Hi-lift jacks are a classic off-road accessory. They’re still popular on the trail and a potentially vital piece of emergency equipment.
But how do hi-lift jacks work, and how do you operate one safely?
Is it similar to using a traditional scissor or bottle jack?
How To UseA Hi-Lift Jack
Hi-lift jacks use a long handle to advance a chassis up a long steel rail. They can be used to lift tall vehicles, and they work the same way up and down. To use a hi-lift jack, simply find the vehicle’s jack point, position the jack, and begin actuating the handle one click at a time.
Lowering the vehicle with a hi-lift jack requires a little more care, as the directional lever is under an enormous amount of pressure.
Hi-lift jacks have several more features and quirks that are important to know about, and we’ll cover each of them in-depth in this article.
We sourced the information used in this article from reputable off-road guides and from the manufacturers of hi-lift jacks.
What is a Hi-Lift Jack?
A hi-lift jack is a long, narrow automotive jack designed to lift a vehicle high off the ground.
This jack looks somewhat similar to a pogo stick and is typically between 48 and 60 inches long.
Hi-lift jacks have a handle that folds up and stows neatly along the length of the device.
Hi-lift jacks are built to withstand a significant amount of weight and can be used in heavy-duty applications—though not as much as a heavy-duty floor jack.
What Are Hi-Lift Jacks Used For?
They’re extremely popular for off-road vehicles and utility vehicles, as they have much higher reach than a standard bottle or scissor jacks.
A hi-lift jack may be necessary if you lift your truck or Jeep.
Many off-road enthusiasts are horrified to find that, after their lift kit installation, the factory jack no longer extends high enough to allow them to change a tire.
Hi-lift jacks can also be used to get a vehicle unstuck.
It allows drivers to lift the wheels and put something underneath them for traction, such as wood planks or a specialized ramp device.
Where to Mount a Hi-Lift Jack
The great thing about a hi-lift jack is that you can mount it on virtually any flat surface.
The hood is an ideal place to mount a hi-lift jack, as it’s usually flat enough for the brackets and doesn’t obstruct any moving parts.
Plus, it’s unlikely to snag on anything or get damaged on the trail.
Another place to mount a hi-lift jack is on the bull bar if you have one.
Some bull bars and brush guards have special mounting points for hi-lift jacks, which have been a popular off-road accessory for decades.
Jeep owners often mount their hi-lift jack on the back, either vertically or lengthwise.
It can be mounted alongside jerry can racks, which helps consolidate add-ons into one area.
Interior mounting options are also available.
Do I Need a Hi-Lift Jack?
What kind of vehicle do you own, and how do you use it? This is an important question to ask when deciding on what jack to buy.
Hi-lift jacks are unnecessary in many applications—but potentially lifesaving for others.
There’s virtually no reason to have a hi-lift jack in a passenger car.
Hi-lift jacks are designed to lift a vehicle much higher than any passenger car would need to be for a tire replacement, and using them to change oil or do maintenance would be unsafe.
Plus, modern passenger cars likely don’t have any jack point where a hi-lift jack could be used.
Some vehicles, such as trucks and Jeeps, can benefit greatly from a hi-lift jack.
The hi-lift jack is a time-tested off-road accessory that’s extremely useful on the trail.
It’s rugged, simple, and capable of lifting a vehicle with large tires.
How a Hi-Lift Jack Works
Hi-lift jacks use a series of pivots, pins, and catches.
It works in a similar way to a ratcheting tool, as the lever advances a catch to the next hole on the slide where it locks.
The jack is released when the catch is pulled back; it’s normally held in place until the operator intentionally releases it.
Hi-Lift Jack Vs Floor Jack
Well-made floor jacks are the closest to hi-lift jacks in terms of durability, though a standard hydraulic floor jack can usually lift more weight than a hi-lift jack.
Additionally, it’s easier to operate a floor jack, as the pumping mechanism distributes weight more evenly and reduces the forces necessary to lift a car.
Floor jacks are smoother and much more precise than hi-lift jacks.
However, they’re extremely heavy and generally can’t be mounted on a vehicle.
A floor jack also has wheels, which can make it difficult or impossible to use on sloped surfaces
Floor jacks are best suited for dry, level concrete shop floors.
Hi-Lift Jack Vs Bottle Jack
Bottle jacks are smaller than hi-lift jacks.
As a result, they’re much more commonly found on all kinds of vehicles.
Bottle jacks sometimes have a wider base as well, which makes them suitable for use on uneven ground.
Hydraulic bottle jacks, like floor jacks, are smoother and easier to operate than hi-lift jacks.
However, they typically can’t reach anywhere near the height of a hi-lift jack.
Crank-type mechanical bottle jacks, which often came with the tire replacement kit of cars and trucks made prior to 1990, have few advantages over hi-lift jacks.
Hi-Lift Jack Vs Scissor Jack
Scissor jacks are the least durable and lowest quality alternative to hi-lift jacks.
In comparison, scissor jacks are an afterthought and usually reserved for small economy cars.
Scissor jacks can be easily strained under weight, and they do not operate smoothly.
These jacks should be avoided for off-road use.
Can You Use a Hi-Lift Jack as a Winch?
Yes! One of the secret tricks discovered by off-roaders is that a hi-lift jack can easily be used as a winch. Doing so is simple; all you need is a set of cables and hooks.
By connecting cables to the ends of the hi-lift jack, when compressed, it can be used to pull a vehicle out of a ditch.
Be careful when doing so, however, because cables can snap and cause serious injury.
Never overload the cables or the jack, and be extra careful when releasing the tension.
How to Operate a Hi-Lift Jack
Operating a hi-lift jack is fairly simple.
First, find a jack point on your vehicle.
Avoid using the jack under body panels, as they’re too thin to support the weight.
A good place to start is under a frame rail (if accessible), under a trailer hitch frame or under the front bumper (if you have an off-road bumper).
Typically, it’s best to put a block or a board underneath the base to keep the jack from sinking into the ground.
Once you find your jack point, begin moving the handle up and down.
Be sure to continue moving the handle until you hear a solid “click” during each stroke.
Keep the jack level as much as possible.
When it’s time to release the jack, first put the handle in the fully vertical position.
Find the side lever that changes the direction of the jack.
Be careful when activating this lever, as the entire weight of your vehicle is supported on the jack.
Use a stick, a rock, or a hammer to change the jack direction.
Never use your bare hand to actuate the direction release.
Then, simply use the handle to slowly jack the vehicle back down to the ground.
You’ll need to get one click up to jack the vehicle down, so don’t panic if it appears to raise the vehicle on the first stroke of the handle.
The jack works in the same way in reverse, which is one of the key benefits of a hi-lift system.