Anyone who has spent the better part of a day under a festered old car tugging on suspension bits has probably cast the occasional hairy eyeball at the rusty old no-name jack stands supporting it. You don't have to be a professional technician to have heard the stories or seen the news reports. Every once in a while, somebody gets killed when the car they're working on falls and crushes them. More often than not, human error or sheer stupidity is the cause rather than faulty equipment. We thought it might be time to discuss both.
If you're even reading this, chances are you're one of a dwindling number of automotive do-it-yourselfers. You may have a Craftsman toolbox and a halfway decent concrete pad somewhere where you wrench on your sled, you may have a fully equipped home shop in your residential garage, or you may be somewhere in between. You may even be a professional technician. Whatever, go take a look at your floor jack and jack stands. We'd be willing to bet the former leaks hydraulic oil and pressure, and the latter has a ratcheting "rack-and-pinion" support mechanism. Neither necessarily instills the type of confidence you may have in your car itself, and both are antiquated. Antiquated doesn't necessarily mean unsafe, but where jacking equipment is concerned, it makes sense to spend a little bit more on the good stuff. Lots of dead guys would agree.
Where to go for quality jacking products? We wondered the same thing, because it seems like every auto store we go to carries only very low-quality jacking equipment made in a certain communist holdout better known for pork lo mein and lousy fireworks. The fact that oodles of U.S. consumer goods now made there are often of what appears to be acceptable quality does not seem to have trickled down to jacking products. Our no-name $24.95 Chinese jack stands had a ratcheting rack and pinion support mechanism that relied on about1/4-in. of recycled Lada bumper. They never failed, but if they had, someone else would probably have had to write the tale. Part of the reason is that, while cigarette lighters are subject to mandatory safety regulations in the U.S., automotive jacking equipment is not.
Enter AC Hydraulics products from www.automotiveserviceequipment.com. AC Hydraulics makes jack stands, floor jacks and various other jacking products in Denmark pursuant to the most stringent standards. Among them are US ANSI Z 535. 1-1998 and Swedish safety standards requiring 200% overload capacity, according to Automotive Service Equipment.
We tested a set of four AC Hydraulics 3000N jack stands, each 6,600-lb capacity, priced at $32 each. Looking past the standard marketing "features and benefits" on the Website, the photos of AC Hydraulics jack stands alone instill confidence. The large circular base pads ensure that there is no tilting or teetering on three of four legs, as can be the case with lesser jack stands on any surface that isn't perfectly level. This alone is worth the price of admission, which is approximately $7 or so above the cost of el cheapo jack stands. The positive locking pins may take an extra second or two to set, but there's no question they are a tremendously more secure support mechanism compared to the rack and pinion method. Unintended lowering simply isn't possible. In fact, the only criticism we can muster is that the cup-shaped upper support pads don't readily mate with every under-car support point, such as frame rails. However, they perfectly match the rear suspension carrier on the subject E30 3 Series BMW
It seems that 99% of floor jacks share one thing in common: They are not nearly long enough and low enough to reach the front or rear suspension carriers, which are the lifting point of choice on many European cars. Then we wind up having to use a small "helper jack" on a frame rail to lift the car sufficiently to get the main jack in place, where it can be used to lift the entire front or rear of the car rather than just one corner. The AC Hydraulics DK20HLQ is the ticket here. With 4,400-lb lift capacity and 37.4-in. frame, it'll get under the rear suspension carrier of the nastiest old Mercedes you can find. It's worth every penny of $499, but for many enthusiasts the DK20HLQ may give way to the $379 DK13HLQ with 2,900-lb capacity and a 32-in. frame.
But as long as you don't mind using a "helper jack," the real bargain is the AC Hydraulics DK20 for only $229. It won't reach a BMW suspension carrier, but it does have 4,400-lb capacity, which is far more than most of us will ever need. The excellent design, heavy-duty casters, positive locking handle, and especially the smooth raising and lowering action of the DK20 make it the Porsche GT2 of floor jacks. Six years ago, I bought a 2-ton-capacity Lincoln floor jack, made right here in the good ol' USA, for about $250-paying more for a high-quality American floor jack because this just isn't a good place to scrimp. But since new, the Lincoln's lifting action has been hampered by 5 or 6 inches of initial handle travel before the hydraulics kick in. And the lowering action is very difficult to control. Unless you're intimately familiar with the jack, chances are you'll lower it faster than you intended. By comparison, the AC Hydraulics DK20 simply rules, with absolutely no initial "slop" when pumping up, and smooth, easily controlled lowering.
Criticisms? Well, the plastic upper handle is not in keeping with the highest quality construction employed in the rest of the unit. The jack pad itself is smallish and could do with some raised "grabber" portions on the edges. And the Allen cap bolt that secures the lower part of the handle to the jack frame seemed like a poor fastener choice, so we replaced it with a standard grade 8.8 M6x10 bolt and lock washer. This is a minor point and is more about us being anal than anything else.
In the end, though, your brain is the most important tool you have. Even the best jack and support equipment won't overcome a lack of simple common sense. Never jack up a car using a floor jack unless you're sure of what you're doing. We've included some photographs here, but nothing can substitute for on-the-spot help and instruction from a more experienced enthusiast. Get under a car supported only by a hydraulic jack? That's just stupid. Your friends and your family need you around. Never get under a car that isn't properly supported either by a lift or by high-quality jack stands.