Floor Jack How-to & Troubleshooting Guide
The floor jack is an invaluable tool; it easily lifts vehicles and allows you to examine and repair the underside of your car comfortably and safely. A hydraulic floor jack will also serve you for years with proper use and maintenance.
However, they are not immune to malfunctions and problems that will prevent the tool from working properly.
Most underlying issues involve trapped air, insufficiently lubricated parts, low hydraulic fluid levels, improper use, and maintenance or overloading of the jack. That’s why it’s imperative to know how to inspect, maintain, and repair your floor jack if an issue arises.
So let’s look at the most common floor jack problems and their solutions. But first, let’s understand how a hydraulic works and how to use it safely.
How to use a hydraulic floor jack
A hydraulic floor jack is a manually operated hydraulic lift. It creates fluid pressure by moving oil through two cylinders via a pump plunger. The pump plunger draws back, opens the suction valve, and draws oil into the pump chamber.
When you turn the jack handle, the plunger moves down, and the hydraulic fluid or oil flows into a cylinder through an external discharge valve.
The suction valve then closes, thus creating fluid pressure within the cylinder, causing the piston to rise and lift your heavy object. This repetitive process allows your load to rise higher and higher.
Here is a guide on using your floor jack to lift a vehicle safely.
Things you’ll need
- Hydraulic floor jack
- Wheel chocks
- Jack stands
- Saddle pad(optional)
- Park your car on a solid, flat surface, then engage the parking brake.
- Place a set of wheel chocks at the opposite end from where you’ll be lifting your car. This prevents accidental rollback and is essential even if the surface is level.
- Determine your vehicle’s lift points. Every vehicle is different, but there are common jack points. The most common jack points are near the from or back wheels; usually, there will be a flat metal edge near the wheels with a spot for the floor jack to fit into. If unsure, check your vehicle’s manual. Using the jack anywhere other than the designated lift points could potentially damage your car and be unsafe.
- Install any additional rigging such as saddle pads or adapters on your jack.
- Position your floor jack under the vehicle’s jack point. Ensure the saddle rests into the vehicle frame with as much contact as possible.
- Slowly start pumping the floor jack with the handle until the jack’s saddle meets the vehicle’s frame. Then, stop pumping and check to ensure the saddle’s placement is relative to the vehicle frame and lift points. If not, restart.
- Otherwise, continue pumping until your vehicle is high enough to work on. Always assess your vehicle’s stability during the lifting process. If unsure, slowly lower your vehicle and restart the process.
- After reaching the desired height, place the jack standard beneath your vehicle’s frame. Then slowly lower the vehicle onto the jack stands and check for instability.
- After working on the car, pump the jack handle to lift the vehicle slightly above the jack stands and ensure the vehicle is stable.
- Remove the jack stand away from underneath the vehicle and set them aside.
- Then slowly turn the jack handle counterclockwise until the vehicle safely reaches the ground.
Note: Although floor jacks have several fail-safes which prevent the load from dropping when something fails, these hydraulic floor jacks are for lifting and not for supporting a load.
How do you fix a floor jack that won’t lift
The purpose of the floor jack is to lift weight and maintain it securely in the air. However, there are several reasons why your floor jack won’t lift. Here are the reasons and how to fix them.
Overloading the floor jack
Ensure you’re not overloading the floor jack. All floor jacks have a weight limit it can’t and shouldn’t exceed. In addition, most manufacturers install a safety overload valve that prevents the floor jack from working when overloaded.
For instance, a Pittsburgh 3-tone floor jack can’t lift more than three tons of weight. The rule of thumb states that a floor-jack should be rated at least three-quarters of your vehicle’s gross weight. If you try overloading the jack, it won’t lift and may even damage it more.
Inadequate hydraulic oil
Check if the floor jack has enough hydraulic oil. Too little or too much hydraulic oil can cause the floor jack to malfunction. Ensure the oil level is up to the oil line and not too far above or below it. When refilling, ensure you use the best quality oil.
Also, always check for debris and dirt in the hydraulic oil chamber. If refilling doesn’t help, you may have to disassemble the floor jack to check for damaged parts leading to oil leaks. Again, you may have to consult a professional for this.
