Auto Lifts Buyer's Guide
Types of auto lifts: 2 or 4-post auto lifts and more
Table of Contents
There are several basic types of auto lifts on the market: 2-post, 4-post, in-ground, parallelogram, scissor lift, and more. If most of your business involves passenger cars and light trucks, you'll probably choose between the 2- and 4- post models.
2-post auto lifts
The most common type of car lift is the 2-post lift. Using two vertical columns and adjustable stabilizing arms, 2-post lifts can handle many sizes of cars and trucks, while taking up a minimum amount of valuable shop space.
2-post lifts are available in both symmetrical and asymmetrical designs. In symmetrical designs, the two posts face directly towards each other, with their arms extending equally forward and back. This puts the vehicle's center of gravity directly between the two posts (50%-50%). In asymmetrical designs, the posts are rotated, moving the center of gravity forward (30%-70%).
The main reason to choose one or the other is for access to the interior of the vehicle you're working on. By moving the center of gravity, asymmetrical lifts usually make it easier to access the front doors of passenger cars and reduce the potential for door damage. On the other hand, symmetrical lifts are better for working on trucks with significant weight in the rear, and usually provide sufficient access to truck or van doors. Using some asymmetrical lifts to lift vans or trucks might void the warranty of the lift. Please check the details of your specific warranty.
Both types of 2-post lifts work with most light vehicles, so there's no absolute right or wrong answer. Pick the lift that matches the majority of the vehicles you service, and consider getting both types if you're buying more than one.
4-post auto lifts
4-post lifts usually offer higher capacities than similar 2-post lifts, thanks to twice as many supporting columns. They're also "drive on" lifts: instead of parking the vehicle then positioning the lifting arms, you simply drive the car onto the lift platform. In high-throughput operations - quick lube stations, for example - this can be a big time-saver.
4-post lifts are also a popular choice for buyers who want to store a car or truck on the lift. They feel more stable, and the steel platform provides additional storage space.
In-ground auto lifts
In-ground lifts are a popular choice for larger shops, especially for the service departments at car dealerships or rental agencies. When not in use, the entire lift is below ground, out of the way, providing clear floor space.
Not only do in-ground lifts provide more floor space for parking cars overnight, they also reduce nicks and dents and other side effects of overcrowding, and generally make the service area look less cluttered. The additional space will cost you, though: you can expect to pay around twice as much for an in-ground lift as you would for a similar capacity 2-post lift.
In the past, in-ground lifts got a bad rap for being environmentally unsound. Older models had a tendency to leak oil. Because they were below ground, the oil would contaminate the ground water, and leaks were difficult to detect and repair. Modern in-ground lifts solve that problem thanks to a capsule that encases the entire device. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates a solid leak barrier around any lift installed underground.
Other types of auto lifts
Parallelogram and scissor auto lifts are the most popular ultra-high capacity lifts. These drive-on lifts take up much more floor space and are more expensive than either 2- or 4-post lifts - but they give you the capacity to work on box trucks, buses, and other heavy vehicles.