If you’re in the market for a car jack, chances are that you have considered both a hydraulic jack and a scissor jack. While the best floor jack type for your needs may not be immediately obvious, these two types of jacks are distinctly different and both have different advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we will break these tradeoffs down for you.
Scissor jacks are mechanical jacks that operate with the help of a lead screw. You simply tighten the screw to draw the linkages together to raise the jack and loosen the screw to move the linkages apart to lower the jack.
Scissor jacks have a couple advantages versus a hydraulic floor jack. The first is that they have an extremely small footprint, which makes them easily portable. They are often small enough to fit in your trunk, which is why people often get one to stick in their spare tire well. Another advantage is that they are relatively light weight. This means that they are easy to transport and place under your vehicle when you are in a pinch, such as when you are on the side of the road replacing a flat tire with a spare.
While scissor jacks do have some advantages versus conventional hydraulic jacks, they also have some disadvantages. The first is that they are very slow to use as you have to turn the screw quite a few times to get any meaningful height out of them. While this makes them better than no jack on the side of the road, it makes them relatively untenable for regular use in the garage. Second, as they relate to cars they tend to be relatively light duty so if you have an extremely heavy vehicle then they may not make the best choice.
Hydraulic Floor Jacks
If the advantages of a scissor jack don’t sound that great and the negatives sound like they might infuriate you, a hydraulic jack is likely the answer that you are looking for. Hydraulic jacks use a hydraulic ram to offer you the mechanical advantage to lift your car. This typically means pumping a handle to increase hydraulic pressure which raises the jack. Lowering is typically accomplished by turning the handle counter-clockwise to open the valve to reduce pressure and lower your jack.
The biggest advantage to hydraulic jacks versus scissor jacks is their speed. While a scissor jack may take you 3 or 4 minutes to raise completely, a hydraulic jack can be raised to maximum height in a matter of seconds with just a few pumps of the handle. Lowering a hydraulic jack offers a similar speed advantage. Another advantage is that hydraulic floor jacks tend to have higher capacities on average than scissor jacks. They also have mobility advantages such as casters that let you roll them around on the floor rather than straining your back.
Hydraulic jacks come with tradeoffs, just like scissor jacks. Perhaps the biggest tradeoff is size. Versus a scissor jack, hydraulic floor jacks tend to be larger which makes them less ideal candidates to keep in your car trunk in case of emergency. They are also heavy, often weighing in excess of 50 pounds which makes lugging them around especially cumbersome. Finally, they have hydraulic fluid which is prone to leak and can sometimes require more maintenance than a comparable scissor jack. This means that they can be messy (although it’s important to note that scissor jacks can sometimes have grease on the lead screw so they aren’t impervious to this).
So there you have it! If you are looking for speed in the garage and plan to use your jack a lot, spring for a hydraulic floor jack. On the other hand, if you are looking for portability and want to keep your jack with your car at all times to bail you out should you find yourself in a tough spot and in need of a jack, check out a scissor jack. As you can see, scissor jacks versus hydraulic floor jacks isn’t really much of a debate at all as it just depends on how you are going to use your jack. If you’d like to learn more about floor jacks, feel free to take a look at our floor jack buyer’s guide. Happy wrenching!