A vehicle lift is the centerpiece of most service departments, and used more times every day than just about any other piece of shop equipment. It is important to pick the right one, with safety in mind.

“If a lift fails, a technician can be seriously injured,” says Gary Kennon, chairman of the board of the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI) and president of lift manufacturer Rotary.

He offers these four tips for choosing vehicle lifts.

  1. Look for the gold “ALI Certified/Validated by ETL” label. This indicates a lift has been tested and certified to meet ANSI/ALI ALCTV-1998 safety standards. Without ALI certification, buyers have no third-party assurances that a lift meets accepted industry safety standards. Note: certification is for an individual lift model, not the manufacturer.

  2. Inspect the lift you're considering. Look at construction quality. Do the welds appear thick and uniform? Are the steel components clean or covered with weld splatter? Do the inner arms fit snugly in the outer arms? Check for safety systems, including mechanical safety locks, arm restraints where fine adjustment is possible and a spotting dish (for frame-engaging lifts) to ensure that the vehicle is positioned properly.

  3. Consider the manufacturer and its manufacturing/testing processes. How much experience does the company have engineering and building vehicle lifts? What is its reputation? Was the lift built in North America or offshore? If offshore, who designed it? Are factory-trained installers and technicians available, or are you on your own? Are the operating instructions easy to understand?

  4. If a lift seems unusually inexpensive, ask why. A cheap lift will generally cost more in the long run because of excessive downtime and repairs. Ask where replacement parts will come from, how quickly they'll arrive and who will install them. Ask if the price includes accessories, shipping and installation. What does the manufacturer do to ensure product quality and consistency? How is the lift packaged for shipping?

Dealership service technicians also have responsibility for their own safety. Carelessness can lead to dangerous situations even when using certified lifts.

ALI offers the following safety advice:

  • Inspect lifts daily. Never operate one if it malfunctions or if it has broken or damaged parts.
  • Operating controls are designed to close when released. Don't block open or override them.
  • Never overload your lift. The manufacturer's rated capacity is on an affixed nameplate.
  • Only trained and authorized personnel should position the vehicle and operate the lift.
  • Load a vehicle lift carefully. Position supports to contact at the vehicle manufacturer's recommended lifting points. If you are working under the vehicle, the lift should be raised high enough for its locking device to engage.