How to Choose the Right Auto Lift

When the underside of a vehicle needs to be accessed for maintenance, an automotive lift is the most important part of the process. A vehicle lift allows the service specialist to access the wheel assembly and suspension system on a car, van or truck. Whether the work is performed at a large or small facility, auto lifts of one design or another make it possible to perform maintenance that would otherwise be next to impossible.

What Things to Consider When Choosing an Auto Lift

Whether you decide upon a 2- or 4-post lift, or a mobile cart or single-column portable lift, it's important to determine your primary uses for the device, as well as any sizing needs and limitations, and even your budgeting limit:

Purpose: The purpose of any auto lift is to elevate a vehicle off the ground, but different types of lifts serve different uses. While most lifts allow for underside access to a vehicle, some are merely used to create two parking spots in the space of one.

Size: Auto lifts come in a variety of sizes. Small, compact lifts, like 2-post and portable lifts, are primarily for smaller cars, while larger and more elaborate devices, such as 4-post and scissor lifts, have the capacity for bigger, heavier vehicles.

Price: Auto lifts run the gamut, price-wise. Generally, lifting devices built for smaller vehicles tend to be sold at lower prices, while more elaborate systems, including mobile column car lifts, tend to be costlier.

2-Post Lifts

For relatively compact operations, the 2-post auto lift is one of the most affordable and practical options for small- and medium-scale car servicing operations.

2-Post Lifts: Traits and Characteristics

A 2-post automotive lift is any lifting system that consists of a pair of posts placed at opposite sides of a vehicle. Each post is equipped with arms, which elevate the vehicle from the ground for maintenance.


Asymmetrical automobile lifts are distinguished by the angled position of the posts in relation to the arms. Each post is situated at an angle just to the front of the gravity center, and both feature two arms of different sizes. The long arm extends underneath toward the back of the vehicle's underside, while the shorter arm extends frontward.


Symmetrical lifts consist of a pair of armed posts that are placed along the vehicle's gravity center at each side. Each arm is identical in length, and therefore split the weight of the vehicle 50/50. One arm extends toward the back of the underside, while the other reaches frontward.

Who Uses It, and When/Where Is It Commonly Used?

The 2-post lift is most commonly used in busy, professional auto-repair garages where cars and trucks are being raised and lowered throughout the day. Due to their height and the attention to detail they require, 2-post lifts are generally ill-suited for residential garages.

Advantages and Disadvantages of 2-Post Lifts

With a 2-post car lift, the wheels hang free over the arm edges. Therefore, the wheel assembly and chassis underside are sufficiently elevated for free and clear maintenance access. Furthermore, a 2-post lift sells for less than 4-post lifting devices. Moreover, 2-post lifts consume less horizontal space on the ground of a garage.

However, a 2-post lift must be properly anchored in order to provide adequate support for a car. As a rule of thumb, 2-post lifts aren’t suited for larger, heavy-duty vehicles.

4-Post Lifts

The 4-post automotive lift is a larger, more heavy-duty alternative to the 2-post lift. Built for bigger, heavier vehicles, the 4-post lift is manufactured in multiple designs and weight capacities. Whereas 2-post lifts are built primarily for compact cars, the 4-post lift is strong enough to support everything from mid-sized cars to station wagons and vans.

4-Post Lifts: Traits and Characteristics

The 4-post auto lift is used to raise vehicles off the ground to allow access to a vehicle's wheel suspension system for the purpose of maintenance. 4-post lifts feature on-ramps at the back end, onto which the vehicle is driven in advance of elevation.

Open-Front Lift

A 4-post car lift with an open-front features a gap in the front-horizontal beam. This way, a clearer amount of access is granted to a vehicle's suspension system. With an open-front four-post lift, it's easier to get under the suspension because less space is taken up by the supporting structure.

Closed-Front 4-Post Lift

A 4-post auto lift with a closed front features a simpler design in that the horizontal elevation beams are closed at all four ends. Therefore, there's no special cutaway to access the wheel suspension system. Still, the underside of a car or truck can easily be reached when a car is elevated, even if it takes a bit of ducking.

