Fleets considering equipping a shop with lifting devices have many options. Which type or types of lift you choose depends on the amount of space you have to work with, the types of work you'll be doing on the lifts and how much weight you're dealing with. Part 2 of this series on Shop Lifts, "Choose the Right Lift for your Fleet" covers many of those considerations.
Vehicle weight is obviously a huge consideration, and while lifts are available in a very wide range of capacities, don't scrimp on the ratings. Over-spec'ing the lift may cost a bit more, but under-spec'ing will leave you with a lift that might not handle your heaviest jobs, which would ultimately be a more expensive mistake than over-spec'ing. Suppliers can explain the available ratings by lift type to help with selection.
But before you get your heart set on a certain type of lift, remember that inground lifts usually require some infrastructure modifications. Mobile column lifts and two-or four-post lifts mount on the surface, as can some models of platform lifts.
Rotary Lift offers a resource guide to heavy duty vehicle lifts that will help in the decision-making process. And Stertil-Koni's website offers a comprehensive listing with descriptions of all the products it offers.
In the meantime, here are some of the most common lifts, as well as the applications to which they are best suited, and some of their installation requirements.
Inground Piston Lifts
Inground lifts normally pick up the load through some contact point with the chassis or undercarriage, leaving the wheels and wheel ends accessible for service. Considering that tires, wheels, steering and brakes account for about 70% or the work done on heavy vehicles, leaving the wheels and wheel ends free is a big consideration.
Piston lifts allow the floor area to remain more or less free of hardware, so that area can be used for other purposes when the lift is not in service. The floor area also remains clear under the lift while it's up, making it easier for technicians to roll in tool boxes, transmissions jacks, etc.
Inground lifts usually have two, three or four telescopic hydraulic pistons that sit in a concrete vault or steel containment unit to prevent leaking hydraulic fluid and contaminating surrounding soil. Because these types of lifts require the floor of the facility to be opened up and a pit dug up to 10-feet-deep, they might not be the best choice for fleets renting or leasing their terminal facilities. Because of the infrastructure modifications required, this type of lift will usually have higher installations costs. Available capacities range from 64,000 to 105,000 lbs., depending on the number of pistons.
In-Ground Scissor Lift
Scissor lifts offer wheels-free lifting but use much shorter pistons, and as a result, require pits less than three feet deep, and they use much less hydraulic fluid than a full inground piston lift. While inground scissor lifts still requires some modifications to infrastructure, installation is less invasive, and the entire assembly can be relocated if the fleet decides to move. They are also relatively easy to retrofit into existing shops.
While one scissor assembly is generally fixed, the second can be moved to accommodate vehicles of different lengths.
These are available in two-, three- or four-scissor configurations, with lifting capacity ranging from 60,000 to 120,000 lbs., or about 30,000 lbs. per scissor. The chassis contact points allow for unobstructed access to the underside of the vehicle. Inground scissor lifts are usually flush-mounted, so they offer clear floor space when the lift is not in use.
Platform lifts offer drive-on, drive-off operation, quick setup time and are well-suited to high-throughput applications like quick oil changes or vehicle undercarriage inspections. Platform lifts can have a scissor lifting mechanism or a parallelogram lift. Instead of going straight up like a four-post or scissor lift, parallelogram lifts move fore and aft as they rise — requiring a little more space. The scissor-lift variation raises and lowers straight up and down.
These can be flush- or surface-mounted. The surface-mount is minimally invasive whereas the flush mount would require some modifications to the infrastructure. Either configuration takes up more floor space than a column or inground lifts, but they offer a clear space under the lift. These lifts can be fitted with jacks for wheel-end work as well as onboard lighting, air and electrical fittings.
Single platforms offer lifting capacities from 44,000 to 80,000 lbs. and can be as long as 48 feet. Using two platform lifts (up to 100 feet long and 156,000 lbs.), entire tractor-trailer combinations can be lifted, giving technicians full access to the undercarriage. The typical lifting capacity for parallelogram lifts is up to 130,000 lbs.
Two- or Four-Post Lifts
These are fixed-installation lifts that offer drive-on ramps or front and rear three-stage arms for chassis lifting. Two-post lifts are ideal for lighter-duty vehicles, with capacities of up to 12,000 lbs. per post, while heavy-duty four-post lifts can accommodate up to 132,000 lbs. in some cases. These are available in a variety of lengths and lifting capacities with adjustable runway track widths to accommodate most vehicles and they can be equipped with rolling jacks, which allow you to perform brake, tire and suspension work.
Mobile Column Lifts
Mobile column lifts are the fastest-growing category of above-ground lifts for the heavy-duty market. They consist of four or six portable columns linked by a common control circuit. They can be set up wherever the space exists, even outside; all you need is a solid flat floor and appropriate overhead clearance. A single technician can set up four to six lifts (one per wheel position) in a matter of minutes. Lifting capacities range from 14,000 to 40,000 pounds per column. most common 18,500-lb.
When not in use, column lifts can be stored out of the way, opening up space on the shop floor. They have wheel jacks similar to pallet jacks and can be re-positioned with ease. The lifts can be powered by 110-volt AC or onboard 24-V DC rechargeable batteries and can operate with cabled or wireless synchronized lifting controls, depending on the model. Most column lifts use tire cradles, but some can be configured with platforms and runways that attach to the tire cradles, effectively creating a "mobile platform lift."
Mobile column lifts are easy to use; one person can set up six column lifts and have a truck up in the air in under 10 minutes.
Lift Operation, Inspection & Maintenance
There are of course obligations and responsibilities that come with owning and operating lifting devices, which include training technicians in the correct procedures for setting up and operating lifts, good workspace hygiene and routine inspections. Suppliers can provide all the training materials as well as inspection procedures. No particular certifications are required to operate vehicle lifts.
Lifts also need to be inspected at least annually by a qualified lift inspector. The inspection standards were created by the Automotive Lift Institute, Inc. (ALI) under the auspices of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and are available in a publication called ANSI/ALI ALOIM:2008 (R2013) – “Standard for Automotive Lifts – Safety Requirements for Operation, Inspection and Maintenance.”
The easiest way to make sure you hire a qualified lift inspector is to choose an ALI Certified Lift Inspector. These individuals have been tested and found qualified to inspect any vehicle lift, regardless of age, origin or manufacturer. A searchable online directory of ALI Certified Lift Inspectors is available at www.autolift.org/find-a-certified-auto-lift-inspector/.
ALI-certified lift inspectors assess the lift, bay and shop, and provide written reports with any repair recommendations after the inspection. The inspector applies a serialized, dated and signed (with the inspector’s unique ID number) label to each lift that passes inspection, making it clear at a glance when the lift was last successfully inspected.