Whether you have lifts in your shop or not, here are some factors to consider before purchasing a lift or when determining whether the lift you have is right for your needs.

There’s no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to shop lifts. This Skylift from Stertil-Koni is a heavy-duty platform lift that provides a clear floor concept for the user.

There’s no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to shop lifts. This Skylift from Stertil-Koni is a heavy-duty platform lift that provides a clear floor concept for the user.

1. One size does not fit all

A common misconception is that a lift is a lift is a lift is a lift. Nothing could be further from the truth. In-ground, pit, two-post surface, four-post surface, parallelogram or mobile column, no lift is perfect for every application. Each lift has its features, benefits and associated costs.

According to Steve Perlstein, sales manager at Mohawk Lifts, lift prices can range from $15,000 to $100,000 depending on the type of lift purchased.

The type of lift you need depends on a number of factors, including whether you own or lease your building, how much room you have, lifting capacity needs and the type of repairs you perform.

Because some lifts need to be anchored to the foundation or require some other modification to the building, if you are leasing your shop, some types of lifts may not be an option, explains Peter Bowers, technical sales support manager for Stertil-Koni. In that case, a mobile column lift may be the answer.

Most lift manufacturers offer design services to customers to help ensure the lift will work in the space they have. “The last thing anybody wants is to order a 30-foot-long drive-on lift only to discover once it has been delivered that the bay is only 25 feet long,” Perlstein says.

Doug Spiller, heavy-duty product manager for Rotary Lift, explains what some of the types of lifts are best suited for. “In general, four-post lifts are a good option for alignments, quick lubes and preventive maintenance. For heavier repair, I believe in-ground lifts and mobile column lifts with jack stands are a good option.” In-ground lifts provide more clearance and more height options, while mobile column lifts offer a great deal of flexibility and are suited for major overhauls.

“If the majority of your repairs involve steering, brake and suspension systems, then you usually are helped by having a wheels-free lift,” Bowers says.

2. They can be technician magnets

With the technician shortage, even a small thing can mean the difference in attracting qualified technicians.

While you might not think of a lift as being another selling point for your shop, lifts allow technicians to stand under vehicles they are working on, rather than lying on their backs on creepers while rainwater or slush drip down on them.

Because some lifts require modification to the building, if you are leasing your shop, a mobile column lift like this one from Mohawk may be a good option.

Because some lifts require modification to the building, if you are leasing your shop, a mobile column lift like this one from Mohawk may be a good option.

“Every one likes to work in a clean, healthy and safe work environment,” Spiller says, “and lifts provide that cleaner, safer environment.”

He adds, “Technicians have their pick of places to work. Ask yourself: Do they want to work at Bob’s Garage, which is still using floor jacks? Or do they want work in your shop where they can stand up to work and where there is a concern for safety?”

Bowers hammers home that point: “The [technician] employment market is very, very competitive. The employer who offers an environment that includes the latest and safest machinery in combination with a benefits package will be the one to get the best possible technicians. Lifts are part of that perceived safe environment.”

3. Lifts can improve productivity

Lifts can help technicians be more productive. “Speed in the shop is very important,” Perlstein says, “because the longer the technicians have the vehicle tied up in the shop, the less money that truck is making for the fleet.”

Drive-on lifts in particular allow the technician to begin working on the truck with the push of a button once the truck has driven onto the lift.

Bowers explains that lifts reduce the time it takes to make a repair simply because the technician is standing on his feet.

“It is easier and faster to do work when you can come and go from your tool box standing up rather than having to get off your knees or off your back on a regular basis.”

He adds, “All this adds to the fleet shop’s bottom line.”

A lift, especially one with lights, will also allow your technicians a better view of the entire underside of the truck, which may allow them to catch a problem in the early stages, Perlstein points out, preventing a breakdown on the road or a failed inspection.

4. They can be green

Many fleets are looking at ways to make their shop operations more environmentally friendly, and lift manufacturers are striving to make their products greener. “Customers want to makes sure the lifts they install today have the least amount of fluid possible, that they are using renewable recycled materials and that they are going to be safe for the environment,” Spiller says.