Lift Capacity for Small to Midsize Cars up to 9,000 Pounds

The 4-post automotive lift comes in more than one capacity option, including the lighter-weight design that's built for vehicles that weigh as much as 9,000 pounds. Basically, this is an option best-suited for smaller auto-servicing garages that specialize in small to mid-sized vehicles.

Lift Capacity for Large Vehicles up to 40,000 Pounds

For auto maintenance facilities that handle a fuller range of vehicle sizes, it's best to go with a 4-post lift with a higher weight capacity. With a 4,000-pound capacity, 4-post lift and larger cars, as well as vans and trucks, can be elevated for suspension maintenance and wheel changes.

Who Uses It, and When/Where Is It Commonly Used?

The 4-post lift is generally used by professional technicians and dedicated, independent auto specialists who service medium- and large-sized vehicles on a regular basis. In large garages with high ceilings and wide floor space, the 4-post lift — especially one of high weight capacity — generally makes more sense than a 2-post lift.

Advantages and Disadvantages 4-Post Lifts

The greatest advantages of the 4-post lift are the broader vehicle support and increased weight capacity, which are both due to the fact that there's four posts instead of two.

However, there's also a downside to 4-post lifts in terms of space consumption. With a 2-post lift, less horizontal space is required, and clearer access to the wheel suspension is allowed. The 2-post lift is also less expensive than the 4-post, which is often an investment best reserved for auto specialists who've got the capital and space for projects of such magnitude.

Scissor Lifts

The scissor automotive lift is different from the post lift in that it doesn't consist of legs and arms. Instead, the scissor lift rises to elevation and collapses to the ground like an accordion, with support centers that consume less overall floor space. The scissor lift is a high-weight capacity lift option that elevates at several heights.

A mid-rise scissor lift will elevate a vehicle anywhere from three to four feet from the ground, while full-rise units will go even higher.

Types of Scissor Lifts

Whether it's a low-rise scissor lift or a midsize option, scissor lifts have one thing in common: collapsibility. The scissor lift is generally manufactured in one of three collapsible shapes — the self-explanatory x-shaped type, as well as the two rhomboid options, the parallelogram, and pantograph.

X-Type: The x-type scissor lift is an accordion-like device that rises into a stack of open x-shapes and collapses flat when not in use. With its collapsible structure, the x-type scissor lift consumes only a minimum amount of horizontal space, and grants full access to the wheels and suspension system.

Parallelogram: Parallelogram scissor lifts open out from the floor to form a rhomboid shape, then retract backward to close flat. As with the x-type scissor lift, the parallelogram is easy to put out of the way when not in use, especially if it's based below the floor of a garage. Parallelogram scissor lifts are capable of some of the heaviest lifting capacities.

Pantograph Lift: As with the other scissor lifts, the pantograph lift is named after its shape. As such, the device opens up into a pantograph shape when it lifts a vehicle to elevation, then collapses back into flatness once a work session has ended.

Who Uses It, and When/Where Is It Commonly Used?

Scissor lifts are used in garages where heavy vehicles are regularly serviced. Due to the collapsible nature of the scissor lift, garages will often have the device installed below the floor in order to keep it out of the way entirely when not in use. A mid-rise scissor lift is convenient for large automotive facilities, as well as independent car maintenance specialists.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Scissor Lifts

Since the scissor lift consumes no space when not in use, it's an ideal lifting option for small work spaces as well as large. Thanks to its high-weight lifting capacity, the scissor lift can also be used with a range of vehicle types, from compact cars to trucks.

However, the placement of the lift directly under a vehicle's gravity center means that cars or trucks elevated with this device cannot be accessed directly underneath at the center.

Portable Car Lifts

A portable car lift is any device that consists of a lift on casters, which allow the device to be rolled out to the center of a garage floor during work hours and carted back to storage when not in use.

What Is It, and Why Use It?

