How to Properly Jack Up Your Truck

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How to Properly Jack Up Your Truck

Before starting work on your truck, be it something as simple as changing a tyre or more technical work, such as changing an exhaust or working on the suspension, it is vitally important that you make sure your vehicle is safe and not likely to fall while you are underneath it. Over the years, there have been many accidents as trucks fell on their owners or innocent bystanders, but with a little knowledge of where the jacking points are and the correct way to jack up a truck, you stand the best possible chance of safely completing the job.

Horror stories abound of mechanics crushed by trucks as their jacks collapsed, and of youngsters being pinned under cars after they went under to retrieve a toy, but this really need not happen. A little care, thought, and attention paid to where vehicle is parked and where the jack should go can help prevent these potentially tragic accidents.

Jacking in a Safe Area

Before considering jacking up your truck, think about where the truck will be jacked. Most importantly, the surface should be as hard as possible, and it should be as flat as possible. Trying to jack up a truck on sloping ground can be a recipe for disaster. Ideally, the ground should be flat concrete that is smooth and even.

Finding Different Types of Jacks

There are different types of jack available, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Some jacks are vehicle-specific, only fitting one type or model of vehicle, whilst others are more generic, and suitable for most kinds of trucks.

Using a Mechanical Jack

A mechanical jack is usually operated by turning the thread of a screw, which by leverage then lifts the jack and hence the vehicle. It can be either a scissor jack or may be a simple thread jack that lifts the truck by an arm that is linked to the thread. This is often supplied with a new vehicle, and generally is not to be trusted for working under for extended periods, as it is prone to either collapse or fall over, particularly if the surface is sloping or uneven. It can usually only lift a relatively light truck.

Using a Bottle Jack

A bottle jack is usually much more preferable to a mechanical jack. This type works by compressing a hydraulic fluid which expands a cylinder, thus lifting the vehicle. The drawbacks of a bottle jack are that it can be prone to falling over, and also the range of lift is generally limited. This can be worked around by the judicious use of blocks under the vehicle's chassis and under the jack itself, but this takes time and patience. If the truck owner is stuck by the side of the road, trying to change a tyre when it is dark and raining, then this arrangement is often not ideal.

Using a Four-Wheeled Trolley Jack

A trolley jack is by far the most popular choice for a professional garage. It has a much higher lift capability than a bottle or mechanical jack, and is much more stable, particularly on uneven ground. It is hydraulic in operation, lifting by means of a long handle which must be pumped up and down to fill a cylinder with hydraulic fluid to lift. Releasing the vehicle is a simple matter of turning the handle counterclockwise, and the jack slowly releases.

A garage trolley jack normally has three or even four wheels set widely apart which help spread the load and make it much more stable in use. The downside is that it is usually much larger than a conventional jack, and therefore takes up more room in a cab or boot. Trolley jacks are also considerably more expensive than other jacks.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Various Types of Jacks

Below is a chart showing the main types of jacks and their advantages and disadvantages. While this is not exhaustive, it should give the jack operator a brief idea of the various types.

Type of Jack

Advantages

Disadvantages

Scissor Jack

Small, light, and inexpensive

Easy to stow in a vehicle

Unable to lift heavy loads

Can be dangerous under heavy loads

Bottle jack

Small, light, and inexpensive

Easy to stow in a vehicle

Safer than a scissor jack

Has a small base surface area, therefore liable to fall over unless ground beneath is entirely flat and level

Trolley Jack

Able to lift larger, heavier loads

Stable

Large size makes it mostly unsuitable for carrying in a cab

When choosing a type of jack for your truck, of paramount importance is that of safety. Saving a few pounds on a cheaper, inferior jack may well prove to be a painful mistake.

Using the Correct Lighting

It is essential that you should only jack your truck up if there is adequate lighting on hand. If this is outdoors and the day is sunny, then so much the better, but if indoors, you should make sure you have plenty of light available. There are many inspection torches and lighting systems for garages and mechanics on the market, and if you do not already own one, then one or more of these would be a very wise investment.