Lubricate your floor jack. Add oil to all moving parts to ensure none of the parts stick and everything moves smoothly. In addition, lubrication prevents corrosion and wear of these moving parts.
Bleed trapped air from the floor jack’s hydraulics. Sometimes, the air gets trapped in the jack, preventing it from lifting effectively. Low oil levels in the floor jack lead to a buildup of air in the chamber, preventing it from lifting.
Moreover, hydraulic oils have different viscosity levels that would suit your floor jack brand better. So using the wrong oil could wear out or degrade the components of your floor jack.
Loose release valve
Tighten the release valve by turning the handle clockwise. A loose release valve will prevent the floor jack from lifting enough weight as it will allow the pressure out when lifting and may allow air back in the system.
Note: Never use compressor oil for floor jacks as it doesn’t have the required additives and may cause seals to leak prematurely.
How do you bleed the air out of a floor jack?
The main principle behind the operation of a floor jack is hydraulic fluid is not compressible. However, sometimes air gets trapped inside the jack, usually through a leak in the system. And since air is compressible, it prevents pressure from building up, which is required to lift and support loads.
Additionally, using a floor jack with air in its system is also dangerous. This is why bleeding the floor jack is imperative. Here’s an easy guide to bleeding your floor jack correctly.
Things you need
- Flathead screwdriver
- Hydraulic fluid
- Place the floor jack on a flat surface and then clean the surface around the floor jack with a clean damp cloth. This prevents dirt and dust from getting into the floor jack system when you open it.
- Extend the lift arm or ram piston. The lift arm is the part of your jack located directly beneath the load it lifts.
- Then start pumping the jack without loading it until the jack arm fully extends to the highest point.
- Release the pressure valve and allow the floor jack to lower itself. The valve placement and process of releasing it vary depending on the models. If you have a high-end floor jack, open the valve by turning the jack handle counterclockwise. Next, insert the screwdriver into the valve and then turn it counterclockwise.
- For cheaper and older models, the release valve is under the handle. Therefore, you must remove the handle and fit it into the release valve. Or use a pair of pliers and turn it counterclockwise.
- Wait till the jack arm is back to its lowest position, then move to the next step.
- Open the jack’s filler plug on the jack’s main body. Be cautious not to confuse the filler plug with the check valve. Attach the flathead screwdriver to the filler plug and carefully turn it counterclockwise. You will hear a hiss when you remove the filler plug. This indicates the trapped air in the jack is escaping.
- Once the hissing sound has stopped, screw the filler plug back in by turning it clockwise until it’s hand tight.
- Repeat the process until you no longer hear air escaping from your jack and then clean off the oil spills from your floor.
How to adjust a hydraulic floor jack
The hydraulic floor jack will lift the load as long as you’re pumping the fluid or until the arm extends completely. But you can still lift beyond the extent of the lift arm if you adjust the threaded saddle.
Things you’ll need
- Wheel chocks
Adjust the saddle
- Place the wheel chock on the opposite side you’re raising.
- Set the shift lever in the ‘Park’ position on automatic transmission and first gear for a standard transmission vehicle. Set the emergency brake and remove the key from the ignition.
- Put the floor jack under the vehicle. Ensure the saddle aligns with a firm part of the car’s frame.
- Make sure the fluid bleed screw at the base of the hydraulic jack cylinder is closed.
- Adjust the saddle by turning it counterclockwise until you get to your desired additional height. Note that different floor jacks have different height limits for their saddles.
- Then pump the saddle up and down to raise the load to the desired height.
Adjust the extension of the jack
- Adjust the extension of the floor jack by pumping the fluid into the cylinder to raise the vehicle to your desired height.
- Adjust the jack’s bleed screw by turning it counterclockwise when lowering the vehicle and then tighten it when raising the load. The bleed screw has a horizontal pin that fits into the base of the pump handle.
- To lower the floor jack, turn the floor jack handle counterclockwise at the half turn, and the jack will collapse a little. However, this should be enough to allow you to remove the jack from under the vehicle.
- Then step on the jack to lower it and return it to its original position.