The main purposes of a portable automotive lift are compactness and mobility. Any portable lifter — be it a 4-post lift on casters, a portable high-rise scissor lift, a single-post lift or a light 2-post lift — requires minimal floor space and can easily be moved from one location to another.

Who Uses It, and When/Where Is It Commonly Used?

Due to its compact design, the portable low-rise scissor lift or single-post lift are often used in small work spaces where compact cars are the primary focus.

Advantages and Disadvantages Portable Car Lifts

Devices such as the portable scissor lift are primarily built for convenience. As such, portable car lifts have their limitations. Portable lifts lack the weight capacity for bigger cars and trucks. While the portable option can be convenient for small garages, it's always best to determine before purchasing whether a portable lift will have the capacity to support the types of vehicles you plan to elevate.

In-Ground Car Lifts

Lifting options such as scissor and elevator lifts — both of which can be classified as in-ground lifts — are unique in that they can be lowered into the ground, rather than left to stand and consume space like 2- and 4-post lifts.

What Is It, and Why Use It?

An in-ground lift is any lifting device that rises out of the garage floor to elevate a vehicle, then collapses back into the ground when not in use. The purpose of an in-ground car lift is to conserve space. After all, why have a lifting device consume precious garage floor space when collapsible options are possible?

Who Uses It, and When/Where Is It Commonly Used?

In-ground lifts are used in compact service garages where floor space must be conserved, as well as in larger facilities that enjoy the practicality and convenience of the collapsible option.

Advantages and Disadvantages of In-Ground Car Lifts

In-ground lifts can be elevated as needed, then collapsed into the floor when other services are being performed. However, the installation of an in-ground lift can be far costlier than the price of a 2-post lift.

The big downside, however, is the potential for oil leaks into the underground, which often go undetected, yet can be environmentally detrimental. As such, the EPA has imposed safety restrictions on in-ground lifts.

Mobile Column Car lifts

For a lot of automotive specialists, the notion of being confined to just one type of lifting device is limiting. For these people, there's also the option of mobile column lifts, which offer greater flexibility.

What Is It, and Why Use It?

A mobile car lift is a lifting system where posts can be added or subtracted according to the needs of a project. If a large vehicle is being serviced, additional posts can be brought out of storage. To conserve space when compact cars are being serviced, the lifting system can be stripped down to just two posts.

Who Uses It, and When/Where Is It Commonly Used?

Mobile car lifts are often used in small servicing garages where space is at a premium, and larger vehicles are only worked on occasionally. Alternately, many large facilities favor the mobile car lift for its flexible nature.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Mobile Column Car Lifts

Some of the more advanced mobile lifters are wirelessly operated and allow multiple commands to be activated at once. However, issues such as cost and size render the mobile option impractical for use in residential garages.

Parking Lifts

Not all vehicle lifts are made to allow for access to the wheels and suspension system. With a single-column storage lift, the purpose is simply to turn one parking space into two.

What Is It, and Why Use It?

A parking lift is a device that elevates one vehicle off the ground so that another vehicle can park underneath in the same space. When space is of the utmost concern, such as in single-car garages, parking lifts can be a convenient way to accommodate two cars, provided the ceiling is high enough.

Who Uses It, and When/Where Is It Commonly Used?

Parking lifts are generally used at facilities where vehicles are in abundance, but parking space is at a minimum.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Parking Lifts

Parking lifts are elevation devices and nothing more. Since the bottom consists of a solid deck, as opposed to twin runways, a single-column storage lift is not a suitable lifting device for performing maintenance on a vehicle.

What to Do When You Choose an Auto Lift

Before you set your mind on a particular auto lift, be sure to speak to the professionals and get their input on the pros and cons of one option over another.

At North American Auto Equipment, we offer sales assistance and guidance on a vast range of ALI- and ETL certified lifts. To learn more about the types of lifts we carry, click on over to our auto lift sales pages.

Contact Us or Call Us (866.607.4022) Today For More Auto Lift Information.

Learn More About Different Types of Car Lifts