Working under your car or truck is a must in every mechanic’s life. Brake jobs, suspension work, and even simple engine or transmission oil changes can all be done in the comfort of your driveway or garage with the right lifting tools and a good mechanic’s tool set. For any of these projects, lifting and supporting the vehicle safely is going to be the first step before you can start wrenching. One question we are often asked is whether it is preferable to use a floor jack and jack stands versus using a set of car ramps. In this article, we compare using car ramps versus a floor jack and jack stands to help you decide which lifting and support tools are best for you.
Car ramps are an easy way to lift your vehicle to perform basic maintenance. Simply place them in front of your tires and drive up the ramps until your wheel settles in the detent to indicate you’re at the maximum height. Ramps don’t require you to crawl under the vehicle to place them in the correct position, they are lightweight enough to carry around the garage without much effort, and they are easy to stack and store out of the way when not in use. An additional benefit is that they tend to spread pressure more effectively than a floor jack and jack stands so they can adapt to a wider variety of surfaces (although you should always exercise good judgment and common sense when deciding where to work on your car). A final advantage is that car ramps are often plastic and don’t contain moving parts, so they tend to last an extremely long time as there aren’t really any items to wear or rust.
While car ramps are easy to use, they can cost more than a simple floor jack and jack stands and they do require that the wheels and tires stay on the vehicle during service work being performed. If you require working with the wheels off, car ramps don’t offer the same access potential. This more or less precludes you from working on your suspension or brakes, but pretty much everything else is fair game.
Floor Jack & Jack Stands
Floor jacks and jack stands have been around for decades and are arguably the most conventional method to lift your vehicle and support it for service. As long as you understand where the jack points are on your vehicle, floor jacks and jack stands are very easy to use correctly. You can independently raise and lower each of the four corners of your car. Similarly, they allow for variable placement under the vehicle which means you have more flexibility when it comes to leaving yourself ample room to work whereas your only choice with ramps is to position them under the wheels. Floor jacks and jack stands also offer more flexibility in terms of lift height and can often allow you to raise your car higher than car ramps as the ramps tend to peak out at a relatively low height compared to jacks.
The use of a floor jack is pretty simple whether you’re using a bottle jack, rolling floor jack, or a scissor lift. Perhaps one down side is that you do have to have some awareness when it comes to lift points otherwise you can potentially risk creating a dangerous situation when using a jack and jack stands. Floor jacks and jack stands also require a little bit more space to use as you need clearance for the handle as you actuate the jack, which means you need at least a few feet of clearance on the side of the car that you intend to operate the jack from.
The differences between car ramps versus a floor jack with jack stands comes down to your needs as a mechanic. If you favor convenience, have limited space, and tend to outsource your brake work and suspension work on your vehicle, then car ramps are a great choice. If you favor more height and positional flexibility with lower cost at the expense of a little extra time to get your vehicle off the ground, then a floor jack and jack stands make an ideal choice. Either way you can’t go wrong, but depending on your needs one lifting system may stand out as being the better choice for your application. Happy wrenching!