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The Complete Guide to Hydraulic Jacks [UPDATED 2021]

Hydraulic systems are incredibly important in a wide range of equipment found across many industries and disciplines. Hydraulic jacks in particular are the most common use of hydraulics by the average consumer, and they are extremely important in the automotive repair industry. 

Whether you want to learn all about the functions and types of hydraulic jacks available on the market or you want to know what you are looking for while importing automotive equipment from China, we have you covered. PASSCA’s team of experts works across all the disciplines of the manufacturing process, from design and production to testing and quality assurance. We strive to be one of the top hydraulic jack manufacturers, and we have made huge strides to being a top-tier hydraulic jack supplier. All PASSCA products are both ASME and CE compliant and certified, meaning they will meet the local safety standards just about anywhere in the world. 

We are happy to share our expertise and knowledge with you, whether you find the hydraulic jack for your needs or not. But with such a surprisingly large variety of hydraulic jacks for professional use and hydraulic jacks for home garages, there is sure to be a good fit. So, whether you love your car or care for many vehicles on a daily basis, you are sure to learn something new in this ultimate guide to hydraulic jacks. 

What is a Hydraulic Jack? and How Does a Hydraulic System Work?

To get some of the easy stuff out of the way, practice the hydraulic pronunciation as “high-draw-lick”. Got it? Great. Sometimes, half the battle is looking like you know what you are talking about. 

Before we dive into what is a hydraulic jack, let’s look at the word “hydraulic.” Hydro usually refers to water, but in modern hydraulic systems, it simply stands for any liquid. At their core, a hydraulic system works by compressing liquids like water or oil through a tight space or in a self-contained section of the machinery. Hydraulic jacks use a power source to apply this pressure, which is how they gain the ability to lift weight loads beyond what a human could do on their own. 

The various power sources for your hydraulic jack could be as simple as yourself, sweating and cranking at a manual lever on your hydraulic pump. But, if you choose a more advanced model such as an air hydraulic jack or even an electric hydraulic jack, the task becomes much simpler and less muscle-powered. We will examine all of the types of power for a hydraulic jack later in the guide, but if you are concerned about manual labor… don’t leave yet! 

Hydraulic jacks, like all the other types of jacks, are built for lifting heavy weights and usually use a pushing system to raise things. Hydraulic jacks for a car or truck are the most commonly seen, but hydraulic systems actually power many other kinds of automotive equipment such as a hydraulic shop press or even an engine crane for delicate lifting from above. 

Get the cheap jack that came with your car out of your mind — the hydraulic jacks we are going to examine in the ultimate guide are not meant to sit in a trunk next to a spare tire for their entire life. For real, high-quality automotive equipment, a hydraulic jack will blow away any $10 scissor jack that car manufacturers include to cover their bases. And for anyone looking to upgrade their emergency trunk jack, we have some great options in here as well. 

But before we look at the types of hydraulic jacks for professional or personal use, we need to examine the parts of a hydraulic system. These further details will let you understand the nuances and choose a jack that actually meets your needs and does what you hope it will. For anyone who wants to skip this section (or the entire guide) please send a message to PASSCA’s customer support staff. They love a challenge and can outfit entire auto shops or just help you find the best car accessories or tools for a home garage.  

Hydraulic System Guide

Let’s take a look at the parts that allow a hydraulic jack to function and provide immense value to anyone working with a vehicle or lifting heavy objects. We have included diagrams of both a hydraulic bottle jack and two examples of hydraulic floor jacks. On the left, you will see a red trolley jack, and on the right is part of a black hydraulic floor jack. Here are all the parts of a hydraulic jack system. 

Saddle – The hydraulic jack saddle is the point of contact with whatever you are trying to lift. On a vehicle jack it will be a good fit for the chassis or jack points under a car, but on other models like a transmission jack, the saddle is designed for lifting specific engine components. 

Ram – The ram channels the hydraulic power from the piston assembly to move the jack’s saddle. A strong and well-lubricated ram is critical for a smooth and strong lift. 

Extension Screw – The extension screw allows for more adjustment of the minimum and maximum height of the jack. This adjustment allows you to better fit a range of vehicles and get a little more crucial height. 

