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Working safely under a raised vehicle…


The risks involved in working under a raised vehicle are very great and the stakes are very high.  If caution and common sense are not exercised, the very real possibility exists of being crushed by the vehicle, resulting in death or, at the very least, serious injury.  There’s no margin for error in this matter, which is why I personally adhere religiously to each and every precaution relating to working under a raised vehicle, listed below.

Because I heed these warnings like my life depends on them (and it does!), I prepare my vehicle with caution so that I can work under it with confidence that I’ve addressed all of the risks involved.  I check my vehicle three times before getting under it out of nervousness and I’ll always continue this practice in the future.  The risk of death or horrendous injury is just too serious to ignore.

I cannot recommend the following precautions highly enough, that relate to working safely under a raised vehicle:


Trusting a jack with your life is a death-wish…

NEVER get under a vehicle which is only supported by a jack, even if you think that it might save you some time.  It’s just not worth the high risk involved.  The vehicle could easily slip off the jack (especially when you’re applying force to a bolt or nut) or the jack could fail and the vehicle could fall on top of you.  This would result in you being crushed and probably dying an extremely painful death or being very seriously injured at the bare minimum.  Nobody wants this kind of thing to happen to anybody.

Even if the vehicle doesn’t kill the person it falls on, it will very likely keep them pinned to the ground until somebody else comes along and lifts the vehicle off them with a jack.  It’s unlikely that the person trapped under the vehicle will be able to free him or herself.  This kind of nightmarish scenario is to be avoided at all costs.


Avoid jacking on an uneven surface…

Never jack up a vehicle on a surface that’s not level in order to get under it to work on it.  The risk of the vehicle sliding off the axle stands that you later put under the vehicle to support it is too significant to ignore.


General procedure for raising a vehicle…

Whenever you need to get under a vehicle to work on it, jack the vehicle up on a level, hard surface (such as concrete or thick, strong pavers) and support the vehicle with high-quality axle stands at the appropriate structural points under the vehicle.  After lowering the vehicle onto the axle stands with the jack, the jack should be left holding the vehicle up as a safety back-up.  Any wheels that are still in contact with the ground need to be chocked to stop them from rotating, as outlined below under the subheading, “Immobilise the vehicle with chocks…”.

If you’re at all uncertain as to whether it’s safe to get under the vehicle, do NOT get under the vehicle.  It’s simply not worth the risk.  If the vehicle were to fall on top of you, you could easily die or suffer horrendous, life-changing injuries.  It’s best to seek out the advice of somebody with more experience if you’re at all unsure of what to do.


Immobilise the vehicle with chocks…

Whenever you need to jack up a vehicle, chock the wheels that will remain in contact with the ground with bricks or purpose-built chocks, to prevent these wheels from rotating which could lead to the vehicle slipping off the axle stands that you later put under the vehicle.  This is in addition to other precautions such as using the hand-brake to lock the rear wheels when the rear wheels are in contact with the ground, and putting the transmission into ‘Park’, where the vehicle has an automatic transmission.

In the case of a vehicle with an automatic transmission, it’s worth understanding that putting the transmission in park locks the driven wheels, which may be the front wheels or the rear wheels depending on whether the vehicle is front-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive.  (Applying the hand-brake will only stop the rear wheels from moving.)  However putting the automatic transmission into ‘Park’ should never be relied upon on its own to lock driven wheels which are in contact with the ground.  Putting the automatic transmission into ‘Park’ should always be accompanied by chocking the wheels which are in contact with the ground and applying the hand-brake as well when it is the rear wheels that are in contact with the ground.


Stay clear of the vehicle you are jacking up…

While jacking up a vehicle, keep all parts of your body away from underneath the vehicle in case the vehicle slips off the jack and falls to the ground.  Any parts of your body underneath the vehicle in this scenario will be crushed or injured.  The handle of jack should enable you keep clear of the area underneath the vehicle while jacking it up.


Jacking points to raise the front of the vehicle…

To raise the front of the vehicle, place the jack in the middle of the front of the vehicle under the engine cross-member which is strong enough to support the weight of the front of the vehicle on the jack.  If you’re jacking up a front-wheel drive vehicle, you’ll need to find the position on the engine cross-member for jacking up the front of the vehicle that results in the vehicle remaining level as lift it with the jack.  Due to the fact that both the engine and the transmission are in the engine bay of front-wheel drive vehicles, the weight of these heavy components often isn’t evenly distributed at the front of the vehicle, especially if the engine is positioned so that it’s running across the width of the vehicle, rather than along its length like a rear-wheel drive vehicle.

Do not, under any circumstances, try to jack up the front of the vehicle by placing the jack underneath the oil sump of the engine.  The oil sump is nowhere near strong enough to take the weight of the front of the vehicle and it will quickly distort, resulting in oil leaking out during operation of the engine and requiring the replacement of the oil sump.

