How to Use a High-Lift Jack – A Step-By-Step Guide

In the immortal words of Back to the Future’s Doctor Emmett Brown, “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

While he was talking about flying cars in the future, he might just as well have been talking about off-roading in the present day. For some motorists, the real fun begins where the pavement ends.

I don’t have the statistics on this, but I think it’s a safe bet that people who go driving through the back-country probably experience a disproportionately large number of flat tires and other minor vehicular issues, not to mention getting stuck on rocks and logs.

a man lifting the wheels of his 4x4 out of mud using a high lift car jack

Being ready to deal with a repair issue on the spot is critical when the nearest tow truck might be a long way away – and limited to roads, anyway.

The best high-lift jacks are an essential piece of gear for anyone who drives a tall 4×4, or another off-road type vehicle, so you can get yourself unstuck – or at least have a good go at doing so!

In this article, we’ll explore how to use a high-lift jack, exactly what one actually is and how it’s different from other types of jacks, and most importantly of all focus on safety.

What is a High-Lift Jack?

A high-lift jack is a tall, mechanical jack that uses a human-powered ratcheting system to lift a vehicle. They are specifically designed to lift vehicles with a very high clearance that is too tall for other kinds of jacks, such as hydraulic bottle jacks, or scissor jacks.

High-lift jacks are often found attached to the outside of Jeeps, Land Rovers, and similar vehicles.

How do High-Lift Jacks Work?

As they have since their inception about 100 years ago, high-lift jacks use a ratcheting system to lift a load gradually.

Moving the handle up and down either raises or lowers a sliding mechanism along a central I-beam. The I-beam is punched with holes that act as a kind of ladder for a pin in the mechanism.

After every stroke (down for lifting, up for lowering) the pin locks into place to secure the load.

Are There Different Types of High-Lift Jacks?

Up until recently, the answer to this question was, “no.” High-lift jacks came in different heights (basically from 36” to 60”), but they all worked the same way. But no longer.

Very, very recently, a new type of high-lift jack has appeared on the scene. It’s essentially a bottle jack/high-lift jack hybrid that uses hydraulics to offer a safer lifting mechanism than mechanical high-lifts.

As of the time of writing, this new kind of jack had only just arrived in North America, so we don’t have a lot of information on it. Once we do, however, we’ll be sure and share it with you. In the meantime, you might want to check out this article at the Expedition Australia website.

How to Safely Use a High-Lift Jack

A high-lift jack can be a hazardous device if used without caution. The higher you lift something, the less stable it becomes. Couple this with the (usually) uneven terrain, and you’ve got a recipe for danger.

Still, used with care, a high-lift jack can be your best friend.

There are many uses for a high-lift jack including winching, clamping, spreading, pulling stumps and fence posts, and so on. For this article, however, we’ll just cover the basics: raising and lowering a vehicle. Here’s how to get the job done safely:

Lifting a load

  1. If you can, park your vehicle on dry, level ground. Odds are this won’t be possible, because you’ll probably be stuck in the wilderness somewhere.
  2. Place chocks against your wheels at the opposite end from where you’ll be lifting. This is to minimize the likelihood of rollback. No chocks? See if there are some handy rocks or logs around to help out.
  3. Check the jack for damage, or debris that might keep the ratchet mechanism from sliding or notching into place. (Ideally, this should be done before you head out.)
  4. Know your lift points. You can’t just put the jack under a body panel and expect it to take the weight without crumpling. Many off-road vehicles have designated lift points. A solid steel bumper is also a good choice.
  5. Plant the base plate of the jack on a firm surface, and make it as level as possible. You may need to clear debris or use a board or off-road base attachment.
  6. Lift the reversing latch (a curved handle on the sliding mechanism) until it clicks into the up position for lifting.
  7. Pull the handle down and away from the steel bar until the handle clip spring releases. There should be no tension on the handle if it’s not supporting a load.
  8. Using either the handle or the handle socket, slide the ratcheting mechanism up the beam until the large runner (the lifting tongue the protrudes from the slider) is tight against the lift point.
  9. Be sure the area around the vehicle is clear of people, and anything that might get in your way.
  10. With both hands, grab the handle and carefully pull it down. At all times, you must keep your upper body and head away from the gap formed between the handle and the beam. With each down stroke, the vehicle will raise once notch.
  11. Because the jack is now supporting a load, the handle will be under tension. Keep a tight grip at all times. If you release the handle, it will return to the upright position rapidly and powerfully. Keep pumping up and down to raise the vehicle further.
  12. Keep your eyes on the jack and the vehicle at all times. Should either begin to lean or shift, stop lifting and try to get them stabilized. If this can’t be done, you might be well advised to lower the vehicle, reposition, and start over.
  13. When you have your vehicle to the desired height, carefully return the handle to the upright position. Hold it in place against the beam with the handle clip.
  14. Before attempting any repairs, it’s best to transfer the load to blocks or jack stands. You can check our guide on how to use jack stands safely, but the basics are to position them where you want them, and get them as close as possible to touching the support points.
  15. Push the reversing latch down to the lowering position.
  16. Again, take the handle with both hands and slowly pump up and down to lower the vehicle.
  17. When the weight transfers from the jack to the supports, the slider will drop right to the bottom. This is completely normal, and happens when the load drops below 150 pounds.

Lowering a load

  1. Clear the vicinity of the vehicle of people and debris before you start to lower your vehicle.
  2. If you’ve got it up on blocks or jacks, first follow the above instructions to lift the vehicle until the weight is back on the jack. Take away the blocks or jacks once you’re sure the jack is safely holding the load.
  3. With the handle pinned to the I-beam, push the reversing lever down into the lowering position.
  4. Grasp the handle with both hands. Carefully begin pumping the handle up and down. Opposite to lifting, when lowering the vehicle the ratchet will go down a notch on each upstroke.
  5. Keep pumping until the vehicle is touching the ground. As explained earlier, the slider will automatically return to the bottom of the beam when the load is less than 150 pounds.

High-Lift Jack Maintenance Tips

Want to keep your new jack in tip-top shape? Here are a few pointers to help you get the best out of your high-lift every time.

Cleaning Your High-Lift Jack

If your jack doesn’t come back dirty, you weren’t playing hard enough! Although they’re rust resistant, they still need to be cleaned off after every trip.

You can try blowing them clean with compressed air or use a pressure washer to really blast off the crud. A stiff brush is also great for removing stubborn debris.

Clean off any surface rust that develops with a penetrating lubricant, or rust cleaner.

Stay Lubricated

To prevent binding in the ratcheting mechanism, and for the smoothest possible operation, you’ll want to lube up your jack. You can use a light oil or a silicon lubricant on the bar, the pins, the springs, and the sheer bolt.

Storage

It’s best to keep your high-lift jack stored indoors for protection from the elements. Keep the handle locked against the I-beam, and the reversing latch in the up position.

Final Thoughts

Driving off-road is a lot of fun. It is very important, however, to make sure you’ve got all the right tools and gear onboard. You can’t call for roadside assistance in the middle of a forest or desert!

If big tires, tall suspensions, and the great outdoors are your thing, make sure you’ve got a good high-lift jack along for the ride too.

If you’ve any questions, comments, and concerns, please do share them with us in the comments below. Your feedback and questions help us build a better site!

Many thanks for hanging out with us today. Happy trails!

Kyle Palmer

From childhood go karting and motocross, to collecting and obsessing over scalextric, matchbox and radio controlled cars, I've always had an obsession with cars.Learning through manuals, books, trial and error, and more knowledgeable family members, I've also enjoyed tinkering with the mechanics and electronics of any vehicles I've owned.Now, over 3 decades later, I've started this site as a place for me to share my knowledge, to teach others how to care for and maintain their vehicles themselves, at home, so they can get the most of their vehicles and save a pretty penny compared to always seeking out professional help.

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