Don’t cut corners when it comes to shopping for a lift

Updated Aug 14, 2020

There’s no room for cutting corners when choosing a shop lift. In fact, it’s such an important topic that the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI) has a guide on its website titled Buyers Beware.

ALI, an accredited industry leader that provides lift product certification and training, has a list of manufacturers they say have crossed the line when it comes to lift marketing.

“We recommend checking the ‘Buyer Beware’ section of before making a final decision,” said ALI President Bob O’Gorman. “We actively monitor the lift market for scams and false claims and list them (on their website).”

certified automotive lift gold label certificationsWhile they may disagree on some things, all the lift manufacturers we interviewed said to look for Gold Label certification from the Automotive Lift Institute.

Accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as an independent, third party, product certification organization, ALI certifies that lift equipment will perform up to industry criteria for automotive lifts set by ANSI and enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Testing is performed in an OSHA-approved lab where, if it passes muster, will leave with an ALI Gold Label that also bears the names of ANSI and ALCTV (Automotive Lifts – Safety Requirements for Construction, Testing and Validation).

“ANSI/ALI ALCTV outlines the minimum safety features required on every lift,” O’Gorman said. “If you buy an ALI Certified lift you are ensuring that your lift meets the current safety standard.”

While lift products can be legally purchased without ALI certification, they may not be permitted for use in a shop, many of which are governed by regulations set by the International Building Code in the United States and Provincial Requirements in Canada. Even if it’s permissible to use a non-certified lift, it’s not something to take lightly.

BendPak HDS-35 four-post liftBendPak’s HDS-35 four-post lift has a max capacity of 35,000 pounds.

“Lift certification is significant,” said Peter Bowers, technical sales support manager at Stertil-Koni USA. “Consider purchasing lifts certified by the American Lift Institute (ALI), our industry’s third-party watchdog. This lift certification program makes it easy for buyers to choose lifts that meet all safety requirements for construction, testing and validation. The ALI gold label is the best guarantee that a lift has been independently tested to meet the highest industry safety standards.”

BendPak Executive Vice President Jeff Kritzer also advised looking for the ALI Gold Label when shopping for lift equipment.

“ANSI/ALI ALCTV outlines the minimum safety features required on every lift,” Kritzer said. “If you buy an ALI Certified lift you are ensuring that your lift meets the current safety standard.”

ALI’s website offers a list of certified lifts.

“Prior to shopping, you want to ensure that the lift manufacturer is a member of the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI) and that the lift you’re looking to purchase has the gold ALI/ETL (Electrical Testing Laboratories) certification label,” said Doug Spiller, director of heavy duty product management for Rotary Lift. “This label is the only industry-recognized documentation that the lift has been third-party tested and has met performance and safety standards. A total of 47 states plus Washington, D.C., have adopted the International Building Code, which requires all vehicle lifts be certified to this standard.”

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So much depends upon a building

A lift with an ALI Gold Label may seem like the perfect fit for the fleet, but it may not be the right choice for the shop.

“It’s simple,” said Steve Perlstein, sales and marketing manager at Mohawk Lifts. “Guys in the shop know how to run the shop. They don’t know necessarily know how to equip the shop because they don’t go thinking about things like ceiling height. They don’t go thinking about bay length.”

tow truck on Mohawk parallelogram liftMohawk’s sales manager Steve Perlstein explained that since a parallelogram lift rises up at angle it can provide more space for things like tech work areas and tool boxes.

In that case, it’s best to lean on the expertise of others that can nail down shop layout and infrastructure. A lift company sales rep can help, Perlstein said. Spiller agreed.

“One of the best first steps you can take is to find a local vehicle lift distributor or lift expert to survey your fleet, your needs and your facility to help come up with a solution that fits all of those and your budget,” Spiller said.

A sales rep that’s trained to know what to look for in a shop can help prevent big mistakes.

“One of the key mistakes is shop layout,” Spiller said. “Will the lift fit in the facility space with every vehicle in the fleet? Many times, approach ramps must be removed to close doors, vehicle overhangs are not considered, or overhead items have to be moved after a lift is installed. There could be a better style of lift that is more flexible or adjustable to fit in your space.”

In addition to space availability, Spiller said to “consider traffic flow, concrete and soil quality, vehicle lengths, turning radius, and whether the facility is leased or owned.”

Lease agreements may prohibit certain installations, particularly in-ground lifts.

“If the shop is on a short-term lease, perhaps mobile column lifts are best, as these heavy-duty vehicle lifts are indeed mobile and can easily be moved to a new location,” Bowers said.

Other issues that can affect lift selection including power availability.

“Do you have enough juice on the wall? We can make it run on 440 (volts), if that’s what you prefer,” Perlstein said. “We can make it run on single phase or three phase. These are the kinds of questions to ask to ensure somebody doesn’t mess up.”

Bowers agreed with the need to “evaluate power sources in the shop and check for the availability of 3 phase VAC power.”

Tools of the trade for lift reps, Perlstein said, include a rotary hammer, a heavy-duty power tool that pounds as it drills. There’s a good reason for that. Drilling into a shop’s concrete floor allows for a closer look at the concrete, particularly the thickness of slab. If it’s not deemed strong enough, then a lift may be out of the question.

“He’s going to check how thick the floor is,” Perlstein said. “Please remember that drive-on lifts of all types need to get bolted to the floor. If you tell me you’ve got two inches of concrete, I’m going to say, ‘Go pour a new floor and then we can talk.’”

Rotary Lift MOD35 Flex in-ground liftRotary Lift MOD35 Flex in-ground lift. “We have found that the most productive facilities will have a flat or open bay about 10% of the time and usually a tire bay or inspection bay that may also be a pit,” said Doug Spiller, Rotary’s heavy-duty product manager.

