High lift jacks are often marketed as the universal tool for off roading, they fulfil a multitude of uses, and make many claims for their benefits, and none for the requirements needed to use them, and their potential dangers to users and bystanders. In this article we will look at vehicular requirements, the flexibilities they possess for off road users, as well as the dangers they pose for the inexperienced user, and if they are a suitable purchase for many of us.
High lift jacks come in many guises, and are manufactured and marketed by many people, many of the older established brands are commonly called Hi Lift Jacks, these are also marketed as farm jacks to avoid legal or trademark infringements. Hi lift jacks operate on a two way mechanical ratchet system, this means a handle is inserted and they convert mechanical power to lift or lower a load, this means with many of the numerous attachments they can push or pull a load at any angle. This means for off roading they may be used for jacking a vehicle, or with these attachments, used for recovering stuck or bogged vehicles, they can also be used for removing obstacles such as fallen trees, or other heavy obstacles which impede our progress.
Hi lift jacks come in a variety of sizes and load capacities, these are generally 36”, 48”, and 60” long; and lifting weights from 2 tonnes upwards; quality of these jacks varies enormously, essentially it’s a case of the more you pay, the better the jack. When used for pulling applications the jacks lifting weight is generally doubled, a 2 tonne lifting capacity jack will pull 4 tonnes, it is essential to know the exact specifications as any accessories will need to be rated higher than this capacity.
Many people buy them based only on the marketing blurb, only to find they cannot use them to jack their off road vehicle, this is because they have to have a modified vehicle to allow the top foot of the jack to enter, they cannot be used on unmodified vehicles. This means vehicle modifications, the top foot of the jack has to have something solid to enter, this is usually aftermarket bumpers front and rear, or rock sliders on modified vehicles, and something substantial which is capable of carrying the vehicles full weight. Most people do not find this out until they are stuck, then it is too late to find out that their new purchase is worthless, particularly if they do not have the accessories and other kit required to use the pulling facilities, then the problems become very real.
Many aftermarket equipment suppliers, particularly manufacturers of bumpers and rock sliders realise these problems and usually offer variants with substantial pockets or slots cut out to accept Hi Lift jacks. These cost a little more due to the additional work and strengthening required with their products, in coping with the full weight of a vehicle. Jack manufacturers suppliers also realise this problem and provide optional attachments for the most popular vehicles, these are bolt on adaptors for a number of vehicles; this is fine in the UK if you have a Land Rover, but no other UK vehicle is served by these accessories.
Bolt on adaptors are available for a number of vehicles, these bolt directly to the vehicles chassis, but these only fit a smaller number of vehicles and limit lifting to the front or rear of a vehicle as this is the only point to which they can be bolted. Aftermarket suppliers also supply a number of bolt on adaptors, serious issues have been raised about the quality of the products, and their failure to thoroughly test them for the loads they will have to lift, and most are woefully inadequate on load capacity.
Hi lift jacks have another flaw, this is that to lower a load it must have a minimum weight on its foot to allow the mechanism to operate, if the weight of the load is below this minimum operating weight the jack mechanism cannot be operated. This is a consideration where lighter loads are lowered, or in pulling applications, it is important to select a jack with the lowest minimum operating load for the mechanism.
Hi lift jacks can be dangerous if inexperienced users use these without being aware of the problems, the main problem is the height they can lift, and the relatively small base of the jack. Jacks are unstable which means it is easy for a vehicle to easily tip sideways or forwards and backwards; and their small footprint renders them even more unstable on undulating, uneven, or soft ground. This method of tipping a jacked vehicle sideways is also a useful recovery method for removing stuck vehicles; it has been adopted for lifting the front or rear of the vehicle which is bellied, then tipping the entire vehicle sideways onto higher ground, out of the ruts
This instability needs to be highlighted due to the large numbers of people seriously injured or killed while using them, these numbers are rising with the increasing popularity of these jacks and the HSE have proposed banning them due to these statistics. This risk is obviously a very real risk if the Health and safety Executive are looking at such proposals.
Maintaining a Hi lift jack is essential, most require nothing more than cleaning and a little lubrication, and periodic replacement of moving parts, and wearing parts; so it is essential that a model is purchased where spares are available.
Buying a Hi Lift Jack
Before buying a jack you will need to consider what you need from a jack, is it purely for lifting bogged vehicles, or will it be used for pulling, pushing, and spreading; when you have decided you can select the model which best fulfils these criteria.
Forget second hand, many second hand models are abused, damaged, or worn; by the time you purchase one you will find it needs refurbishing, this means a repair kit is required, more expense, this also assumes that repair kits are available for your model. Many jacks are sold purely because they are worn and spares are not available for that particular make or model.
These additional costs often add up to more than the cost of a new jack with a manufacturers warranty and full instructions; if a model is purchased where spares are not available it is a total waste of money
Are the accessories available to convert your jack to fulfil the additional operations such as pulling or spreading, many need a number of accessories to fulfil these duties, other models may not need these accessories, or as many accessories. It is a matter of doing a little research to compare different makes and models to find the cheapest option for your requirements.
Will it fit your vehicle? If it is a modified vehicle with an appropriate front and rear bumper, and suitable rock sliders, will the foot of the jack fit them; a simple question but one which is overlooked. Different accessories have different sized cut outs for different makes or sizes of jack feet, it is a more common problem than most people realise as many accessory suppliers want to sell you the product they sell, rather than a competitors make.
Length is an important consideration, many believe 48” is the optimum size; this is Bourne out by experience where all the functions are utilised, storage is another issue as anything longer cannot be easily stored inside a vehicle as often they are too long. Longer models are better if they are used purely for pulling out bogged vehicles, the longer length means less dismantling and re-rigging, but storage is again, the main consideration. Shorter models may be better if only the jacking function is utilised, but depends upon the type of terrain or conditions you intend using the jack in, if it is soft ground it can easily sink a considerable distance before finding a solid surface, thus losing jacking height.
If a course is available from the supplier or manufacturer, it is worth the money to learn how to operate the jack safely, this may potentially save your life, and you will learn much more about your new purchases abilities and capabilities.