Is a Portable Lift the Right Addition for Your Shop?

Half the stuff we do to our cars is easier if the car is off the ground. Whether you’re performing major suspension surgery or simply swapping your street wheels for your track setup, getting some air between the ground and the undercarriage increases the efficiency of your wrench time.

For many folks, getting a car off the ground means using a rolling hydraulic jack and some fixed stands. This solution is portable, affordable, and just as easy to use at the track as it is at home, but it’s not ideal if your work requires frequent raising and lowering. On the other end of the spectrum, a full two-post, commercial-style lift has drawbacks of its own, including a heftier price tag, a bigger footprint and added complexity.

If you’re looking for a happy medium, we present the portable lift. These versatile pieces of equipment are versatile and use some sort of powered assist to lift and secure your car off the ground. We took an up-close look at two popular options and weighed their pros and cons.

QUICKJACK BL-5000SLX

capacity: 5000 lbs.
assist: electrical-powered hydraulic
quickjack.com 
$1416

Press a button and it goes up. Press another button and it goes down. That may oversimplify the operation of a QuickJack lift–wait, no it doesn’t. That’s pretty much exactly how simple it is, and it’s one of the reasons we love the QuickJack lineup.

Although the QuickJack is “portable,” it’s portable in about the same way that a barbecue grill is. Sure, you can theoretically load it into a trailer and take it wherever you want, but it’s not the kind of thing you can exactly toss in the trunk and toodle off with on a whim. The flipside of that equation, though, is that the QuickJack is a fairly substantial piece of hardware.

The QuickJack system consists of two separate lift platforms connected to a common hydraulic controller that raises a car using the rails under the rocker panels. We sampled the BL-5000SLX, which–as its name implies–has a 5000-pound capacity. The QuickJack lineup comprises models that lift from 3500 to 7000 pounds, so whether you’re lifting a Miata, or the truck that tows that Miata to the track, there’s an option.

Assembly is fairly easy and mostly consists of plumbing the hydraulic lines going to the individual actuators on each parallelogram-lift platform to the common actuator; getting the system filled with hydraulic fluid and bled; and syncing the action of the platforms. It’s about an hour’s work, and really the only mildly difficult part is muscling around the steel platforms. If you’re not comfortable managing bulky, 80-pound assemblies, get an assistant.

Once assembled, all this lift requires to operate is 110 volts of alternating current and a finger. The platforms slide under the car from the sides, and once lifted the individual platforms leave the center of the car clear of obstructions, making the QuickJack a great companion for undercar service.

While the QuickJack is portable, it’s not exactly a lightweight. If you take your race car to the track in an enclosed trailer and have some help to move it around, the QuickJack is a great track accessory. If you’re a solo operation, it’s worth considering how much bulk you want to transport to the track on your own.

As a shop accessory, though, the QuickJack is a fine choice. While a single person may find loading it into a truck or trailer cumbersome, moving it around a flat shop floor is not much of a challenge.

Recommendations: The QuickJack is well suited for those who want something more convenient and versatile than a jack and stands for their shop. As a track accessory, it works best in the context of a team effort. We frequently see better deals than the $1416 retail price, so shop around and you’ll likely do better than that.

AUTOLIFT3000

capacity: 6614 lbs.
assist: mechanical
autolift3000.com 
$1490

Leverage is a wonderful thing, and the Autolift3000 takes full mechanical advantage of this principal to lift and hold over 3 tons with a relatively modest layout.

The big hook of the Autolift3000 is its tilt functionality. The single lift point allows the lift pads to hinge at their center. That means the operator can rock the car back and forth, maintaining a point of contact with either the front or rear wheels while the other end of the car is hiked up in the air. It’s an approach that at first can seem gimmicky, until you realize how much additional clearance the system provides–and how it puts the cat at a favorable work angle.

Plus, the Autolift3000 uses no hydraulics, which makes it an entirely self-contained system–no hoses or cords to worry about. The device is actuated by a ½-inch electric drill fitted with a ½-inch ratchet adapter, which drives the geartrain to lift your load.

The manufacturer recommends using a corded electric drill, and the lift works great with any decent 110-volt option. However, we also used the unit with a 20-volt DeWalt cordless drill and lifted a 3000-pound VW Golf with no trouble at all. While that may be hard on your batteries, it does give the Autolift3000 an additional layer of versatility: No need to be tethered to cords or hoses.

