall, extra wide, short, narrow, asymmetrical and clearfloor varieties that best suit your needs. You may need truck/SUV adapters, telescoping arms, rolling bridge jacks, frame cradle pads, casters and/or frame extensions. To tie this back to #8, the customer service representative should be able to guide you through this process if you are unsure.
- Ask about their engineering report
This is true, even when it comes to professional mechanics: most lift buyers aren’t car lift experts any more than most car shoppers are car experts. The easiest thing you can do, if you’re not sure of the quality of the lift you want, is to look for the ALI Certification. Some companies over-engineer their lifts beyond what is required by ALI, which results in longer-lasting products with less maintenance required over the course of ownership. Reputable companies complete FEA (finite element analysis) engineering reports made with sophisticated computer programs that simulate stress loads.
These reports are verified with long-math calculations, field testing (called quality assurance, or QA), re-designs, etc. Every aspect of engineering and testing is designed to make car lifts safer, faster, more efficient and longer-lasting.
- Compare lift columns, cables, hydraulics, etc.
Companies will always try to talk up the structural integrity of their lifts through their marketing efforts, but even when comparing two ALI Certified lifts, the differences can be shocking and very, very revealing. You might start to ask questions you may have never thought of:
Why aren’t their lifting cables as thick?
Why is this company’s column made from a single piece of steel while others are made from multiple pieces?
Why is their warranty so much better?
Does it matter that the telescoping arm is three-stage and not just two-stage?
Etc., etc., etc.
All of these things matter for a long-lasting lift: thick, aircraft-quality cables; single-piece column construction; wider, taller, thicker base plates; throttle valves integrated into hydraulic cylinders to regulate flow and fluid pressure; reinforced carriage/pin hole sites; a five-year parts warranty; and so much more.
- Don’t confuse lift capacity with safety
Mistaking lift capacity for greater safety is what we call the “rookie mistake.” If Company A makes a lift rated at 10,000 lbs., and their lift includes more of the safety features and expert engineering you really want, but Company B makes a lift rated at 12,000 lbs. for the same price, which should you get? This is a tough decision, isn’t it? On the one hand, Company A has wider base plates, a better overall warranty, thicker cables, slack-cable detection, a more durable hydraulic cylinder (with a longer stroke) and a number of other superior safety features. On the other hand, Company B’s lift can hold 2,000 lbs. more, so its engineering must be improved on some level, right? Not necessarily.
When we go beneath the surface and see how lift capacity is rated, we see that the listed capacity is only a small piece of the puzzle. We could go on all day about this, but instead, we’ll focus on one crucial aspect of four-post lifts: the lifting cables.
ALI Certification demands that different aspects of the lift structure are over-engineered to handle at least 300% of the car lift’s official lift capacity. It’s possible that Company B, rather than engineering a more powerful lift, tacked on an extra 2K to their rated capacity by staying just above that 300% mark. On the other hand, Company A uses aircraft-quality stainless steel cables rated to hold 14,400 lbs. each, meaning the lift can handle 600 – 800% more than their rated capacity by the strength of the cables alone. Company A can back up these claims with FEA reports to prove their engineering superiority and uses rigorous testing procedures to put the math to the test. Can you guess which company, Company A or Company B, more resembles BendPak? (Hint: it’s Company A.)
- Trust that a company’s history matters
There are companies that have been making car lifts for 50+ years. There are also plenty of cheap, discount brands that are new to the business and try to sell you on their hackneyed version of “affordability.” Real, honest value comes from trust, not penny-pinching, and trust is built over a long period of time. If a company has been around and growing for 50-some-odd years, there’s a good reason for it.
- Check online presence (e.g. social media accounts, blog updates)
Business practices change over time. Online presence is one way of finding out what a company is like, the personalities of the people in charge, how responsive they are to their customers, etc. Companies that care will make themselves available to you. They’ll spell words correctly on their websites and fix mistakes as they come up. (Seriously, correct use of grammar and proper spelling are tell-tale signs of a company’s overall professionalism.) Most successful companies have a blog and update some portion of their content regularly.
- Sign up for car forums and see what people are saying
We can’t stress this enough. The DIY and professional service car communities combine to make up one of the largest, smartest and most vocal groups out there, so pay attention to what they say! These guys and gals don’t suffer fools, so make sure you understand the etiquette of the forum before you go blabbing or spouting uninformed nonsense. They’ll tear you apart in there!
See what’s being said about car lifts on the market, know your garage dimensions and lifting needs and don’t be afraid to ask questions. In our experience, these forums have been like free marketing for BendPak: we proudly make the best car lifts, and people simply rave about us on the web. It’s actually pretty awesome how that all works out.
- Expect free shipping and a fairly priced installation service
Shipping fees are a thing of the past when it comes to car lift freight. If a company is charging you shipping, it means they’re either 1) misrepresenting the actual price of their lift with hidden fees, or 2) they’re not a reputable company and have fallen behind on the times. This one is pretty simple and standard. Likewise, the certified third-party service that installs your lift should only charge a few hundred dollars. It’s a one-time cost that’s incredibly beneficial to anyone who isn’t a car lift installation expert.
- Look for good resale value
Every smart buyer is in a position to be a smart seller. Whether it’s been a few weeks, months, days or years, sometimes people just need to sell their lifts. The resale value of a lift is a huge indicator of its quality. We will inject here that BendPak lifts keep their value over time. It’s important, of course, to have the lift inspected to make sure all weld points are intact, the telescoping arms (if applicable) are in good condition, rubber pads aren’t torn and chewed, cables and airlines are cared for properly, etc. You might ask them to replace certain parts that have worn down over time, or you might decide to do that yourself. Like we said, a good car lift will last for many, many years, so unless the previous owner was totally careless about lift capacity and/or periodic maintenance, there’s no real reason to think a used lift is a bad idea. Know your seller! BendPak offers open-box deals from time-to-time, which is a great way to find a top-quality, discounted lift (the only time we’ll use the “d”-word).
What are some of the other ways you look for value? Drop us a comment!