If you were out driving your car and came to a red light, it would be pretty ridiculous if you pulled out into the middle of the intersection and parked, right? That’s common sense. We know that safe driving means stopping before the thick white lines, staying in your lane, using turn signals, etc. Likewise, certain common principles of safe usage apply to the operation of two-post lifts: engage the correct lifting points of the vehicle; use appropriate adapters when lifting trucks and SUVs; always balance the vehicle’s center of gravity. When cars fall off two-post lifts, 99% of the time the cause is preventable. (To be politically correct, we won’t say, “100% of the time,” but in our many years of experience, cars don’t slip when they’re properly set on top of lifts.)
Vehicles topple or slide off lifts when users don’t adhere to one or more of the following crucial procedures: setting the vehicle at the proper lifting points; installing the wrong lift adapters; using adjustable adapters in the wrong fashion; neglecting to account for the vehicle’s center of gravity; and so on and so forth.
Car lifts are objectively dangerous tools when used by inexperienced or misguided technicians. When you even hear the words “car lift,” your brain should automatically register the fact that lifting a vehicle is a serious endeavor with life-threatening risks if mandatory lifting precautions are ignored or for whatever reason forgotten.
Before You Use or Buy a Car Lift
To begin with, you should never even consider a two-post lift that is not certified according to ANSI/ALI ALCTV-2011 or ANSI/UL 201. There are, unfortunately, companies that make grand claims without providing evidence of certification. You’ve seen those Carfax commercials? “Show me the Carfax,” is their catchy slogan, and the company provides car shoppers a set of important safety standards that apply to used cars. The same concept of high standards should apply every time you’re looking at a two-post lift. “Show me your ANSI certification,” isn’t as catchy, but it’s important.
Lift Points and Center of Gravity
Vehicle lift points are located at different places, depending on the make and model of the vehicle being lifted. You probably know this, but it only takes one mistake to ruin your day (or your life). Because the center of gravity is not necessarily located at the “true center” of any given vehicle, using the right lifting points is crucial during every lift.
Why some people consistently neglect to do this, mechanics included, is beyond our ability to reason. Failure to place the lift pads at the correct lifting points results in an imbalanced sitting on the lift arms, which overloads the arms and leads to cars sliding off their intended placements. If for some reason you cannot find the lifting points on your vehicle by using your eyes, the Internet or calling the vehicle’s customer service line, you can still measure for the center of gravity and determine where those lifting points can be found.
Using Adapter Sets
Clearly labeled on your car lift manual, you will always find instructions for using lift adapters. Adapters, sometimes sold separately from the lift(s) they accompany, are meant to be used on trucks, SUVs and other vehicles with recessed lifting points that require a little “boost” to be reached. In the picture below, you can see a vehicle that was not properly set on a lift; as a result, the vehicle slide off the lift pads and onto the arms.
Two critical errors are at play here, so it’s no wonder something went wrong. For one, note the far-left pad adapter in the distance. The lifting points for this particular vehicle require a 6″ adapter and frame cradle pad. The image, however, shows that two, 3″ adapters were stacked together, a complete violation of common sense and factory-recommended protocol. Additionally, flat pads were utilized instead of recommended frame cradle pads that are required on a vehicle of this size. Frame cradle pads prevent adapters from slipping off heavier vehicle frames. This information is all part of the basic operations guide that accompanies every two-post car lift, regardless of the manufacturer.
If you consider yourself a responsible mechanic, technician or DIYer, you know the scene pictured above is an embarrassing and haphazard setup that’s also a recipe for disaster. We’re happy to report, however, that no one was hurt as a result of negligence in this case. To reiterate, two small adapters do not replace a single large one; and as mentioned, one should never skip out on using frame cradle pads (pictured below) when they’re recommended for the vehicle one needs lifted.
By the way, the phrase “factory-recommended” is not a mere take-it-or-leave-it suggestion. Any time a manufacturer “recommends” a procedure, they are legally releasing their liability for product performance in cases of user error, negligence and/or misinterpretation of the instruction.
It goes without saying that all instruction manuals should be read front-to-back by lift operators. To speak as broad of a truth as we can, no company/manufacturer on the planet will hold themselves liable for an operator’s unsafe operation of a car lift. If you’d like to see learn more about two-post lift safety, a more technical safety guide can be found here.
Complacency, or When Common Sense becomes Uncommon*
We—as a society—rarely hear people admit to their lack of common sense, but we’ve all said at one point or another something along the lines of, “He’s a nice guy… poor fella just doesn’t have any common sense.”
We’re going to diagnose this “common sense problem” as a complacency problem. Complacency, as one business journalist for the Washington Post writes, “occurs when employees feel really comfortable with the way things are or have always been.” The worst thing that can happen to an auto mechanic is for complacency to set in around what is arguably the most dangerous and routine part of the job: lifting and lowering vehicles. There are people—having never experienced a vehicle slipping off its lift points—who will try to save a few minutes by setting vehicles by memory or feel; in other words, there are people who take (or ignore) serious risks in the name of better efficiency. The photo below shows another angle of the “double small adapter” scenario we discussed earlier; it’s the result of doing things “in the name of better efficiency.”
Even your experienced 10-year veteran mechanic can get so used to lifting and lowering vehicles a certain way that he/she skips steps in the process. Lifting vehicles by feel, trusting in one’s own experience and intuition, using eye tests and quick taps to assert safe lift pad placement, etc. are all shortcuts that result from being overly complacent in the workplace. To avoid scenes like the one above, use the factory-recommended lift points at all times and know how to properly utilize adapter sets. In other words, use your common sense.