Fluid containment is especially a concern with pit lifts, but many lift manufacturers are making pit lifts with containment options that will capture fluids, and some lifts are also now operating with bio-fluids that can last 25 years.

“At this point everybody is doing what they can to make sure that today’s lift is much greener than the lift of yesteryear,” he adds. In the past, lifts routinely used 55 gallons of hydraulic fluid per post, but today’s lifts are using closer to 3 gallons per post.

5. Train and inspect

Before any technician touches a lift, he or she should be trained on the proper way to use the lift. All technicians need to be retrained on lift operation each year.

“OSHA has started cracking down on this type of thing,” Spiller says. “They are looking to see if you have communicated to your people about stored energy and about safe operating procedures.”

Make sure you document your employee training efforts so that if you are subjected to an OSHA inspection you can provide written proof that all employees are up to date on their training.

In addition to training technicians on lift operation, you also need to ensure that lifts are inspected on a regular basis, at least annually. In May, ALI launched a lift inspector certification program under which lift inspections are conducted by qualified individuals in compliance with the ANSI National Standard covering vehicle lift operation, inspection and maintenance.

In-ground lifts, like this one from Rotary Lift, provide more clearance and more height options.

In-ground lifts, like this one from Rotary Lift, provide more clearance and more height options.

In order to qualify, an inspector must have an understanding of automotive lifts and electrical, mechanical and pneumatic systems, Bob O’Gorman, ALI president, explains.

6. Certification is important

To help ensure that lifts meet certain performance and safety standards, the Automotive Lift Institute has instituted a certification program.

“Regardless of where the lift is manufactured, the manufacturer makes an application for certification to ALI,” explains O’Gorman.

Manufacturers then must provide drawings, stress calculations and a list of materials used in making the lift.

Products are then evaluated for performance to the national consensus standards for electrical and mechanical safety. Only those products that meet the standards receive the ALI “gold mark.”

Prior to granting the certification, the factory also is audited for ongoing quality control to make sure the product is consistent and that there are systems in place to handle customer complaints.

“What lift certification means in a nutshell is that for every certified lift I sell, the end user does not just have to rely on what I say in my sales literature, but can be assured that a third party has conducted mechanical, electrical and load testing on that lift,” Bowers says. 

Other shop equipment to consider

While lifts can be a valuable asset in your shop, there are other types of equipment you may want to consider purchasing.

The following information is from the Equipment and Tool Institute and represents some of their recommendations. For a detailed list of equipment that makes sense in a heavy-duty truck shop, go to www.etools.org.

• Engine Performance Test Equipment: compression gauges, digital multimeter, digital storage oscilloscopes, dynamometer test systems, emissions program equipment, engine analyzer, gas analyzer, fuel evaporative tester, fuel injector cleaning equipment, fuel pressure tester, ignition timing light, scan tools, tachometer.
• Environmental & Shop Safety: brake cleaning, glycol recycling systems, parts cleaner/degreaser, waste oil heater.
• Safety Inspection/General Service Equipment: air compressor, battery charger, engine stands, floor jacks, hand tools and measurement gauges, headlight aimer, hoist for engines and transmissions, jack stands, lube equipment, specialty tools.
• Wheel Service Equipment: ABS test equipment, alignment equipment, brake lathe, brake testing machine, power tools, tire changer, wheel balancers.
• Heating & Air Conditioning Equipment: antifreeze tester, glycol recovery equipment, pressure testers, refrigerant identifier system, refrigerant leak detector, refrigerant recovery equipment, refrigerant recycler/recharger, vacuum leak detectors.
• Hand & Power Tools: air chisel, bolt cutter, die grinder, extensions, feeler gauge, hammers, hex keys, impact hammer, impact wrench, pliers, pullers, punches and chisels, ratchets, screwdrivers, sockets, torque wrench, wire stripper/cutter, wrenches.

About the author
Denise Rondini

Denise Rondini

Aftermarket Contributing Editor

A respected freelance writer, Denise Rondini has covered the aftermarket and dealer parts and service issues for decades. She now writes regularly about those issues exclusively for Heavy Duty Trucking, with information and insight to help fleet managers make smart parts and service decisions, through a monthly column and maintenance features.

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