Mobile Lifting Devices
What do you really need?
When it comes time to choose what mobile lifting device (or jack) to carry with you on the trail, choose wisely. Is your vehicle low to the ground? Do you drive a heavy-duty truck? Is your truck outfitted with oversized tires and a big lift kit? These are only a few factors you need to know before purchasing your next jack.
Today, jacks come in an assortment of shapes, sizes, and styles. Everything from old-school, hand-pump floor jacks to CO2-driven lifts. We got our hands on one example of each type of jack available today to see what each is made of and what you should choose.
ARB X-Jack Exhaust Jack
Exhaust jacks have been around for more than 50 years. Even today, a number of fire engines still carry them onboard. ARB has taken that technology and come up with a compact version made suitable for us to carry into the great outdoors. It comes in a handy travel case measuring roughly 24 inches in diameter and 4 inches thick. At first, it seems like it will take up a lot of space onboard, but after traveling with the jack for several days, we realized because of its light weight it was easily placed between seats, inside rear compartments, or even inside luggage. The jack itself is extremely thick with spikes on the bottom made to aid in traction over varying terrain. Also included is a set of gloves, instructions, patch kit, protection mat, and the exhaust lines.
ARB recommends placing the jack on the sides of the vehicle nearest to the tire you want to lift as shown. The jack is inflated via a hose that connects to the trucks tailpipe. Once the engine is started the jack will start to inflate. It took us a few tries to get the jack situated just right, worrying about anything that may pierce the jack as it expanded. Watching a giant balloon blow up and lift your vehicle is a bit odd the first time you try it. Within two minutes the jack was nearly fully inflated, but did not lift our FJ Cruiser with 33-inch tires off the ground yet. We also noticed as the jack filled, the exhaust pressure made it increasingly harder to hold the hose against the tailpipe. A few minutes later we saw the tires leave the ground successfully. ARB has added a tire valve to the jack to which you can connect an air tank. We believe that will be a much easier way to get the jack fully inflated at a faster rate.
ARB directs that this jack be used only to aid in freeing a wheel from being stuck, and not as a device to change tires. Although it is not recommended, we placed the jack under the rear axle and did get the truck off the ground much more easily—enough to remove a tire. When trying it under the front, we realized this jack is not suited for trucks with independent control arms and big wheel travel. The jacks top feature is its ability to be used anywhere over anything. It will shine in the sand where other jacks can fail.
Pros: Light, easy to pack and carry, useful in all terrains, no additional equipment needed, does not take much effort, can lift up to 8,800 pounds.
Cons: Tough getting the jack to inflate consistently level, not suited for long-travel trucks, not suited to remove tires from trucks with big lift kits and tires, holding the hose to your exhaust pipe puts you into the direct line of fire for carbon monoxide.
Who should buy: Four-wheel-drive owners, straight-axle truck owners, sand lovers, chase trucks
Cost: $235.99 on Amazon.com
For more information, contact: www.arbusa.com
Baja Designs Kwik Jak
At just 4.5 pounds and 12.5 inches long, the Kwik Jak is definitely the easiest and smallest jack we have ever carried around. Although it may look like a common bottle jack, it is not. It is powered by standard 25g or 38g CO2 cartridges or can be connected to a Powertank CO2 bottle with the use of an adapter. When we first got our hands on the Kwik Jak, we have to admit we were a little skeptical. Would this tiny thing lift the front end of our big, heavy truck?
According to Baja Designs, the 38g cartridge will lift 2,400 pounds, same as a 20oz bottle. Placing the jack under the rear of our truck, we adjusted the reach to contact the height of our axle and screwed the CO2 in. Within a matter of seconds, 6 inches of stroke lifted the truck into the air and our tire was ready to be changed. Impressed, we tried it again with a new CO2 under the front of the vehicle. It did get the tire off the ground quickly, but the added weight of the FJ Cruiser frontend only allowed the tire to just leave the ground.
A few quick precautions when using CO2; always wear gloves as the cartridges get very cold as you remove them, and keep in mind how quickly you remove the cartridge from the jack so the vehicle doesn’t come crashing down. Using a tank (or bottle), you can control the speed both up and down. Although the small size is great for portability, the 4.5-inch base of the jack makes you feel like your truck is being suspended by a toothpick. Baja Designs has holes punched into both sides of the base so you can fashion a wider base of your own to the jack.
We did try to lift the front of a Ford Super Duty, which was unfortunately too much weight for the normal Kwik Jak. Baja Designs now offers an HD version of this jack, which has a lift capacity of 2,500 pounds, with 10 inches of stroke, and collapses to just seven inches tall. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get our hands on one to let you know how it worked.
Pros: light and small, fits perfectly into common racecar tube fire extinguisher mounts, lifts vehicle quickly, easy to use, will fit in most OE storage compartments (glove box, rear floor cargo hold).
Cons: not useful for HD trucks, requires a separate wider base if being used in sand or rough terrain for stability, must purchase CO2 cartridges or have a bottle handy, no CO2 means no jack (which leaves you stranded).
Who should buy: small and midsize truck owners, racecar owners, side-by-side owners.
Cost: $299.95 on Bajadesigns.com, four-pack CO2 $47.95 on Bajadesigns.com
For more information, visit: www.bajadesigns.com
F-O-A Race Jack
In the July 2010 issue of OFF-ROAD, we completed a review of the F-O-A Race Jack, in case you missed it. We’ve spent time with the jack we thought it would be best to include it in our lifting guide and let you know how it’s doing. The jack uses a screw-style lifting procedure that is actuated using a half-inch cordless impact driver, or ratchet if you’ve got the time. The half-inch end of your impact driver fits directly into the end of the jack, and no special socket is required. Slip the lift pin into the previously installed half-inch ID lift point and with a simple pull of the trigger, your truck is now lifting off the ground.
