Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2002   by Dean Askin

Lift your business to new, more profitable heights

Choosing the right lift can add important new capability for growth and retrofit.

When it comes to raising the profit margins of your shop, an investment in an automotive lift can help you accomplish this goal. Whether you’re replacing an aging, outdated lift; adding wheel alignment to your capabilities; or filling an empty bay with a new general-service lift to expand your business, the right two- or four-post lift gives you the potential to increase your customer base, capabilities and revenues around a new profit centre.

It’s imperative to think of a lift as a new profit centre, not merely as a new piece of equipment for doing brake jobs. There’s a big difference in these two points of view. Thinking of a lift as another piece of equipment can limit your growth potential – because you may end up choosing the wrong lift. Thinking of your lift as a new profit centre and communicating your needs with your supplier, on the other hand, can give you infinite growth potential. Remember, you’re making an investment of $4,000 or more that’s going to be bolted into the concrete for 10 to 15 years, so you don’t want to make the wrong decision.

Determining Your Lifting Needs

Long before the holes are drilled in the concrete, sit down and think about your business: Where it is today and where you want it to be years from now; what kinds of services you currently offer and those you want to offer; what kinds of vehicles you currently service and those you want to service in the future. The answers you come up with will help you and your supplier determine which lift is right for your shop.

If, for example, your business is focused strictly on import cars and light trucks, your needs will most likely be satisfied with a 9,000-lb. twin-post lift designed for general service. There’s no logical reason to invest in a 14,000- or 18,000-pound lift that can handle a wide range of makes and models.

What about adding a general-service lift to an empty third or fourth bay? Perhaps you already have a lift in one bay and just want to expand your business. A 9,000-lb. two-post lift is a good solution, giving you the capability to potentially double your volume of general-service work and therefore your profits.

Should you invest in a two-post symmetrical lift, or an asymmetrical one? If you service mainly cars, then an asymmetrical lift is the choice. With its 30/70 off-centre load distribution, an asymmetrical lift will raise a car with 30 percent of the vehicle weight forward and the doors clear of the posts, so you can open doors when necessary while the vehicle is raised. But if minivans and trucks are mainstays of your shop’s business, you need a symmetrical lift that lifts on the vehicle’s weight centre for 50/50 load distribution. In more simple terms, think about whether you need a car lift that lifts some trucks, or a truck lift that lifts cars.

If you’re getting into wheel alignment, there’s even more to consider: Are you working mostly on cars, or mostly on trucks? Do you expect to continue working mostly on cars, or do you want to do more truck wheel alignments, especially on larger, heavier trucks and SUVs? Do you have the space for a four-post lift, or can your bay accommodate only a scissor lift?

Truck wheel alignment is more involved than car wheel alignment, so it represents more profit potential. But if you decide on a 12,000-lb. lift, you’ll end up limiting your capabilities to cars and extended-cab pickups – and therefore your profit potential. To service modern heavier pickups and SUVs – and take advantage of the profit centre they represent, you’ll need a 14,000-, 18,000- or even a 22,000-lb. lift. Scissor, or four-post? If your bay can accommodate it, you’ll probably want to choose a four-post, drive-on alignment lift. If you need alignment capabilities in a compact area, then you’ll need a scissor lift. Scissor lifts, while offering compactness, are more expensive than four-post lifts because the technology used in the manufacture of scissor lifts is more complex and costly.

The all-important site survey

Another thing to consider – can your shop even accommodate a lift? Once you’ve talked with your lift equipment representative about your plans to add a lift, he should have a site survey done. The survey will determine, among other things, whether:

bay, roof and overhead obstruction (heating/ventilation units, etc.) clearances are adequate;

a two- or four-post lift will fit;

your air supply is adequate (lifts generally require 110 psi);

vehicles could be driven onto and off of a drive-on style lift easily;

the shop floor is level;

and whether there’s enough concrete to support the lift.

The last two points are crucial factors in determining what kind and weight of lift your shop can accommodate. The floor must be relatively level, and there must be at least 5″ of concrete with a minimum strength of 4,000 psi. Depending on the condition, size and location of your shop, you could find yourself needing to spend money on site renovation work before you can have a lift installed. The floor may need to be levelled and/or reinforced; or overhead heating/ventilation units may need to be moved by a contractor. In the worst case scenario, you could find that your shop simply can’t accommodate a lift. Budget for these contingencies when you’re planning your lift investment. You’ll also need to budget for an electrical contractor – lift installers don’t do the electrical power supply work that’s needed to make your lift fully operational. All they do is make a temporary connection for an initial test of the electric motor.

Check with your landlord about installing a lift, if you lease or rent your building or unit. In some provinces, an automotive lift will become part of the building and the property of the landlord once it’s bolted into the concrete. Assuming your shop can accommodate a new lift; you know what kinds of vehicles you want to service now and in the future; and that you’ve talked with your lift equipment supplier about your needs and together you’ve determined which lift is right for your shop; you’re ready to make your lift purchase decision.

Choose an ALI-certified lift

At this point, you should be making sure the lift in which you’re about to invest is certified by the Florida-based Automotive Lift Institute (ALI). ALI, founded in 1945, is the organization that developed lift-industry manufacturing, operation, installation and maintenance standards to ensure that automotive lifts are built from high-quality materials and operate safely.

To earn ALI certification and be part of the ALI/ETL Lift Certification Program as a lift manufacturer, 70 percent of the lifts produced by a manufacturer must pass stringent third-party testing by Intertek Testing Laboratories (ETL) of Cortland, New York. There are currently 18 North American lift manufacturers – only three of them in Canada – in the ALI/ETL Lift Certification Program. A high-quality lift will not just meet the ALI/ETL standards; rather, it will far exceed the standards. It’s important to remember, however, that ALI certification is product specific, so look for the gold ALI certification label on the lift. Even though a manufacturer may be a member of the ALI/ETL Lift Certification Program, not all of its lifts may have ALI certification. A high-quality manufacturer may have 90 percent or more of its lifts ALI certified.

Once you’ve made your investment and the lift is installed and operational, you have some responsibilities: Make sure that you read the lift manual and any ALI safety material provided by your supplier; that your technicians are trained in the safe operation of the lift; and that the lift is maintained regularly and properly.

There is plenty of information about lift safety and operation available on the Internet, from both ALI ( and other organizations. The Manitoba Labour Workplace Health & Safety Division ( has published a comprehensive document on types of lifts and all aspects of safe lift operation. It’s available at It covers everything from what to do before
operating a lift, to proper protective wear during operation.

When you’ve made a significant investment in building your business with a new lift as a profit centre, you want to get the return on your investment. But in the drive to increase your profitability, don’t press your lift to get more out of it. Don’t push your lift past the envelope by putting 4,500 pounds of weight on arms designed for 2,250 pounds, or by lifting a 10,000-pound vehicle on a lift with a 9,000-lb. capacity. If you do this, and often enough, stressed components will bend and you’ll find yourself having to replace them or the entire lift itself.

What happens if your new lift malfunctions at some point and requires service? You’ll want to make sure your lift equipment supplier has authorized service representatives who can respond quickly, and who are specifically trained on the maintenance and repair of their brands. It’s standard for lift manufacturers to contract out repair services to authorized service representatives; reputable manufacturers make sure these service representatives are trained on all of their lift products. There are some independent lift repairers, but they may not know your particular lift.

There are a lot of factors to consider in a lift investment. But if you map out your business and choose your lift wisely, your lift will give you plenty of power and capability to take your automotive service business to new, more profitable heights.

This article was supplied by Snap-on Tools of Canada Ltd.

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