With the Right Approach, Lifts Can Be More Than Just a Capital Expense
The right lift can make all the difference in your shop. Just having one can increase profits. If you’ve got the right lift for the service work you do, however, your profits could be even better.
I once worked in a shop where there were no lifts at all. We each had a floor jack, four stands and high-mileage, uncomfortable creepers. I dreamed of the day when I’d have the good fortune to service a car while standing. You’d be surprised how many techs out there dream of having a really good lift and how privileged they feel when they finally get one.
All of the shop owners and lift installers I spoke with for this article shared one common thread: they wanted the right lift for the right price that would provide them with the highest degree of profitability. Easy, right?
If you’re using older, outdated lifts, then you need to honestly assess your equipment and decide if upgrading is a safer, more profitable way to go. Many older lifts are in disrepair and cannot easily lift today’s larger sport utility vehicles with running boards and hard-to-find frames. Light trucks and SUVs now account for about half of all the new vehicles sold in the U.S.
If you’re building a new shop or installing a new lift, then there’s a rack out there that will satisfy your weight, servicing and price requirements.
What Do I Need in a Lift?
According to a recent Babcox Publications survey, 68% of shops own at least one surface-mounted, full-rise, two-post lift with a capacity of under 10,000 pounds. Why is this lift so popular?
"Price and ease of installation," according to shop owners. An added benefit is that you can take them with you should you move to a new location.
Does this mean that you should buy this style of lift just because they’re the most popular? No. The lift you purchase should fit your individual needs.
For example, one shop owner I spoke with chose the twin-post above-ground style because he needs to be able to store cars "stacked up" in the bay at night. He also chose these racks because he has an established shop, and says that most new shop owners prefer in-ground hoists, which he feels are easier to set-up on a large SUV or a vehicle with low running boards.
A lift specialist I spoke with, who averages a lift installation-per-day, sees a lot of shop owners and technicians who don’t know what to look for while deciding which type of lift to purchase. He says racks are often ordered that won’t physically fit in the bay.
"We have had customers order lifts and begin setting them up before realizing that they don’t have enough overhead clearance or bay length. We’ve had to modify a customer’s ceiling before," says the installer.
He also says that owners need to have foresight when buying lifts because a shop’s clients change. Make sure that you’re only servicing light vehicles if you decide on a 7,000-pound rack, and be certain that you won’t become a transmission specialist before deciding on an in-ground, center-post lift.
Another shop owner researched many brands of lifts before buying five lifts for his new service center. "I decided to go with one supplier, so if I need to deal with a warranty, I only have one call to make," he says. He also made sure that his new lifts would be able to handle large SUVs, including having all of the needed adapters.
"I discovered that if I just spent a little more money, I could move from a 7,000-pound lift to a 9,000-pound one," the owner says.
Other features to consider are extra outlets for electric tools, extra air fittings for pneumatic tools, and phone line access or Ethernet hook-up for in-bay computer use.
One manufacturer sells differing configurations of air hookups, electrical sockets and phone lines that will install right onto a lift post. This keeps techs from dragging air or power from across the shop.
One of the biggest productivity enhancements to emerge in recent years is the bringing new technology to lifts in the service bay. By automating and adding electronic control to functions that formerly required time-consuming manual operation, technicians are able to work faster, turn more vehicles and, in many cases, provide more accurate and appropriate service.
The introduction of information technology into the bay is a major step forward. The power of the microprocessor can be harnessed right at the point of service to deliver vehicle data, operation instructions, training, maintenance reminders and troubleshooting tips. Plus, many shops are putting Internet access and other forms of communication right at the fingertips of the technician.
The ultimate goal is to speed up the repair process and minimize the technician’s time away from the bay, while streamlining parts ordering, maintenance reminders and other routine functions.
A Safe Space Under the Car
In that Babcox survey, readers said that safety was one of the highest-rated areas they considered when purchasing a lift, yet a majority (about 60%) of shops stated they received little, if any, training on the operation, safety or maintenance of the lift. The average number of days of training on lift safety is 1.9, and 58% of the shops claimed to have no training.
I spoke with several shop owners who never asked for any safety training from their lift supplier, because "the use of the lift is straightforward, and I figured that my techs would know what to do."
One owner provided safety training for all of his techs after he had his new racks installed. "I just wanted to be certain that everyone was comfortable with their operation," he says, and he calls the distributor for yearly inspections of his lift, because he worries about hazards such as cable stretching.
If for some reason you cannot get safety or lift point information, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI) have what you need. Together, these two organizations produced an SAE Recommended Practice for permanent undercar identification of lift points and for car lifting point labeling. Because surface-mounted lifts are the most widely used, this manual can prevent accidents involving swing-arm type lifts.
ALI also has new standards for lift safety that require, in part, that catastrophic failure of a lift should not occur at less than three times the lift’s rated load capacity. The most common lifts are rated at 7,000 and 9,000 pounds, which means that they should support 21,000 and 27,000 pounds, respectively, without collapsing. Make certain that any lift you purchase is ALI-approved.
Should I Install the Lift Myself?
One shop owner says that he never considered installing his new lifts himself because "installation was cheap ($150 per lift) and they finished quickly." Due to the weight of the parts, most shop owners shouldn’t even consider installing them.
Regardless of who does the installation, shop owners should get their bay floor tested before adding a new lift. "Some concrete floors are not sufficiently thick enough to properly anchor and support the rack when it’s loaded," says one shop owner. Lift installers routinely test drill the floor before installing.
The lift layout can be more involved than you think, and subtle changes in lift position can really impact available floor space. A certified electrician is needed to install all electrical hookups for the lift.
An installer for a major lift manufacturer offers a few new twists to the "don’t install it yourself" theory. In addition to making sure that the concrete is thick enough, you need to make certain the PSI rating of the slab is adequate, that there aren’t seams nearby, and that there are adequate floor drains. One very interesting fact that he imparted: Racks that are installed for Mercedes-Benz dealers must be level to within one millimeter on the ground, and in the air.
On the other hand, several technicians offer a different opinion. One says he’s seen plenty of lifts that have been customer installed, and most are done wrong and quite a few others have never been finished. "I’ve seen hoists that haven’t even had the floor anchors installed," he says.
The professional installer says that it takes he and his partner about half a day to install two lifts. Most novices, he says, take a whole day, or longer, just for one. He does claim that the right person can install a lift if the directions are followed very carefully, but there are tricks to sequencing a lift that a novice doesn’t know.
Another shop owner says that after attempting to install an above-ground, twin-post unit, he "hired a guy to do the install, and gladly paid him to do the job right." The shop owner had lost and broken several parts while attempting the install.
Still another wonders if a vehicle falls due to improper installation, who is liable? "Who’ll your wife hold liable after they pull you out from under the vehicle?" he asks. The bottom line question to ask if you’re considering a do-it-yourself install: Are you willing to assume full liability for installation problems in the event of a lift failure?
No matter which lift you decide to buy, make certain that you take time to make an informed decision. Interview neighboring shops, research suppliers and quiz perspective manufacturer representatives.
You’ll soon find out who sells the right stuff, with the right warranties, and who doesn’t.