If you’re entertaining the idea of building a DIY lift, this article is for you. There are two different kinds of DIY car lifts:
- Fabricated steel lifts built with the best of intentions.
- Lifts that use a combination of inexpensive tools to get a car in the air.
Let’s talk about both types of DIY car lifts and why it’s a good idea to approach either project with caution.
Fabricating Your Own Steel Car Lift
Do you have some steel fabrication knowledge and experience? Building something like a vehicle lift from scratch is a tempting idea. Take some steel, fabricate something, and have a nice little vehicle lift for personal use. There are some examples of people building lifts of their own this way, and you can find pictures and even plans online.
But here’s the thing: when it comes to vehicle lifts, safety and cost are usually related. If you build an inexpensive steel lift without sufficient strength or stability, it will be cheap but not very safe. If you build something with lots of extra support and excellent strength, it will cost you almost as much as a brand new lift. And, and the new lift would be:
- Guaranteed to support a vehicle safely.
- Expected to last a while (or forever if you get a Kwik-Lift).
- Backed by a warranty.
This isn’t to say that a person with sufficient skill and time can’t fabricate a great vehicle lift for themselves. It’s just to point out that, as a lift manufacturer for more than 20 years, we’ve seen a lot of home garage lift manufacturers come and go. Most of the lift companies that have gone out of business came up with designs that were either:
- Difficult to use.
- Or all of the above.
And it’s not as if these companies were fly-by-night operations backed by inexperienced people. Name brand commercial lift manufacturers have tried to offer vehicle lifts for home garage use, and most of them have failed. Even today, a name brand lift manufacturer is offering an entry level hydraulic lift that – while cleverly marketed – has a lot of severe limitations.
Basically, building a safe and easy to use steel lift cheaply is hard. If you set out to build something like the Kwik-Lift, odds are good you’d end up with a lift that cost roughly the same to build as our product. But without all the nice little features that make our lift so easy to use.
DIY Car Lifts That Use Ramps and Wheel Stands
Another type of DIY lift is made using a combination of ramps, wheel stands, and jack stands. There are a couple of positives:
- You can often buy all the ramps and parts you need for a few hundred dollars.
- Assuming you buy good quality products, you can rest assured that your vehicle is safely in the air.
However, there are a couple of negatives – time and lift height.
- Time – Putting a car in the air using ramps, jack stands, and wheel stands (or wheel cribs) can take a while. It looks like it should only take 15 minutes, but many people tell us that they can spend 30 to 60 minutes just getting the car in the air. Let’s say you only have a Saturday to work on your car. If you have to spend an hour or so just getting your car on and off the wheel stands, that cuts into your time pretty severely. Anyone that’s done this process more than a couple of times will tell you that it’s tedious.
- Lift Height – Most store bought wheel stands or ramps only raise a car about 10 inches. That might be ok for an oil change. But if you’re looking at replacing a clutch or a starter motor, 10 inches of lift will feel pretty cramped. It’s even hard to use a creeper with only 10 inches of lift. Some people build towers of wooden blocks to lift a car higher, but wooden blocks are nowhere near as safe as steel.
If you want a DIY car lift, you can probably buy some ramps and wheel stands to get your car off the ground. But it will take a lot of time to raise and lower your car, and the car won’t be very high in the air when you’re done.
If you’ve got some fabrication experience and all the right tools, you can build a ramp of your own. But if you take the time to fabricate a ramp that’s safe and stable, you’re probably going to spend a lot of money on steel. And you’ll invest a considerable amount of time too. Odds are good you could simply buy a Kwik-Lift for a little bit more and save yourself a lot of labor.
Everyone at Kwik-Lift is a big fan of doing things ourselves. That’s why Kwik-Lift was started after all. But we think a DIY car lift probably isn’t the best idea. There are some trade-offs in terms of time, money, and safety that likely aren’t worth it.