Working underneath your vehicle is always going to be a necessity unless you want to pay a mechanic to do your dirty work. Whether it’s something simple like an oil change, or something more complex like a brake job or control arm replacement, safety is of the utmost importance and you must support your vehicle properly to ensure a safe working environment.
How you support your vehicle will come down to budget and your project needs, however a car can be supported safely in many ways. As such, we are often asked which we prefer between wheel cribs versus jack stands. To answer this question, we have broken down the pluses and minuses of both options and discuss when each may be your best option for your project.
Wheels cribs are stands that are meant to hold your vehicle up by supporting underneath the wheels and tires. They are simple to use because you can leave the wheels on the vehicle. They have a wide range of uses that include simple maintenance and vehicle display at car shows or dealerships. The best wheel cribs are available in varying heights and can be stacked (depending on the design and brand) to control the height of the vehicle off the ground.
Since they support the tires of the vehicle, they can offer additional floor space under the vehicle during use, which is definitely as advantage compared to jack stands as wheel cribs don’t restrict movement under the vehicle quite as much. This is extremely helpful when working on the back half of the engine or the transmission. Wheel cribs also provide more access for a floor creeper. Their footprint is usually about one square foot (or more) under each tire which provides a large support overall area for added stability.
While wheel cribs can offer a lot of design advantages, they can also add extra cost to your purchase. One additional negative is that they do require the wheel to be on the vehicle. If you are completing work related to the suspension, braking system, or the wheel and tire itself, you’ll need to find an alternative support method otherwise you won’t be able to remove your wheel to complete these types of work.
Jack stands are pretty simple in their function and are arguably the most popular tool for supporting your vehicle. They typically support your vehicle using jack points either located on the chassis or located under the rocker panels. They are adjustable in height and usually made of metal, most commonly aluminum or carbon steel. Some variations will have a curved flange to support the vehicle, which will help support curved surfaces if necessary. Typical purchase cost is pretty low for a good set of jack stands as the design hasn’t changed in decades and the materials are commonly used in many applications which makes them inexpensive.
The simplistic design and materials used in jack stands are one of their best and worst design features. The carbon steel is usually coated with either a paint or powder coat. If the coating wears, the jack stand becomes susceptible to corrosion which can render it inoperable due to safety. Paint can be worn or easily chipped off after use since jack stands tend to suffer some abuse in general.
The design itself has some intrinsic facets to be aware of as well. The small base can make the stands unstable if used on a poor (soft) surface as they don’t spread pressure out very well which can lead to tilting. The adjustable head can also make it a challenge to ensure all stands are at the same height. Typically you will need to take care as you raise each stand to make sure your vehicle is sitting level relative to the floor for good stability.
While wheel cribs and jack stands both support your vehicle when performing automotive repair work, both have advantages and disadvantages based on your intended use and project needs. The biggest consideration is whether or not you need to remove your wheel when working and this should be your biggest driver when it comes to choosing jack stands versus wheel cribs. If you are undecided, we typically recommend you get a set of jack stands as they will leave you with a little bit more flexibility as far as what car maintenance projects they allow you to tackle. Happy wrenching!