By its very nature, the underside of a truck is black with oil and general road detritus covering the area you wish to work on, so the more light you have available the better. While it is common for a mechanic to complain that he cannot see, it is very rare for one to complain that it is too bright.

Jacking in the Correct Place on the Truck

If the user is merely changing a truck tyre, then the use of the manufacturer-supplied jack is advised, and often there are jack points on the body to accommodate it. These are normally found immediately behind the front wheels or immediately in front of the rear wheels. There is usually a rubber grommet to remove, revealing a hole that is the exact shape of the lifting point of the jack.

When changing a tyre in this fashion, it is important to note that as the jack lifts the truck, the suspension drops down considerably. You should be aware that even though the jack seems to be lifting, the wheel is not lifting. In this situation, you should keep jacking, and the wheel eventually lifts.

Spreading the Load

When jacking a truck, especially if it is fully laden and you are just changing a tyre, you should always be aware of just where the jack is positioned in relation to the truck. If you are jacking using the manufacturer-supplied jack in one of the jack mounting holes, then this should not be an issue, but if you are jacking elsewhere on the vehicle, this might be a problem.

Because modern vehicles tend to be of monocoque construction, with no discernible chassis to speak of, it can be difficult to know exactly where on the body of the truck it is safe to use the jack, for fear of the jack punching a hole through the floor of the cab, for example. If you are at all unsure as to a safe place to jack from, then you should use a load spreader. This can be something as simple as a length of 2-by-4-inch wood placed over the top of the jack, between it and the bodywork. By doing this, it greatly reduces the stress on any given part of the underside of the truck, but also means that you do not have to have the jack set so high to achieve the desired result.

Using Axle Stands

Though not essential for jacking a truck, especially at the roadside whilst changing a tyre, axle stands are indispensable when carrying out major work on your truck in your garage. Many mechanics, both amateur and professional, jack up one corner of the vehicle, pop an axle stand under the axle, then lower the truck onto it. This then leaves the jack free to raise other corners in a likewise manner.

Axle stands are usually cheap to buy, and often have a pegging system whereby they can be set to various heights, depending on the work to be carried out. As with a jack, attention must be paid to the surface on which the axle stand must rest. Usually the harder the surface, the better, because like smaller jacks, axle stands tend to have a low standing surface area. This lower area makes them more prone to sink into soft or uneven earth or tarmac.

Buying a Truck Jack from eBay

When choosing a jack suitable for a truck on eBay, probably the most important thing to consider is the safe lifting load of the jack. This should be nearly double the weight of your truck, or at least 50 per cent over the gross vehicle weight when fully laden, whichever is higher. While smaller, lighter, jacks may be cheaper, as with any tool purchase, it is always best to go for the most expensive that you can afford.

After considering the maximum weight the jack must handle, you must then consider which type of jack you require. Once you have decided exactly what you want, your eBay search can commence. Go to the home page or any page within the site and type in what you are looking for, such as "bottle jack" or "trolley jack". Also important, given that there are many different jacks available from a whole range of sellers, is to make sure you spend enough time browsing through all that eBay has to offer.

Conclusion

When attempting to lift a truck which may weigh many tonnes, the first and most important consideration must always be that of safety, particularly if you are planning to get under the truck to perform a job whilst it is jacked up. Questions must be asked as to whether the jack can handle the weight of the truck, even if it is unladen.

From there, you must see if you need axle stands. These not only improve the safety of a truck in the air, but also free up the jack for other tasks. You should also consider just where you are jacking onto on the truck itself. If it is some area of the floor that is not well strengthened, then the use of pieces of wood or other material should be considered to spread the load. Also consider the amount of light you need to easily accomplish the job, as there is nothing worse than having to work in the dark on a difficult, often fiddly job.

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