The simple fact is that if you venture into the dirt, you need to carry recovery gear. Amongst those common recovery gear items is a jack or two. Other than the obvious use for changing flat tires, a jack can help with stuck recovery, muscling broken parts back into place, and any number of repair tasks where you may need mechanical advantage to lift or push with great force. There are a good number of jacks of different styles, and each has advantages and disadvantages.
When choosing a jack for your needs, there are some factors to consider, including size and weight of the vehicle, height to jacking points, suspension travel, and terrain onto which the jack will be placed. Along with those considerations are the factors of cost, jack weight, and space for the jack.
On a lot of IFS and long-travel vehicles, it’s not uncommon to carry a hydraulic floor jack. This is especially true on race rigs. These jacks can often go very low in height and have substantial jack height ranges. The aluminum ones are more expensive but considerably lighter than the steel versions, and the weight savings is welcome on an off-road rig. This is a Harbor Freight aluminum racing jack. These have proven themselves to offer good quality and value for weekend warriors. The sand skid is from DMZ Fab and replaces the stock wheels so the jack can be more easily maneuvered in the dirt.
It’s one thing to get a jack to lift an A-arm or axle to get a tire off the ground, and something much different to lift a chassis high enough to droop out the suspension and get a tire off the ground. Long-travel independent suspensions will usually need far more jack lift height than a solid axle suspension, so choose a jack accordingly that can accommodate those needs. It may also be helpful to carry straps or chains onboard that can be used to limit suspension droop when having to jack from a chassis point.
There’s a better than even chance you’ll someday need to use a jack out in the pits or the boonies, and having the right tool on hand that matches your vehicle will certainly make life easier.
Step By Step
We’ve seen a lot of variations of jacks in use. In the race pits you may have the luxury of multiple floor jacks, but typically not so out in the backcountry. With a little thought and ingenuity, it’s pretty simple to fabricate a couple of different jack heads that may fit certain jacking points on your vehicle, or jack extensions that add to the lift height of the jack head. Floor jacks can often be pinned in place on the bed of a truck or onto chassis rails or tubing.
The venerable Hi-Lift Jack is an off-road staple on a lot of vehicles where there is available room for the length. They come in 36- to 60-inch-tall versions to offer the most lift range of any type of portable jack out there. They work most efficiently on rigs that have good capture points for the lift foot on the chassis, bumper, or rock rails. Hi-Lift jacks are also useful for other tasks where you may need to push two objects apart, such as a truck body off a large boulder. The stock foot plate works fine on hard ground or rock, but consider carrying a supplemental plywood base or optional wide base if use in soft sand or mud is a possibility.
We like using the compact bottle jacks that have come from the factory in Toyotas for decades. They are compact and reliable. They can often be used under an axle or A-arm to lift a tire off the ground. A flat rock or two can boost them up higher for larger tires, and the lift height range is not bad. We’ve also seen them used in tight spaces to help fix damaged frame or suspension components. With their small size, we can see little reason not to carry one in most off-road rigs.