F-O-A supplies a complete mounting kit with the jack that is to be welded on, and enough tube for adding four lift points on your vehicle. We added points to both ends of our front axle, which allowed us to get the tire off the ground quickest and also kept the mounting point out of exterior view. Over a year later, the jack is still working as it did on day one. Removing the jack from its mount in the bed, placing it under the truck, and screwing it up with the impact driver takes all of about one minute.
At only 12 pounds, the jack is easy enough to carry around and as long as you have a place to weld the mount, can be put just about anywhere. The initial lift point is a low three inches and can lift your vehicle up to 18 inches.
Pros: Light, lifts the vehicle quickly, has been very reliable, little to no effort to use, lift points can be added anywhere you choose
Cons: Mount must be welded, would like to see a wider base option, most expensive type of jack we examined
Who should buy: Race truck owners, prerunners, chase trucks
Cost: $350.00 on www.f-o-a.com
For more information, visit: www.f-o-a.com
Harbor Freight Rapid Pump 3-Ton Lightweight Aluminum Racing Jack
A strong floor jack is something everyone should own. Whether or not you carry it along with you into the dirt is up to you. This new Rapid Pump jack will lift most trucks in just three and a half pumps. It comes with a padded handle so you don’t scratch your truck, has a minimum pad height of only 3-1/4 inches, maximum pad height of 19-1/4 inches, aluminum handles on either side, has a rubber saddle pad, and is made from aircraft grade billet aluminum.
At 29 inches long by 14 inches wide, it isn’t the easiest of jacks to carry along for the ride. This floor jack commands a good amount of space for not only the jack, but the two-piece handle as well. A wealth of off-road fabrication shops make aluminum skid plates for aluminum floor jacks as well as mounting systems that can be fabricated to any rollcage or to the floor of your truck bed.
On our way to test the jack, we actually got a flat tire. Luckily, we had an assortment of jacks with us along for the ride. Fortunately, we had this floor jack with us as the others would not work on our Ford Super Duty. After six pumps getting the jack to reach the axle, it only took another five pumps to get the tire a solid 4 inches off the ground. The wheels made the jack easy to maneuver as well as the weight. Only a half turn of the handle released the truck back to the ground letting us know this jack was really intended for lightning fast pit stops. Keep that in mind when you are ready to lower your truck back down.
Parked next to our smaller 11/2-ton jack, you can see the size comparison. Our smaller jack is also outfitted with an aluminum skid plate, which is a must if you plan on using any size floor jack in sand. Floor jacks require a flat surface, which is not always found off road.
Pros: consistently reliable, will lift heavy trucks with ease, low minimum pad height means it can be used under any part of your truck, tall stroke makes it great for long travel and tall trucks, requires no other tools.
Cons: although it is aluminum it is not very light, requires a secure mount location (you don’t want this jack flying around your cabin in a rollover), space for both jack and handle, best only on flat surface.
Who should buy: Race trucks, four-wheel-drive owners, prerunners, anyone with ample space
Cost: $199.99 on Harborfreight.com
For more information, visit: www.harborfreight.com
With over 100 years of quality and the ability to lift tall trucks, Hi-Lift jacks are as common on four-wheel-drive vehicles as are winches. Not only are they good for changing a tire, we have also seen them used for pulling doors open after a crash, winching a stuck truck and even clamping two pieces of metal together. The assortment of accessories include a wide off-road base, adjustable tube and flat mounts, Lift-Mate hooks to attach the jack to your wheel, a Bumper Lift for vehicles with curved bumpers and more.
When properly used, the Hi-Lift can get even the largest of trucks tires off the ground with ease. However, if you don’t pay attention and make sure to use the jack properly, the jack can quickly turn into a loaded weapon. A lot of people will throw the jack under the side of their truck and start jacking away not paying attention to the angle of the jack or the terrain below. On several occasions we have seen the jack come shooting off the side of the vehicle, flailing itself across the dirt and sending the truck slamming to the ground. When lifting your truck, be sure each climbing pin locks in securely on the way up and on the way down. This will insure the jack is holding the weight of the truck properly and safely.
With a tested capacity of 7,000 pounds, we had no trouble getting our Super Duty off the ground from the front or back bumpers. Not having rock sliders on the side of the truck, we had no way to lift the truck from the side. Keep that in mind when choosing which jack to purchase. This jack is also a great tool aiding jobs where you need the suspension to droop, such as changing a leaf spring pack. The jack comes in both 48- and 60-inch sizes, which should lift most vehicles completely off the ground, even those with a lot of droop. It also has a low starting pickup of 41/2 inches.
The Hi-Lift is available in three versions; cast/steel, all-cast and the new X-Treme all-cast version which includes charcoal metallic powdercoat finish, gold zinc-coated hardware and handle, and a special top winch-clamp/spreader attachment.
Pros: Can lift tall vehicles with ease, accessories, numerous aftermarket mounting options, multiple uses, tough as nails, no other tools needed, reliable
Cons: Heavy and bulky, must have a secured mounting location, can be dangerous if not used properly, must have a jack point on vehicle
Who should buy: Four-wheel-drive owners, rock crawlers with oversize tires
Cost: 48-inch all-cast version, $79.99 on Amazon.com
For more information, visit: www.hi-lift.com