Choosing the best car jack for your application can be a challenge. One common question that a lot of mechanics ask is whether a bottle jack or a floor jack makes more sense for the type of work that they do. While the bottle jack versus floor jack debate may seem complicated at first, it’s actually a pretty easy decision once you figure out the strengths and weaknesses of each.
When compared to bottle jacks, floor jacks have a few strengths. One of the most noticeable strengths that a floor jack has is that it is typically more portable than a bottle jack. This is due to the fact that most floor jacks have casters which allow you to roll the jack around, where as bottle jacks do not typically sport this feature. This means that positioning a floor jack is significantly easier as you don’t have to constantly list the weight of the jack when trying to line it up with your car’s jack points.
Another advantage to floor jacks is that they tend to be low profile. Floor jacks tend to sit low to the ground, which allows you to place them under cars that sit low to the ground. There are even some jacks, often referred to as low profile jacks or racing jacks, that are extremely low and can fit under cars with lowered suspensions such as track cars.
The disadvantages to floor jacks are they have a larger footprint than a bottle jack of similar capacity. This means if you are working in tight spaces, you will have to maneuver your floor jack a little bit more to give yourself the clearance to operate the handle. Another challenge with even the best floor jacks is that they have an upper range in height due to their low profile, so if you have an extremely high car such as a lifted truck, they might not have the required maximum height to get your vehicle up in the air.
Unlike floor jacks which mount their hydraulic cylinder horizontally to minimize retracted height, a bottle jack mounts the cylinder vertically. Because of the orientation of the cylinder, the mechanical advantage for floor jacks isn’t quite as favorable as it is in bottle jacks, which in other words means that for a similarly sized hydraulic cylinder, bottle jacks can lift higher weight capacity. In other words, bottle jacks some in smaller packages. Because of this difference, bottle jacks have certain advantages and disadvantages.
Versus a floor jack, the bottle jack has a much smaller footprint. As such, they make ideal candidates for working in small spaces, such as one car garages where a floor jack handle might hit the wall as you are trying to lift your car.
Another advantage to bottle jacks is the value when it comes to capacity. Due to the fact that bottle jacks get more lifting capacity out of the same size hydraulic cylinder versus a normal floor jack, they tend to be significantly cheaper compared to similar capacity floor jacks. The tradeoff here is that to get higher capacity with a vertical cylinder orientation, even the best bottle jacks have a much higher maximum height but also a much higher minimum height. As such, bottle jacks are ideal for tall vehicles such as trucks or SUVs but are unlikely to fit underneath the average economy car.
When you break down the advantages and disadvantages of each type of floor jack, the answer to the question of bottle jacks versus floor jacks becomes pretty easy to answer. If you can’t decide, in our opinion the biggest consideration is the height difference, and as such we typically recommend bottle jacks for people with cars with high ground clearance and floor jacks for people who have cars with low ground clearance. If you are still trying to choose a car jack after reading this article, take a look at our guide to the best floor jacks for some more info and options. Happy wrenching!