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The Lowdown on Garage Lifts: Part 1

The Lowdown on Garage Lifts: Part 1

Having a vehicle lift in your home garage used to be the type of extravagance that was on par with, say, having a commercial pizza oven in your kitchen or even an Olympic-size pool in the basement, but in recent years the proliferation of affordable lifts has changed perceptions and options. The truth is they make a lot sense for hobbyists who wrench on their own rides and need additional storage space that a home garage couldn’t offer otherwise.

We’re going to take a multi-part look at these ultimate garage tools, starting with the basic questions most enthusiasts want answered before making an admittedly sizable and garage-altering investment. Keep in mind the answers are general in nature and don’t replace a few minutes in your own garage with a tape measure.

1. I want a lift for the extra storage space – to stack one car over another. How much floor-to-ceiling space do I need?

That’s the biggest and probably most pertinent question when it comes to considering a garage lift. Of course, the overall height of vehicles varies greatly, which drastically affects the height requirements, but as a general rule a 10-foot-tall ceiling is about the minimum you want for typical American cars – like vintage Mustangs or Camaros – that generally have heights of about 52 inches. That provides a few inches of clearance above the bottom car and keeps the top car from rubbing its paint on the ceiling. If you’ve got a couple of Porsche 356s, however, you could probably get away with an 8-foot ceiling.

2. Can I use a lift in a two-car garage and still park another car next to it?

It will be tight, but even in most suburban garages, you should have enough room. Generally, the stance of a stacker-type four-post lift is about 9.5 feet wide, while the typical width of a two-car garage door is 16 feet. Assuming there’s room to “hide” one side of the lift’s posts inside the door’s opening, there should be enough room for the lift and another average-size vehicle to pull in and park next to it.

3. I’ve got the ceiling space and floor space, but do I want a two-post or four-post lift?

It depends on what you want to do. If storage and occasional repairs will be your primary use, a four-post is the way to go. If you want a lift primarily for repair and restoration work, a two-post lift provides greater access to the underside of the car and they are generally a few hundred dollars less expensive than four-post lifts. The big difference between them is the four-post is typically a drive-on-type lift, while the two-post design typically “picks up” the car with adjustable arms. A two post lift isn’t the best idea for storage, either, because the wheels aren’t on ramps, which allows the suspension to droop.

4. What sort of permanent modifications do I have to make to my garage, such as anchoring the lift or electrical upgrades?

Generally speaking, the answer is no modifications are required. Most of the hobby-type lifts on the market are designed to sit on the garage floor without bolts or other floor anchors. Likewise, most require only conventional 110-volt power to operate the lift motor, although some offer or require 220-volt power. In those regards, a garage lift couldn’t be simpler – and the non-permanent installation means you can take it with you to another location.

5. So, how much are we talking about to buy a lift? And can I assemble one myself?

Most four-post garage lifts with a weight rating of up to 9,000 pounds will run somewhere around $2,000-$2,500 – some a little less and some a little more. If storage is a primary consideration, the cost of an off-site storage unit is quickly eaten up in a year or less when compared with a lift and, of course, you don’t have the immediate access like you do at home. As for the assembly, lifts are definitely buildable for enthusiasts with moderate wrench-turning skills, but for a few hundred bucks more, most suppliers offer an assembly and installation service, which is totally the way to go. We absolutely recommend letting someone with experience tackle the job for you.

A garage lift greatly expands storage and maintenance options, as long as the garage has the space for it.

If the lift is going to be used for storing one car over another, careful measurements must be taken to ensure adequate roof clearance, as well as garage door clearance. A 10-foot ceiling height is generally the minimum height required to stack a couple of intermediate-sized cars.

In garages where there isn’t enough room to stack two cars for storage purposes, a lift is helpful tool for enthusiasts who do all their own maintenance, repairs and modifications.

This tightly packed garage shows that even tight confines can accommodate a lift for storing cars. This enthusiast modified the rafters of his suburban Detroit garage to make room for his ’56 Chevy and C3 Corvette.

Return To Our Garage Lift Buyer's Guide

Published Dec 7th, 2015

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