Want to be your own mechanic? Here’s how to jack up a car (and do it safely)

Although summer is long since past, that doesn’t stop the dedicated car enthusiast from wrenching on his or her set of wheels, particularly if there’s a need to winterize your car. Or, let’s say you just bought a new car with the intent of undertaking some new experiences — and those experiences require you to access your car from below. Whether it’s changing the oil or changing out a flat, knowing how to jack up a car is a very beneficial skill to have.

Jacking up a car might seem daunting, but in reality, it’s a fairly simple process. It is a bit labor-intensive, though, so safety is the main priority here. Raising a giant hunk of metal and plastic that weighs several thousand pounds does present some risks. To make sure you jack up your car safely and soundly, we’ve created a handy guide on how to do it.

Why you would need to jack up your car

There are various reasons as to why you would need to jack up your car in the first place. Some of the most common reasons would be to change out a flat or to change the engine oil. Many times, lifting the car is required to access certain parts on the undercarriage (the exhaust and transmission, for example) or to remove a wheel. Either way, if you own and deal with an automobile on a regular basis, knowing how to raise your car could potentially save yourself in an emergency situation.

Before we get into the process, it’s important to go over exactly what you need.

What you will need

Outside of the car itself, you’ll need a set of tools to jack up said car, which of course means you need a jack of some sort.

Here are some of the most common types of jacks:

Alternatively, you can use a set of floor ramps. Both floor jacks and ramps can be easily purchased at your local auto parts store. They are very affordable with a set of RhinoRamps costing less than $50 while a traditional floor jack rated at three tons (6,000 lbs) can be had for around $100.

However, a jack isn’t the only item you may need. Here are some optional tools that can make the process easier:

  • Your car’s owner’s manual (to reference engine oil types or bolt torque ratings)
  • Jack stands (to add extra stability and safety)
  • Several pieces of wood capable of bearing weight, preferably 2×4 (to act as jack stands or protect your car’s underbody)
  • Cinder blocks or similar (to chalk the wheels)
  • Additional lighting equipment (to improve visibility)
  • Heavy-duty utility gloves (to protect your hands)

What to understand before jacking your car up

When jacking up a car, remember you’re dealing with a very big and heavy piece of machinery that can cause serious harm to you, others, and your possessions if it’s not done correctly. However, as long as you follow these steps, this risk of being injured is significantly minimized.

To start, it’s very crucial to get a mental idea of the concept of jacking up your car. This means you must be very attentive to how the weight of a vehicle is suspended and thus, the transfer of weight when you start raising the car at specific ends.

This consideration is also dependent on where you need to raise your vehicle. For instance, if you need to change your oil, you should be raising the car at the end where your engine sits. For most cars, it’s at the front, but in some, it’s in the middle or at the rear, like with the mid-engine Toyota MR-2. If you just need to change a tire, typically the jack point is under the doors on the bottom part of the body, in between the wheels.

Additionally, recall there are four wheels (to most vehicles) which means as your car sits in your driveway, there are four points where the vehicle’s weight is distributed. If your car weighs 4,000 lbs, dividing that by four means that there’s roughly 1,000 lbs weighing down each wheel, however the vehicle’s layout and weight distribution may vary this equation. Understanding this division of weight is also important to know for when you purchase jack stands or a floor jack.

For example, if you are trying to raise the car to get the front-left tire off, you’re going to want to only jack up one of four corners on the car. So, you can estimate that around 1,000 lbs will be weighing the jack down as you raise the car. Floor jacks and stands vary in weight capacity so it’s imperative you purchase the proper equipment meant to handle the weight of your car.