A scissor jack is an underrated, but much-needed tool for car owners. It resides in almost every trunk, yet it’s often completely overlooked.
‘Do I even need this heavy thing?’ you might have wondered at one point.
And the answer is absolutely yes!
Although I sincerely do hope you’ll never have to change a tire in your life, that’s not very likely to happen. There are a lot of things that can go wrong on a car. And a lot of common car fixes, such as tire replacement and fuel filter replacement, require a scissor jack.
Luckily, learning how to use a scissor jack is not difficult at all. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about scissor jacks. Also, we’ll give you a full step-by-step guide on how to use one.
Before jumping right into the step-by-step tutorial, I need to tell you a few elementary things about scissor jacks.
Whether you’ve got a flat tire, a cracked wheel, or a bad catalytic converter, your car needs to be lifted. If the problem is with the wheels or tires, you need to take the weight of the car off them in order to make the necessary repairs. On the other hand, if you have to work on the underside of your car, you need to elevate the car as high as possible.
A scissor jack operates by using mechanical force to push air into a pneumatic cylinder with a piston inside. The piston lifts up a metal plate on which your car sits.
Manual scissor jacks have a lever which you push to force air into the cylinder, while electrical jacks use an electric motor to lift the piston up. The plate is supported on all sides with a set of connected steel bars, interconnected into a diamond shape in order to hold the weight of the car. When extended, they look like a set of scissor blades, hence the name “scissor jack”.
Different Scissor Jack Types
Manual Scissor Jack
Manual or standard scissor jack is the one that can be found in the trunk of almost every vehicle. If you carry a spare tire, you probably also carry an old standard scissor jack somewhere in there, too.
The mechanism of a standard jack is simple — you turn the lever clockwise (or counterclockwise, depending on the model), which then sets off the scissor-like mechanism and elevates the car. Turning the handle the other way round should do the opposite, or in this case, lower the car.
Once you’re done using it, you can compress the jack and store it anywhere. It’s incredibly easy to handle, store, and transport. Another advantage of manual scissor jacks is their affordability.
If you don’t have a manual scissor jack, you should definitely get one just in case. May I suggest Torin Big Red Steel Scissor Jack?
Electric Scissor Jack
Electrical jacks work and look the same as the manual ones, except they work on electricity instead of pushing strength. Obviously, they are quite practical and easy to use. They can be activated with a mere press of a button.
Because they are more complex, electrical scissor jacks are much heavier and bulkier than manual jacks when they’re compressed.
But the main disadvantage of electrical jacks is definitely their price. They can cost several hundreds of dollars. After all, it’s usually professional mechanics who use this kind of tools.
Still, if you look hard enough, you can catch a good deal once in a while. For example, the Mophorn 12V Electric Car Jack Set is quite affordable, even though it is a professional electric scissor jack.
Before you jump right into car-jacking action, you must take all the safety precautions. Many people don’t know this, but lifting a car using a jack, as simple as it may seem, can actually be dangerous.
If you don’t stabilize the jack properly, even the slightest of mishaps can lead to serious consequences. Aside from damaging your car, such recklessness can also bring you some horrible injuries.
To prevent that from happening, you should follow the next couple of tips:
- Consult with the mechanic or your car’s manual. That should give you an idea of where the safe lifting points are.
- Turn off your car beforehand. Before you start, you should drive your vehicle to a flat surface area and put it in park mode.
- Make sure the car is secured in place. Once you lift the car using a scissor jack, use your strength to shake the vehicle. If you can see it moving, then you didn’t secure it well enough.
- When lifting your car sideways, lock the wheels on the opposite side.
- Use jack stands. A single scissor jack won’t be able to hold your car up for long, so you should always place jack stands just in case.
How to Use a Scissor Jack — a Step-By-Step Guide
1. Find a level spot and park
I’ve mentioned this in the previous section, but I believe it’s worth mentioning again. In order to safely begin the car jacking process, you need to find a flat surface area in which you can park. Turn off the vehicle and activate the handbrake. If you can, wedge the wheels on the opposite side of the car.
Make sure you have plenty of room for working. Clean out any unnecessary debris around you. Take the scissor jack out of the trunk.
2. Assemble the scissor jack and check its functionality
Wipe any dust or dirt off the scissor jack and assemble it if you need to. Inspect it for any damage. If it looks alright, try and test it without the car first.
In case its movement seems a bit rusty, use some silicone lubricant to make it run more smoothly. Provided that your car is nice and stable and that the scissor jack is ready to go, you can continue to the next step.
3. Locate the best jacking spot on the car and place the scissor jack
I mentioned earlier that you should consult with the mechanic or the manual about where the most convenient lifting spots are on your car. Being that the manual is much easier to get to than the mechanic, I suggest you try and find that first. If you don’t already have one near you, you can easily find it online.
The jacking points are usually somewhere under the frame and near the wheels, which is the strongest part of the car.
Once you’ve located them, you can carefully place the scissor jack under them. The lever or handle of the jack should be facing you. Lift the saddle up just until it touches the underside of the car. Wiggle it around to adjust it, then keep spinning the handle or pulling the lever.
4. Just keep spinning
Your hands will most likely get tired at this point (at least mine do), and the handle will get harder to turn. Even though it may seem impossible, just keep spinning it, and the car will be up in the air in no time.
However, pay close attention to the positioning of the scissor jack. Watch it closely as it works and check whether it’s wiggling or not. It definitely shouldn’t be moving at all.
Most importantly, don’t try to adjust the jack with your fingers while it’s making contact with the car!
5. Place the jack stands if needed
Once your car is at a suitable height, you can finally stop spinning and start working on the car.
If you only need to, let’s say, replace a tire, this is as far as you need to go height-wise.
And if you need to repair something on the underside of the car, you should place the jack stands. When you do that, lower the scissor jack a bit so that the car lays on the jack stands nicely. At this point, you can remove the scissor jack if you want and later return it in order to lower the car.
6. Once you're done, slowly lower the car
After you’re done repairing your car, you can slowly and gently lower the scissor jack. Of course, first make sure nobody is left working under the car.
Turn the lever to the opposite side and do so until the wheels reach the ground, You can then slowly remove the scissor jack, compress it, and store it.
As you can see, jacking a car is not difficult at all. If you take all the necessary safety precautions and follow all the steps correctly, you have nothing to worry about.
On the other hand, as extensive as the process may be, if you don’t follow all the steps, you’re risking damaging your car or worse, injuring yourself badly.
In case you’re having difficulties with the steps and/or you need to see a visual depiction of the car jacking process, here’s a video that should clear things up for you.
Learning how to use a scissor jack will help you in a lot of future situations, especially urgent car interventions. So, next time your tire goes flat, you don’t have to stand helplessly and wait for help. You can do it yourself, and be back on the road in no time.