After raising the front of the vehicle with the jack, you can use one pair of axle stands at the jacking points behind the front wheels under the chassis rails to support the weight of the vehicle while the rear wheels remain chocked on the ground.


Jacking points to raise the rear of the vehicle…

To raise the rear of the vehicle, place the jack in the middle of the rear of the vehicle underneath the differential which is strong enough to support the weight of the rear of the vehicle on the jack, or underneath some other strong jacking point in the middle of the rear of the vehicle.

After raising the rear of the vehicle with the jack, you can use one pair of axle stands at the jacking points in front of the rear wheels under the chassis rails to support the weight of the vehicle while the front wheels remain chocked on the ground.


Only use quality axle stands…

It’s critically important that the axle stands that you obtain in order to prop up the vehicle and get under it are high-quality axle stands that are rated to carry an appropriate weight in relation to the weight of your vehicle.  Axle stands are generally sold in pairs and should be used in pairs.  The rating or safe working load of axle stands, such as 2,000 kg (4,400 lb), generally applies to the axle stands being used in a pair.


Use axle stands that are rated to carry multiple times the weight they’re supporting...

You can find out the weight of your vehicle by looking on one of the plates on the firewall of the vehicle which is the vertical panel between the engine bay and the vehicle cabin.  These plates show various details about the vehicle.  For example, my vehicle is 1,130 kg (2,490 lb) in weight.  If I’m raising the front of the vehicle only, I’m probably raising about 600 kg (1,320 lb), seeing as more weight is at the front of the vehicle because of the engine (and transmission in the case of my front-wheel drive vehicle).  Because my life depends on the axle stands holding the front of the vehicle up when I get under it, it’s critically important that I use axle stands that are rated to safely carry multiple times the weight that I’m raising.


Using poor-quality axle stands is not worth the risk to your life...

A pair of high-quality axle stands rated to carry 2,000 kg (4,400 lb) which is what I use should be available from your local automotive parts shop.  However, it’s important to be aware that there are some very poor-quality axle stands being sold as a cheap option in the marketplace.  The quality of the welds is poor and it’s absolutely essential to remember that your life depends on the quality of the axle stands.  If you inspect the axle stands at the shop and find them to be poorly made, don’t buy them.  It’s just not worth the risk.

If you end up inspecting them at home and find them to be poorly made, don’t use them – under any circumstances.  Take them back to the shop for a refund and find some high-quality axle stands.  It doesn’t matter if you have to pay even $60 for a pair of high-quality 2000 kg (4,400 lb) rated axle stands.  Your life depends on them.  Now is not the time to worry too much about saving money.  If you’re squashed under a vehicle, you won’t care about the money you saved.  There’s no way I’m going to entrust my life to some shoddy-looking pair of axle stands and neither should you.


Pyramid-type axle stands are the strongest and most reliable...

I personally only use axle stands that are of a pyramid construction, which is intrinsically strong.  I can recommend an excellent brand and model of axle stand: Workmaster JS2000, distributed by KC Tools International.  Anything with a strong pyramid-type construction, high-quality welds, high-quality workmanship and compliance with government safety standards is good.  This compliance should be indicated on a label on the axle stand with a statement such as, “Manufactured to Comply with Australian Standards AS/NZS 2538:1995”.


Avoid accidentally pulling the vehicle off of its axle stands…

Whenever working under a raised vehicle supported by axle stands and a jack, it’s extremely important to be aware that the exertion of great force (especially sideways force) to loosen or tighten a bolt or nut could have the effect of the vehicle moving on the axle stands and possibly falling off of the axle stands in some cases, crushing you and causing an extremely painful death or very serious injury.  Whenever working under a raised vehicle supported by axle stands and a jack, it’s extremely important to be aware of the effect that the exertion of great force to loosen or tighten a bolt or nut has on the stability of the raised vehicle.


Put reflective safety-markers behind the raised vehicle, especially while you’re under it…

It’s a good idea to put reflective safety-markers behind the raised vehicle, especially while you’re working under it, in order to absolutely minimise the risk of somebody driving up from behind and knocking the vehicle off of its axle stands, which would crush you if you were underneath the vehicle at the time.  The collapsible, reflective conical safety-markers are a good type to keep in the back of your vehicle for purposes such as this.  Although this precaution may seem like overkill, you may be surprised at the kinds of things that can go wrong.  It’s entirely possible to attract chaos by putting yourself in a vulnerable position underneath a raised vehicle.  By using safety-markers in this way, everybody around the vehicle is immediately alerted to the need to be cautious, especially strangers such as delivery drivers who may be visiting you, and it’s unlikely that anybody will collide with the vehicle.



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Copyright 2016 Andrew Mackinnon.  All rights reserved.