Floor requirements can vary depending on the lift.

“Platform lifts and Mobile Column Lifts can be utilized on a simple 6-inch shop floor comprised on 3500 PSI concrete with a single level of 6 x 6 WWF (welded wire fabric),” Bowers said. “Foundation testing comes into play with fixed two post lifts that require highly reinforced concrete.”

Floor testing can be avoided, Spiller said, only if floor thickness and strength “can be verified from building construction.” Otherwise, a core should be taken “from the floor in the area of the installation. The core will determine the depth of the concrete and can be tested for strength. Lift installation manuals will have the exact floor strength required for each type of lift.”

At the end of the day, a fleet’s shop presents plenty of unique considerations that shouldn’t be ignored.

“What is your shop like? And there’s never two people in the world that answer the question in the same way,” Perlstein said.

Popular can be practical but…

Whether due to restrictive leases, space constraints or budget requirements, mobile column lifts have become king.

“Mobile column lifts are the most common vehicle lifts utilized at Class 8 shops,” Bowers said. “This is due to their overall lower cost to purchase and minimal infrastructure requirements to operate.”

Stertil-Koni wireless mobile column liftsStertil-Koni wireless mobile column lifts. Wireless mobile lifts reduce set-up time and keep the floor clear of cords.

However, convenience and an attractive price point do not always make mobile lifts the right choice.

“One nice thing about mobile columns is that they can be used in a flat bay and moved out of the way when not needed,” Kritzer said. “But like all lift types, mobile column lifts are not ideal for every job. For example, if you have a bay dedicated to PMs, you may want to install a drive-on lift like a four-post lift to speed up getting trucks on and off the lift. Add a set of rolling bridge jacks and you can do wheel and brake work, too.”

O’Gorman agreed that mobile lifts aren’t always the answer.

“Mobile column lifts are very popular with commercial truck fleets and they are appropriate for doing a variety of maintenance and repair tasks on Class 8 trucks,” he said. “But you may prefer a heavy-duty two-post lift for wheels-free work on medium-duty trucks or a drive-on lift like a four-post or parallelogram type of lift for some tasks. Many government fleets rely on heavy-duty inground lifts and scissors lifts to service their vehicles. Ideally, get advice from a qualified lift professional on which lifts would be right for you. We list all ALI lift manufacturer members on our website.”

Depending on shop needs, time constraints can be an issue with mobile lifts, Perlstein said.

“You know how long it takes to set up a set of mobile columns? They’re not quick,” he said. “Perhaps in a dealership, you’ve got a four-post or alignment lift. You drive on and you’re up. You hit the button and you’re in the air.

“If there’s a whole lot of PMs going on, do I really want to spend the eight or twelve minutes per set of mobile column lifts to put one of those against each and every one of the tires? Or do I just want to use a drive-on lift and hit the up button?” Perlstein continued. “I’m not saying that one lift is better than the other. They all have different applications. But if we take a twin screw, over the road truck, that thing weighs about 22,000 pounds and we find a lot of customers buying a 25,000-pound lift and that’s what they use. Actually, a 25,000-pound drive-on costs less than a set of mobile columns. Move to a 75,000-pound drive-on and it’s a different story.”

When shopping for a mobile lift, Perlstein suggested consideration of spec’ing lifting forks that are long enough to fit under both tires when needed on heavy duallies.

“Do not exceed the tire-load rating,” he said. “Let’s pretend we’ve got a decent sized vehicle. Something with some weight to it. A refuse truck. Let’s call it 24,000 pounds on the S-axle. If you’re only lifting it by the outer tire but the outer tire has got an 8,000-lb. PSI rating to it, what are you doing? You’re going against the manufacturer’s stated warranties. It’s not a smart thing to do.”

Lifting your expectations

It doesn’t take long searching online to discover that the market is saturated with plenty of lifts and accessories at attractive prices. Just be careful before clicking.

Stertil-Koni SKYLIFT platform lift“A platform lift, such as the Stertil-Koni SKYLIFT (shown above) is ideal for quick drive-on, drive-off servicing, such as oil changes,” said Peter Bowers, technical sales support manager at Stertil-Koni.

“A typical mistake that many people make when shopping is only looking at the upfront price,” O’Gorman said. “Remember, when it comes to a lift, your safety and the safety of your team is riding on it. There’s a reason some lifts are much cheaper than others – don’t compromise on safety! If you see an incredibly low price, question why.

“Is the lift certified? Does it have sufficient capacity?” O’Gorman continued. “Is the lift marketed and sold as CE (certified in Europe) compliant and not intended to be acceptable to local U.S. requirements? Are you familiar with the manufacturer? Will you be able to get replacement parts when it needs maintenance or service down the road? Can it properly lift the vehicles in your fleet?”

Before signing on the line, get to know the lift company (search on ACI’s website first), look at the fine print of their warranty policy and ask about service and support. Get a copy of the lift’s owner’s manual to get a better idea of its functions and maintenance requirements.

“Typical mistakes made when shopping include not doing your homework to figure out exactly what you need upfront, getting distracted by bells and whistles or irrelevant product claims, or focusing only on price,” Kritzer said. “All of these mistakes can result in you winding up with a lift or, worse, a shop full of lifts, that don’t meet your fleet’s specific needs.”

Spiller said in addition to looking for ALI Gold Label certification check to see if the manufacturer performs lifecycle tests on their equipment and get to know maintenance requirements.

“When comparing the cost of lifts, look at the overall cost of ownership, not just the initial purchase price,” he said. “The costs of repairs and downtime from a low-priced lift can easily outweigh any upfront savings.”