The floor jack won’t go down.
All the common reasons that prevent you from listing a load with the floor jack are the same reason preventing the tool from lowering. Below are other reasons why your floor jack won’t go down.
Hydraulic fluid level
Check the fluid level in your floor jack and ensure there are within the required level. If the fluid is too high or too low, your floor jack will not lower or lift your vehicle. If the liquid is too much, siphon some out, and if it’s too low, it’s a sign of a leak somewhere.
You can inspect your floor jack, look for the leak, and repair it, or hire a professional to fix the repair and refill the fluid. It is important to use quality hydraulic fluid to avoid damaging your jack.
Try bleeding the floor jack if your hydraulic fluid levels are okay and the floor jack still won’t lower.
If there is no air to bleed, the floor jack has stuck due to a lack of lubrication in the key joints. If you do not oil your floor jack quickly, the internal parts may rust in the long run and lead to irreversible damage to the device. To grease your floor jack;
- Get lubrication oil.
- The key parts of the jack to lubricate include:
- The lift arm shaft pin
- The axle on the front wheel
- Bearings under the wheel frame
- The back roller comes into contact with the pump piston.
- The general joint near the communal valve
- The handle on the inner surface
If none of the solutions seem to fix the issue, you must inspect the floor jack thoroughly to find the fault. Perform a detailed inspection of parts such as valve, piston, and other connections. You may have to hire a professional, which could be time-consuming and costly, but it ensures your floor jack is properly repaired and maintained for effective performance.
The floor jack hand won’t turn.
The main reason your floor jack arm won’t turn is lack of lubrication. When you turn the hydraulic jack handle, the hydraulic fluid flows into a cylinder, which raises the load. Some lift arms have grease fittings to lubricate the arm’s pivot pin, while other floor jacks do not. Here’s how to lubricate your floor jack hand to allow it to turn.
- Run the grease gun until you see grease coming out on both sides of the lift arm pivot pin location.
- Then use white lithium spray grease to lubricate the front and rear wheel axles, caster bearings, handle yoke pump roller, release valve linkages, pump pistons, handle yoke, pivot bolts, and all shafts.
- Ensure all the hardware is securely tight. The loose fastener can cause stripped threads and premature wear of the components, making the jack inoperable.
The floor jack release valve won’t tighten.
The release valve in a hydraulic jack discharges the pressure so that the arm can retract and the jack can lower the load. The release valve turns clockwise when lifting the jack and counterclockwise to raise the saddle and lower the jack. Therefore, the floor jack won’t lift or go down if the release valve is loose.
Why does my floor jack not stay up?
If your floor jack lifts your load but refuses to hold pressure, there could be several underlying problems. Fortunately, you can fix most of these issues using a few handy tips below.
Check if your floor jack is overloaded.
It’s important to check your floor jack’s lifting capacity before lifting a specific load or vehicle. Most floor jacks have a safety overload feature that will prevent the user from overloading the tool and causing extensive damage. So if your load’s weight exceeds the jack’s lifting capacity, it could explain why it won’t stay up.
Check the hydraulic oil levels.
Higher or lower hydraulic levels will lower your jack’s lifting capability. Take off the fill plug and look in the oil chamber. Most manufacturers recommend about 3/16 up to 1/4 over the reservoir oil level. Also, check how dirty the hydraulic oil. Hydraulic oil filled with impurities leads to the dysfunction of the floor jack, and it won’t be able to maintain the pressure needed to lift the load.
Bleed the trapped air
The floor jack won’t hold pressure if the oil chamber has some air. Try using our guide to bleed your floor jack, then test it again. If bleeding doesn’t work, disassemble the jack and assess damaged parts that could cause the oil to leak out and air to enter the jack.
The floor jack is not lifting high enough.
Follow the steps below to ensure your floor jack lifts to its maximum height.
- Ensure your load is within the jack’s capacity limits. Overloading the jack will prevent it from lifting your load high enough, or it won’t lift at all.
- Bleed trapped air from the jack. Air in the fluid chamber will interfere with the pressure buildup in the hydraulic fluid chamber, thus preventing the jack from going high enough.
