HI-LIFT JACKS, AND HOW TO USE THEM
Over the years, I’ve found that there are basically 2 kinds of Off-roaders. Those who say you can't, or shouldn't wheel without a Hi-lift. Then you have those that say Hi-lifts and similar style jacks are dangerous. Not really suggesting their use, but realizing they are useful off-road tools.
Off-Roaders Shouldn't Be Without A Hi-Lift
Category one, those who think that a Hi-Lift Jack is non optional say that, it's a must have piece of equipment. Especially if you are going to do any kind of serious Off-Roading. In fact, I’ve read a few better know off-roaders, say that they always look to see if an off-roader has a Hi-lift as part of his/her kit, and then they look to see how clean and well cared for it is. If the person has a unkempt Hi-lift, if they are using a cheap brand, or if they don’t have one at all, these “well know off-roaders” won’t agree to go out with the locals.
These Things Are Handy, But Boy Are They DangerousA second perception:
Over the years, I’ve heard a slew of reasons as to why they feel this way. Reasons range from everything like… Hi-lifts are expensive, heavy, overpriced, unstable, dangerous, over estimated, and so on. There’s usually some speech about how you can do everything a Hi-lift can do, but with a Bottle jack, and some planking that comes right after their complaint.
Me, well… I fit in between these 2 categories. I have a Hi-lift. I paid a lot for it (living in Chile, off-roading accessories are expensive), and I think they deserve the good reputation they have. I have used some of the cheaper, “no name” brand jacks, and they are generally more cumbersome, and work less smoothly (binding has been my issue with them). In my opinion, that alone makes them a danger when in a precarious situation.
On the other hand though, I don’t feel that Hi-Lift’s define the quality of an off-roader. I’ve seen guys get everything from an Ox cart, to a Quarry Dump truck unstuck, and repaired with bottle jacks. So, I personally don’t think a Hi-lift is an absolute have to have. Granted, you never know when they might come in handy though!
So, if you’ve seen all these people running around with Hi-lifts on their vehicles, and they barely look like they’ve seen more than a bit of occasional rain, you may not understand what a Hi-Lift can do for you. Well, let’s introduce you to the Hi-lift. Then you can decide if you need/want a Hi-lift/Farm/Tractor jack, the next time you go out rooting around in the woods, or on a long trip in your rig.
What They Can Do For You.
Honestly, for the Hi-lift jack to be such a simple piece of equipment, it can do a lot. If you noticed above, I refer to them as Farm, or tractor jacks too. That’s because, many of the makers including Hi-lift were, in fact, jack manufacturers for farm equipment first. So, they are designed to take a beating, and not get damaged very easily.
Beside just being able to take the abuse of the weather, rocks, and being driven over (not suggested, but I’ve seen it happen more than once), they are specifically designed to lift heavy loads. I mean, just imagine how much the front, or rear of a tractor weighs. So, they can take it.
Then, there is the unique aspect, of having a greater lifting range. Let’s take for example, the bottle jack. While a bottle jack is a very powerful tool, they generally have a very short stroke for lifting. My 2 bottle jacks can only lift up to about 14 inches off the ground, maybe a few more. However, my Hi-lift can lift up to around 56″ in height. Don’t get me wrong, it’s rare that you will be able to start at the base of a Hi-lift, and lift something 56 inches in the air. (Geometry typically plays against you.) Still, if you have a ledge near where your tire is stuck, or suspension component is damage, or your diff is hung up, or the mud/water is deep, you can pull your Hi-lift out, and still have a functional way to easily lift you rig.
Hi-Lifts are typically easier to lower vehicle weight too. Due to the leverage that the longer handle gives you, you have a bit more control of the speed at which the weight of the vehicle can lower. This ease of lowering weight, is also due, in part, to the walking pins that take turns walking in and out of the "jack spine" (main vertical upright of the jack) while going up, or coming down. Not to mention the fact that you don’t have to stick half your body under the vehicle to release a pressure valve to lower the vehicle. Like you would on a Bottle jack.
These days, Hi-Lifts are even more versatile than ever before, because there are a slew of adapters and accessories that allow you to use it in a variety of different ways. You can use it as a Winch, to lift your vehicle by rim/wheel (instead of using the bumper/sidesteps/anchor points), use it as a clamp, or even to spread things apart.
You can see more Hi-lift jack uses thru the following the Hi-lift video channel on youtube.com
I’ve actually used mine a number of times as a clamp, as a winch, and as a device to spread things apart with. So, they can be very helpful.
Truth of the matter is though, there are no perfect products in the world. So, the cons that some have as to why they don’t like to use Hi-Lifts, are valid. Let’s talk a little about the why nots.
Why You May Not Want To Use A Hi-Lift/Farm Jack
A Hi-Lifts/Farm Jacks greatest strengths, are also, it’s greatest weaknesses. Yes, on product sales sites, and on product sales commercials, they make reference to the need to be careful, and the need to use Hi-Lift’s and similar Farm/tractor Jacks safely. Still, I find that they kind of glaze over how dangerous they can truly be.
