As mechanics, it's no secret that we have issues with the generic home-gamer. It's not uncommon for a 'YouTube Certified DIY Mechanic' to think they can save some money by replacing their own alternator or CV shaft and (ultimately) cause more problems for themselves (which is then passed on to us) and that's created... some friction.
It's not that we're against the general concept of working on your own car, more that (as mechanics) we understand how difficult modern cars can be to work on. Additionally, we often have to turn down work on the home-gamer's car due to the liability and coverage mentalists (insurance specialists) which has created... some friction (in our relationship).
With all that said, we don't actually hate home-gamers at all. We'd certainly never wish harm on them which is why we wanted to talk about one of the (if not the most) important safety items for anyone working on a car.
Jacks and jack stands.
Just recently a number of major retailers around the globe have had to recall a large number of jack stands due to a high failure risk (something we talked about in our CarCarPodcast with the team from AutoOne Browns Plains) so this blog post is actually very timely.
So why should you care?
First, let's look at the facts. If you're working on your own car there is a fairly high chance that you are a human. You probably identify as male, female, neither, other and/or more and you are (statistically) between 60-120kg of mostly water, muscle and fat (don't feel bad about yourself though).
On the other hand, your competitor in this theoretical match-up is anywhere from 1000kg-3000kg and has been gifted an exoskeleton of stamped steel and aluminium that is designed to keep whatever is inside it relatively safe in crashes regularly exceeding 60km/h (or 21geese/sec in imperial).
Now, while you're a very strong and attractive human (as far as humans go), it only takes around 4000 newtons of force to break the average human bone. Whereas on the lighter side of the calculation, the impact of a falling vehicle starts at 8900 newtons of force. Making your feeble human body look like bone china in a post-apocalyptic day care centre.
Now, with that in mind, we can see why jacks and jack stands are so important.
So what are our options for jacks and jack stands?
Even though you might not have thought of it, the most ideal situation is oftentimes a set of vehicle ramps. You can find these rated to a wide range of vehicles and they allow you to raise a vehicle without needing to worry about jacks or jack stands (though that doesn't mean they're 100% safe).
Otherwise? Well, it's pretty simple actually. As far as jacks go, more often than not it's a hydraulic cylinder doing the lifting and a mechanical valve preventing any loss in pressure. There are obviously different styles of jacks (from bottle to trolley) and some that just use pure mechanical or even pneumatic force (such as screw and high lift jacks).
However, with all that said the three most important features of a jack are
A sturdy base - meaning it's less likely to topple once weight is on it,
A healthy weight rating - at least more than your vehicle, and;
A good brand name - meaning it's more likely to be well made.
Much the same as in our blog about torque wrenches, we've tried a number of different brands from SCA to Mechpro and TradeQuip. With all that said, we hadn't had a good experience with any jack until we purchased a Bahco. In other words, do your research and don't be cheap.
Now the really important bit, jack stands. As with jacks, there are a couple of styles out there including ratcheting, pinned and static.
Even though a ratcheting jack stand is by far the most common/easiest, they often lack a secondary safety catch in case of failure and (even if they don't lack it) the quick-set nature makes it easy to be complacent. Additionally, manufacturing defects can cause sloppy engagement which has led to the failures and recalls.
This leaves 2 very good options and both realistically suit the job (even if the pinned style are much more usable). The benefit of these styles is fewer moving parts and (in turn) less for you (the home-gamer) to get wrong.
No matter which style you prefer, the advice for jack stands is much the same as the jacks themselves. Find a good brand with a very wide/sturdy base, a deep notch in the receiving end and a rating of more than the weight of your vehicle.
Most importantly make sure to use it as per the safety guidelines.
So what's our pick for a good set-up? If you're doing regular work on a car buy a decent jack like the Bahco and a set of well-made pin style jack stands.
If you have any questions about this blog post, would like a second opinion from a mechanic or would like to find an honest mechanic in Brisbane, check out Kashy here.