Filler Plug – The filler plug gives you access to the hydraulic fluid that the jack contains — use this to plug to refill or change out the oil or fluid in the reservoir. 

Reservoir – The hydraulic reservoir holds the hydraulic fluid in position and contains all the pressure for the hydraulic system. 

Socket – The socket is where the jack handle fits in, allowing the jack operator to manually apply pressure to the hydraulic system. All of the jacks in these diagrams are manual models, and other jacks may have a hookup for an air compressor or electric power supply. 

Jack Handle – A removable jack handle lets you easily store the jack in smaller spaces like a closet or vehicle trunk. The access and angle of the jack handle for all PASSCA hydraulic jacks take into account easy use and storage. 

Piston Assembly – The piston assembly adds power to the hydraulic cylinder, compressing the fluid to produce a much greater output of lifting power. 

Release Valve – One of the most important hydraulic fittings is the release valve — you will use this to lower the jack, bleed excess air from the piston assembly, and generally make adjustments or perform other servicing tasks. 

Lifting Arm – Some types of hydraulic jacks have a lifting arm, which gives them more reach to get the saddle underneath hard to reach jack points on a wider range of vehicles. 

Wheels / Castors – Some models have wheels or castors, and some PASSCA floor jacks also have both! Wheels move in a straight line, while castors can move in all directions so the hydraulic floor jack becomes simple and quick to maneuver underneath a specific point for lifting. 

Frame – All PASSCA products use high-quality metal alloys that fit the specific usage for each piece of equipment. The majority of our jacks use carbon steel for durability, but we are preparing more aluminum options for a lightweight hydraulic jack. 

Carry Handle – Some models of PASSCA hydraulic jacks have a jack carry handle, to make them easier to transport. Trolley jacks, like the red jack in the diagram, are lightweight and some of the most versatile jacks for pit stops or on-the-go vehicle servicing. 

Cover Plate – A cover plate can keep the jack free from interference and damage, but also functions as a safety feature to keep other things like fingers out of the hydraulic jack’s moving parts. 

Parts of hydraulic jack  Parts of trolley jack

How Does a Hydraulic Jack Work?

As you can see from the hydraulic jack diagram above, your manual effort applied to the jack handle creates pressure in the piston and cylinder. This pressure is multiplied by the hydraulic system and raises the lifting arm or ram, which allows the object or vehicle on the jack saddle to be lifted. 

Many hydraulic systems use the same principle to apply pressure or power in a variety of ways. Hydraulic machines like a hydraulic shop press or engine crane use hydraulic systems to hoist or press objects, which is also incredibly useful in a professional automotive garage. 

Pascal’s Principle / Pascal’s Law

A hydraulic jack’s working principle from the physics end of things is called Pascal’s Law, also known as Pascal’s Principle. Now, Pascal’s Law is also used in pneumatic systems, but those use pressurized gas or air instead of liquids. 

The formula for Pascal’s Principle involves force being divided by the area it acts on, with regards to a contained system like the one found in a hydraulic jack. Because pressure is applied on a very small surface area, the larger area of the ram multiplies that force to increase it by 10 times the power. This basic fluid mechanics principle is what allows automotive technicians to lift cars, trucks, and even farm equipment or semi trucks with ease. 

What are the Popular Types of Hydraulic Jacks for an Automotive Garage?

There is an incredible assortment of types of hydraulic jacks! Alterations and innovations have been made over the years to allow for hydraulics to assist in a wide range of tasks. If you need to lift just about anything, searching for a suitable hydraulic jack for the task is the best starting point. 

So, what are the different types of jacks? Let’s take a look at some of the most popular models and product lines from the majority of hydraulic jack manufacturers. 

Hydraulic Bottle Jack 

PASSCA is proud to be a reliable hydraulic bottle jack manufacturer, offering a wide selection. Bottle jacks are the ideal option when you need a small hydraulic jack, and many professional drivers keep one onboard their truck or heavy machinery for emergency servicing. 