The tilt function is also handy, and once you find the balance point of your car, you can one-handedly rock it from front to back. Or, use the accessory jack stands to suspend the entire car off the ground at any angle.

While the Autolift3000 occupies a larger footprint than the QuickJack, its much lighter weight makes it far more feasible for a lone operator to move and store. It can be rolled, carried or leaned out of the way without too much effort.

Like the QuickJack, the Autolift3000 must be slid under the car from the side. But because it’s a single unit, you’ll need access all the way across the car. So when taking into account the unit’s 3.5-inch height, make sure that space is available all the way across the width of the car.

The fact that the Autolift3000 is a single unit also means parts of its structure could block your access to certain operations under the car. For example, if you’re pulling off an exhaust, the frame of the Autolift3000 could hinder your work.

Recommendations: The simplicity, relative lightness, and freedom from power cords are all big pluses for the Autolift3000. The structure perhaps blocking your access under the car or even interfering with extremely low cars are strikes against. Don’t sleep on the tilt functionality, either. It’s not just a gimmick, but rather a highly useful feature that improves the work experience.

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Comments
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sethracer
sethracer New Reader
1/20/20 3:02 p.m.

For safety, I also bought the mechanical-style lift. I bought the EZ Car-Lift, made in California. It is also drill driven, with acme threads on the links it cannot come down, unless driven down with the drill.  This one comes apart for easy transit, and, after it is at full lift a cross link at one end can be removed, allowing most any powertrain work.  There is even an option for 4-wheels which are locked into place - but still swivel - so you can move the car around even when off the ground. Handy and safe. I choose not to go under a car when only jack-stands are holding it up (maybe).

codrus
codrus UberDork
1/20/20 4:02 p.m.
sethracer said:

For safety, I also bought the mechanical-style lift. 

FWIW, while the QuickJack is hydraulic power mechanism, it has a mechanical safety (legs that drop into place onto a safety catch) when it's all the way up.  You definitely don't crawl under it without engaging those.

(It's visible in the photo with the Fiat -- look at the black tube going at the opposite angle to the main hinged sides)

Also, the article says:

While the Autolift3000 occupies a larger footprint than the QuickJack, its much lighter weight makes it far more feasible for a lone operator to move and store

While the autolift3000 is 99 pounds (per the specs on the web site), the individual frames on the QJ 5000 are 76 with another 15 for the power unit.  So yes, the QuickJack as a whole is heavier, but you only have to pick up one piece at a time.  Also, one of the major use cases for portability is taking it to the track, and in that case I suspect the 3500 makes more sense.  It's lighter (frames are 60 lbs) and while the capacity is lower, it's enough for most track cars.

 

trigun7469
trigun7469 SuperDork
1/21/20 2:39 p.m.

I see the autolift is now $1100 on their site and Costco sells the Quickjack for $1000-$1200 on sale. I am hoping in a couple years the lower the price below the $1k mark to make it a reasonable price for as little as I might use it, but useful to have it.

_
_ Dork
1/21/20 3:12 p.m.

The only problem I have with these is that you can't access bolts and such from the side of the car. Often, that's the direction your body needs to face to have the torque you need for a bolt. Also, if you have a narrow car, there's hardly any elbow room once you're on a creeper. 

Paul_VR6
Paul_VR6 Dork
1/21/20 5:41 p.m.

Is there maybe an advertiser that sells the QJ? I just can't figure out a way to get a 2post in the garage without making someone unhappy most of the time. 

Stefan
Stefan MegaDork
1/21/20 5:47 p.m.
_ said:

The only problem I have with these is that you can't access bolts and such from the side of the car. Often, that's the direction your body needs to face to have the torque you need for a bolt. Also, if you have a narrow car, there's hardly any elbow room once you're on a creeper. 

Use them to get the car in the air, put jackstands under it and take them down in that case.

codrus
codrus UberDork
1/21/20 5:53 p.m.
Stefan said:
_ said:

The only problem I have with these is that you can't access bolts and such from the side of the car. Often, that's the direction your body needs to face to have the torque you need for a bolt. Also, if you have a narrow car, there's hardly any elbow room once you're on a creeper. 

Use them to get the car in the air, put jackstands under it and take them down in that case.

That doesn't really work with the QuickJack because the ramps are long and are usually lifting from the spots where you'd put the jackstands.

That said, back when I used my QJ regularly (I have a big lift now so I mostly don't any more) I didn't find the lack of side access to be a big deal.

 

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