That being said, I’d like state now, that Hi-Lift, and Farm/Tractor Jacks SHOULD ONLY BE USED WITH A GREAT DEAL OF CAUTION, AND NEVER AS A MAIN SUPPORT FOR ANY VEHICLE MAINTENANCE! This can not emphasize this enough! I’ll be the first to tell you, that I’ve done work under vehicles with a couple of logs, and a Hi-lift, as the only things holding my vehicle up. Still, I DO NOT RECOMMEND IT!!!!! Why do I say this? Because, as you may realize, the higher off the ground, a weight is raised, the more substantial the structure under it needs to be to support that weight, as well as the force of gravity. Plus, as the weight moves further from the base/ground, the more leverage it has, and the harder it is to support.
If you’ve ever looked at a Hi-Lift or Farm/Tractor Jack closely, you will typically notice two things. One, the spine of the Jack is not actually made as part of the base. Second, the base plate is not really that big. Why does this matter?
Base plates for these jacks, and their spines are not firmly fixed together for a specific purpose. It helps to create a more versatile piece of equipment. When needed, you can remove the base, and store the jack in pieces. Also, since the spine and base, have “movement” between them, you can place the base on a less than horizontal surface, and the spine of the jack will still be usable in a vertical position. (Do not use a Hi-lift or any other Farm/Tractor Jack, if the spine is not located in the vertical position.) However, with the weight of a vehicle on the jack, it is very easy for small shifts in the ground, wind, or even someone accidentally nudging the vehicle, to cause the jack to shift just enough so that it starts to fall. It may fall forward, backward, or to one of the sides. Because of this, you have to ALL WAYS, keep an eye on the angle of the jack, slope of the ground, firmness of the ground, and what the vehicle is doing.
Another thing that can make using a Farm style jack dangerous, is not paying close attention to 3 dimensional space. Humans have a tendency to lose track of some of the important details when in situations that call for heavy concentration. Many times people look to see if their Jack is vertical in relation to left and right orientation, and even start off with the jack vertical in the frontward to backward orientation. However, when we start to actually do the work of jacking the vehicle up, it’s easy to keep focusing solely on the left/right orientation, and forget that as the vehicle raises vertically, the arc of movement is actually pulling the Jack toward the vehicle. If the angle gets to be too extreme, the jack can slip out, and cause your 4x4 to fall. This can cause bodily harm. Not to mention possibly causing even more damage to the vehicle that you are trying to repair/rescue. A similar situation can happen if we are constantly focused on the forward/backward orientation and forget to check the left/right orientation. So, to use a Hi-lift/Farm Jack, you have to be very conscious of your environment, and details of your equipment at all times!
Probably one of the most common safety concerns, that you’ll hear about, is the handle. Honestly… It is a concern. Be very careful with the handle and where you put your hands, head, shoulder, and elbows. Also, be careful where you let your friends put themselves. If, while lifting a vehicle with one of these jacks, the handle slips out of your hand, or the jack starts to fall, you can have a potentially dangerous situation. So, keep yourself, and your friends as far from the handle as possible.
One more con to using Hi-Lift, and Farm style jacks, is that you typically can not use the jack on an OEM vehicle. Most recovery points, are not accessible for the jack to make contact with. Plus, typically, factory bumpers (these days), are not strong enough to actually lift the weight of the vehicle. So, you will have to invest in some HD bumpers and side rails, unless your sole purposes are to lift the vehicle by the wheel, do some winching, or clamping. You would not be able to change a tire, or get the vehicle very high that way though.
A Brief Recap
-Can lift vehicles higher than other style jacks
-Have muli-functional design
-Walking pin design makes lifting and lowering vehicle easier to control
-Can typically be used in deep mud and water
-Can be disassembled
-Can be stored externally on a vehicle
-Handles can move on their own, and become dangerous
-Can tip over easily
-Can damage a vehicle
-Aren’t secure for use while doing vehicle repairs/maintenance
-Require a keen eye on how the jack is oriented
-Require a keen eye on how the ground responds to the weight, and pressure on the Jack.
-Can be relatively expensive
-Can require more maintenance than other kinds of jacks
-Require after market bumpers, and side rails for full use potential
-Typically require a custom mounting solution
With all that said, I don’t think that using, or not using a farm jack is a definitive mark of a off-roaders abilities. Or, how serious they take their sport or hobby. At the same time though, I do think that Hi-lift’s, and similar Farm Jacks definitely have their place in the industry. Above all though, if you do choose to purchase a Hi-lift/Farm Jack to use when you go wheeling. Take the time to keep it in good structural and operational condition. Also, make sure that you take the time to learn how to use the jack correctly. Improper use of one of these tools could easily cause a fatal accident, to you, or someone around you. So, whatever you choose to do, please do it safely!
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