Hydraulic jack bottle shape styles are available in compact, light models for standard passenger vehicles, but there are also heavy-duty hydraulic bottle jacks for lifting storage containers, tractors or even adjusting prefab houses. For a professional garage, a long-handled air hydraulic bottle jack can make quick work of just about any lifting you will need to perform. 

Bottle Jack 20Ton

Trolley Jack

One of the most portable hydraulic jack types, a hydraulic trolley jack is a lightweight and reliable solution for on-the-go vehicle lifting needs. Trolley jacks are not for lifting trolleys… they are in fact completely specialized for working on typical passenger vehicles. All the additional features of a trolley jack, paired with the smaller size, make them an ideal addition to any home garage or roadside assistance kit. 

Floor Jack

While trolley jacks are a type of floor jack, not all hydraulic floor jacks are as specialized as their lightweight cousins. Floor jacks are simply meant to spend their lives on the floor, and they have wheels or castors to make that position in the garage environment much easier. Floor jacks are usually heavier and more powerful than other types of hydraulic jacks, but the high weight capacity types may be overkill for many applications. 

For example, a hydraulic floor jack with electric power hookups or a compressed air supply could be rated up to 50 tons. However, a 50 ton hydraulic floor jack will weigh a ton itself due to all the steel in the construction. Your 2 ton car does not need a 50 ton jack or even a 5 ton jack, but for a professional vehicle service provider that versatility could mean more billable hours or a quicker workflow. 

Floor Jack 3Ton Low Profile

Transmission Jack

There are both high lift transmission jacks and low lift transmission jacks in our catalog, because we understand that there is not a “one size fits all” solution. As an experienced hydraulic jack manufacturer, PASSCA has branched out into an assortment of transmission jacks. We even have long ram double-action transmission jacks for installing or servicing heavy engine components underneath a vehicle on a car lift. 

To choose a suitable transmission jack, review your engine part specs and other lifting equipment; you will need to plan around those factors. But the added safety features like chains and a large jack saddle will keep your transmission or other items safe and secure, no matter which model you choose. 

Scissor Jack

Scissor jacks are the average screw jack that comes in the trunks of most cars as they first leave the dealership lot. However, there are hydraulic scissor jacks that offer many of the benefits of this often sneered at the type of jack. Not only will a scissor jack powered by hydraulics be much easier to use, but PASSCA products are not designed as a free add-on for selling cars. We take pride in being a hydraulic jack manufacturer that produces reliable and long-lasting automotive solutions. 

1ton hydraulic scissor jack

What are the Other Uses of Hydraulic Systems in an Automotive Garage?

Since you already understand how powerful a hydraulic system can be, you are no doubt wondering how else they can simplify your work or life. There are countless applications of Pascal’s Principle and hydraulic systems across many, many industries, but let’s focus on the other uses that are close to a hydraulic jack. 

Engine Crane and Long Ram Hydraulic Jack

The long ram hydraulic jacks from PASSCA are used in some of our jacks, like the high lift transmission jacks we looked at already. But that same technology and design is the driving force behind our top-notch engine cranes. For hoisting an engine or other car parts from above, you can easily manipulate and install even the heaviest or most unwieldy component. 

Have an old engine crane already… but it’s awful? Well, we get it; it would be hard to totally replace such a large piece of machinery. That is why we sell replacement hydraulic jack systems, so you can salvage your failing engine crane with an upgrade from PASSCA. We manufacture styles of long ram hydraulic jacks to fit most general engine crane formats, especially our own carbon steel, powder-coated options. 

Hydraulic Shop Press

We hear you! “Enough about lifting,” you say. Well, with a hydraulic shop press you can punch, deep draw, make blanks, mold metal or pliable plastics, clinch, rivet, crunch down garbage like old oil cans, or even dabble in forging. Or, if you get tired of swinging a hammer or prying apart rusty engine components, give them a little pressure from a hydraulic shop press. For such a fundamental and basic piece of machinery, a shop press can open up all sorts of new possibilities in the right hands. 30Ton hydraulic shop press

 

What Are the Advantages of Using a Hydraulic Jack?