- Hire a professional to disassemble your floor jack and check for damaged parts, loose connections, and leaking parts.
How to put oil in a floor jack
The floor jack uses hydraulic oil to grease the internal systems. Unfortunately, a new floor jack won’t have any oil in it, and you’ll have to fill it. Also, jacks require refills every few years to ensure it performs properly and preserves their longevity. Using the guide below, you can learn how to fill oil in your floor jack.
Things you’ll need
- Screwdriver set
- Hydraulic jack oil
- Precautions: When performing maintenance of your floor jack, avoid touching the overload protection underneath the orange caps. They are factory set and will never need adjusting.
- Place the floor jack in an upright position on flat level ground to prevent it from rolling. It also keeps the oil level so you can fill the oil chamber correctly.
- Also, ensure the place around your jack is free from dirt. This prevents dust and dirt particles from going into the hydraulic fluid chamber.
- Open the release valve at the bottom of the floor jack to lower the jack so that you can access the filler plug. You’ll have to turn the handle counterclockwise for some jacks, while for others, you must press the release valve.
- With the release valve open, pump the jack several times, then leave the handle in the downwards position.
- Find the rubber oil filler plug on the side of the jack cylinder near the top. Some jacks have a screw-type filler plug.
- Use a flathead screwdriver to pry out the rubber filler plug and set it aside. For the screw type, use the Phillips screwdriver to remove the screw filler plug.
- Pour hydraulic oil into a squeeze bottle with a long pointed tip. Some hydraulic oi brands come with a closed pointed tip, making it easier to use.
- Insert the pointed tip into the oil filler hole and squeeze the hydraulic fluid until it reaches the lower rim of the filler hole.
- Replace the filler plug into the hole and push it in until it stays securely into the hole.
- Then wipe excess oil from the outside.
- After refilling the hydraulic oil, bleed your jack. Bleeding the system after a refill clears out all the air and ensures your jack works properly.
How to clean and maintain a floor jack
Even the most well-made floor jacks require regular maintenance and servicing to fix repairs on time, ensure the tool works effectively, and ensures its longevity. The following tips should keep you clean and maintain your floor jack.
- Always clean your floor jack after every use and before putting it away. Dirt in the floor jack will cause it to malfunction prematurely. In addition, if you use your floor jack outdoors or where there is sand, water, dust, or snow, it can accumulate on and inside the jack if not cleaned quickly, thus contaminating the system and leading to breakdowns.
- Use a damp cloth or a shop vac to clean off the dirt from the jack.
- Always clean the exterior after lubrication and fluid refills so that the metal will attract less dust.
- Perform periodic and detailed checkups on your jack. Look for wear and tear, rust, broken seals and plugs, and signs of leakage. Pay more attention to the lift arm and handle as these are the parts that experience the most strain. If there are any visible breaks or cracks, replace your jack.
- Lubricate moving parts around the hinge points on the lift arm, handle, and wheels.
- If the wheels are damaged, you should replace them as they ensure the stability of your jack when under load.
- Tighten any loose nuts and fasteners to avoid loose connections, which could put other parts through unnecessary strain.
- Check the oil level periodically and refill it. Also, inspect the quality of the oil from time to time. If the oil is dirty, drain it and refill the fluid chamber with new hydraulic oil.
- Always bleed your jack after an oil refill or whenever it feels spongy.
- Check for signs of oil on your jack, as this indicates a leak. A floor jack is a closed system, meaning leaks will reduce performance and cause the jack to release prematurely.
- Always store your floor jack in a dry area, ensure your garage is cool through out the year.
- Apply a thin layer of oil on the metal parts of your floor jack from time to time to prevent corrosion. Keep the jack in its rest state with the hydraulic arm fully retracted to avoid putting stress on the jack’s system.
We hope our article has provided the information you need to fix and maintain your hydraulic floor jack. These issues are easy to resolve, such as loading within the jack’s capabilities, bleeding the jack regularly, performing oil checks and refills, lubricating hinges, and moving parts.
But if the problem requires dismantling the jack or replacing load-bearing parts, it’s better to consult with an expert to avoid further damaging your floor jack.