Finding and using the absolute perfect fit for a given task is a special kind of bliss — and there is a “right” hydraulic system for many problems. Let’s look at some general benefits of using any hydraulic jack

Flexible and Customizable 

A small powerhouse like a bottle jack can be jammed in anywhere you need things moved away from each other, not just cars and the ground. Bottle jacks work on their side or upside-down as well, so you are only limited by your imagination (and the specific weight capacity of the model you choose). Likewise, a standard hydraulic floor jack can be used for many creative solutions. 

Affordable 

Lately, prices for oil products, toilet paper, and real estate are all experiencing difficulties or large spikes. A hydraulic jack is not expensive, since they contain a great deal of steel and other basic machine components. No more need to find a matching charging cable or worry about lithium shortages — PASSCA products rely on well-made, old-fashioned mechanical engineering. 

Easy Maintenance (…and it’s rare!)

Thanks to the aforementioned simplicity behind the designs of hydraulic jack systems, they rarely need any servicing. And the limited maintenance that a hydraulic jack will appreciate is easy and cheap to perform. Chances are, you already have all the tools needed to fix or tune-up a hydraulic system. Later in this guide, we will go over some of the regular maintenance and troubleshooting questions that we hear. 

Smooth Pressure Control

All the power in the world won’t help you if it ends up punching a hole in your vehicle or tossing expensive engine components around the garage. Hydraulic jacks are easy to control, down to very small adjustments. Also, the nature of hydraulics means you will get a smooth motion in both directions, reducing the risk of accidents or damage. 

What Are the Main Applications of a Hydraulic Jack?

We mentioned how hydraulic jacks are used around the world for all sorts of tasks. Well, here are some of the industries where you will see hydraulic jacks hard at work:

  • Automotive 
  • Agriculture 
  • Construction 
  • Logistics
  • Transportation
  • Mining
  • Aerospace 
  • Nautical

What About a Pneumatic Jack vs a Hydraulic Jack?

Pneumatic jacks and hydraulic jacks may seem the same at first glance because they look similar and both operate using fluid mechanics in their engineering. The core difference is that pneumatic systems compress gas or air, while hydraulic systems use fluids like oil. 

The difference is cost and maintenance can often be significant; hydraulic jacks are usually a cheaper and easier to maintain option. That is why hydraulics are used in all of the aforementioned industries — they are dependable and a responsible choice. 

So, what oil is used in hydraulic jacks? Hydraulic jack fluid could be a special blend of high-performance hydraulic oil, or something as common as mineral oil or motor oil. Now, you should always defer to the hydraulic jack manufacturer’s suggested fluid to avoid any problems with wear and tear or contamination. But, in an emergency, you could probably use a wide variety of dense oils in a hydraulic jack. 

What Are the Safety Precautions for Using a Hydraulic Jack?

It is important to note that in many cases, just a hydraulic jack is not enough to service a vehicle. If you need to work underneath a heavyweight like a car, van, or truck, you must absolutely secure the vehicle or equipment on jack stands. Hydraulics are perfect for lifting, but to maintain a safe workspace and consistent height, jack stands are the way to go. 

You should also always consult the manufacturer’s recommended jack points for any vehicle, to ensure you do not damage important or fragile parts of a vehicle’s undercarriage or chassis. In general, jacks are quite safe to use if you do it the correct way and don’t rely on them for long-term stability. Be sure to use a solid, level base underneath your jack to eliminate the risk of sliding or tipping. 

Some hydraulic fluids are flammable, so if you plan on welding or using other high-heat application techniques, cover the jack from any exposure. 

Do Hydraulic Jack Safety Features Work?

Short answer: yes! Any good hydraulic jack manufacturer (like PASSCA) will include a number of safety features with different styles of jacks. A smooth release valve and sturdy cover plate go a long way towards making a hydraulic jack safer to use. 

Standard automotive PPE like safety glasses and gloves will also reduce your risk of any problems while operating a hydraulic jack. 

Maintenance Guide

Maintaining a hydraulic jack is simple and inexpensive. The most important thing to know is how to regularly inspect and troubleshoot any small adjustments or complications that arise from long-term heavy use. 

What is Wrong With My Hydraulic Jack?

To diagnose a hydraulic jack that is not working like it used to, consult this list of the most common hydraulic jacks problems. 

  • Leaking fluid: If hydraulic jack oil has found its way out of the reservoir or jack assembly, you may have a hydraulic oil leak. Check for cracks or loose components and tighten whatever you can. 
  • Seal leakage: Leaking air through a seal is the number 1 answer to “Why do hydraulic jacks fail?” Simply put, the O rings used in manufacturing a hydraulic system tend to dry out or crack after repeated use or improper storage. The rest of your jack is fine, and thankfully, O rings are incredibly cheap and easy to replace when needed. 
  • Pressure failure: If your jack is not holding pressure and able to extend the ram, you likely have a leak of either fluid or air. Check the entire jack for leaks, using the soap bubble method if necessary. 
  • Reduced power: A reduction in overall power is usually a sign that you have excess air trapped in the jack. Bleed the air out of your hydraulic jack to reset its system and clear out contaminants. 

How to Bleed a Hydraulic Jack?

Bleeding a jack is an important way to extend its life and keep it functioning. 

Here is how to bleed your jack:

  1. Open the valve and pump ten times. 
  2. Close the valve and raise the ram until it is fully extended. 
  3. While extended, pump ten more times. 
  4. Release the valve again, and lower the ram. 
  5. Repeat this once or twice more to remove all the air from the jack.

How To Maintain a Hydraulic Jack? 

To keep your hydraulic jack in the best condition, make sure to store it in a location without too much extra moisture or temperature fluctuations. If your garage is not temperature-controlled, you may want to store a hydraulic jack inside during the summer and winter, depending on your local climate. All PASSCA jacks are powder-coated to fight corrosion and rust, so humidity will not be a concern unless you have banged up your equipment through a lot of intense use. 

How Often to Service a Hydraulic Jack?

Regularly replacing some components like the hydraulic oil or O rings may be necessary, but these are straightforward processes. If you store your jack properly and bleed excess air from the system every few months, your jack should last for many years to come. 

If you rarely use a particular hydraulic jack, it may need to be bled after extended storage, before the first use. Again, it will largely depend on your storage conditions and the amount of use for how often you will need to service your hydraulic jack.  

What are the Important Specifications for Jacks and Hydraulic Jacks?

What should a hydraulic jack be made of? As a top-tier hydraulic jack manufacturer and supplier, we at PASSCA believe that automotive equipment should only be made of the highest quality materials. We use carbon steel for most of our jacks, although some use a reinforced aluminum for lighter weight without sacrificing durability.

Here are some of the factors to consider while choosing hydraulic jack:

  • Capacity
  • Max lift height
  • Min lift height
  • Extension length
  • A power source (lever, air, electric, etc)
  • Orientation (vertical / horizontal )
  • Weight (portability, shipping)
  • Size (storage)

What Hydraulic Jack Do I Need for a Home Garage?

Once you have determined the best specifications in a jack, looked at your vehicles’ ground clearance and weight, and considered proper storage, the choice is yours! Your personal preference will come into play when you consider differences between using a bottle jack or floor jack, or whether you want the added power of an air jack. 

We would recommend a trolley jack or bottle jack for infrequent home garage vehicle servicing. However, if you like to DIY all your vehicle repairs, something stronger like a long-reach hydraulic floor jack could result in quicker lifts and more room to work with. Feel free to contact our customer support team for more personalized recommendations. 

What Hydraulic Jacks Should a Professional Auto Shop Have?

Honestly, a professional automotive garage should consider a range of jacks for performing vehicle service. Ideally, you will always have the best tool for each job, as well as a backup in case someone else is using your favorite hydraulic jack at the moment. Many shops stock powerful floor jacks for large vehicles and some lightweight trolley jacks or bottle jacks for roadside assistance or home visits. These portable jacks can earn you major points with a customer who has a vehicle stuck in a distant parking space or home garage. 

To outfit an entire auto shop, or to upgrade your equipment options, speak to a PASSCA customer support representative. We can work directly with you to find the best solutions for your unique space and business model. And, check out the full PASSCA catalog to see how we can help with other tasks in your garage. We are proud to be one of the premier hydraulic jack manufacturers and suppliers in China, but this guide is only one small part of what we have to offer. 

 

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