How to Set Up Car Lifts and Routine Maintenance

Setting up your vehicle lift in your home garage and keeping it in good working order, does not have to be difficult, but with a bit of consideration before you start, you will make your life a lot easier.

Positioning the Lift in the Shop

home vehicle liftsSeveral considerations need to be made to determine the best possible position for your lift to fit properly in the bay.

The best starting point for 2 post lifts is to determine the largest vehicles you intend to lift and set the lift columns accordingly.  For example, if you know you will be lifting a long crew cab dually pickup, pull it into the bay and park it where you want it to be while on the lift.  Carefully examine the space you are leaving around the vehicle for walking space,cabinets, workbenches and other obstacles.

The lift columns position will be located based on your largest vehicle to be lifted then everything smaller will fit without issue.

If you do not have the vehicle a simple rule of thumb may help.  Centering the columns 10-12 feet from the front wall will allow a few feet of workspace in front of the vehicle.

  • Asymmetric lifts – closer to 10 feet from the front wall will work best.  Asymmetric loading is typically a 30/70 split with the 30% in front of the columns using only about 4-5 feet leaving enough space for workbenches and walk space.  For symmetric loading closer to 12 feet from the front wall will work best.
  • Symmetric – loading is typically a 50/50 split with 50% in front of the columns using about 6 feet leaving space for workbenches and walk space.  Of course, you may move the location according to your specific space needs.

Where space is limited, place the largest vehicle in the bay and make the most of what space you have.

Note: Car Lifts with Supersymmetric arms may be lifting vehicles both symmetrically and asymmetrically, plan accordingly.  Also, most lift manufacturers recommend to stay 6-8 inches away from significant concrete cracks or seams.  Refer to the installation manual for more concrete information.

When marking the spot for the columns to be bolted down, determine where they will be in relation to your truck.  The center of gravity will typically be based on whether the truck front wheel drive or rear wheel drive and if the lift is asymmetric, symmetric or supersymmetric.

According to the Automotive Lift Institute:  On rear wheel drive truck’s, the center of gravity is usually below the driver’s seat.  On front wheel drive cars, the center of gravity is usually slightly in front of the driver’s seat, beneath the steering wheel.  This may help guide you to determine the proper column location.

Determining the Center of Gravity Helps to Locate Lift Columns

Determining the Center of Gravity Helps to Locate Lift Columns

Take a look at our car lift guide to determine which auto lift is best for your needs.

Electrical Hook-Up

Proper electrical planning is very useful when positioning the lift.  Considering the electrical hook-up before the lift is placed can save you a lot of time.

Most car lifts today have columns that face each other squarely as opposed to being turned on angle.  When the columns are straight and square to each other it means you can place the front lifting arms on either side of the lift or approach the lift from either direction depending on your needs.  This gives you the added flexibility to place the column with the power unit mounting bracket on either side because you can arrange the arms to enter from either direction.  So, if it is easier to run your electrical drop to one side versus the other, just place the power unit column on that side.

Note: It is common practice for commercial shops to place the power unit column on the passenger side of a 2 post car lift.  Doing so allows the operator to position the car, get out and set the arms on the drivers side, walk to the passenger side and set those arms, stand up and use the power unit to raise the lift.  Can be a real step / time saver!

Bleeding The Hydraulic Cylinders

Once the lift is installed and before you have raised a vehicle, it is important to remove any air that has been trapped in the hydraulic system.  For 2 post car lifts that have direct drive hydraulic cylinders, there will be a bleeder screw on top of the cylinder.  Use the following steps to bleed the air out:

  1. Raise the lift about 12” off the floor and locate the bleeder screw on top of either cylinder.
  2. Loosen the bleeder screw slightly to let the air escape without removing the screw.  Tighten the screw back when only fluid is coming out and no air.  Repeat the process for the other cylinder.
  3. Next, lower the lift all the way down and then raise the lift up and down 1 full cycles.  This will help any remaining air to flow back into the cylinders.  Lower the lift back down and then raise to about 12”.  Repeat steps 1 and 2 to remove any remaining air.

For “chain over cylinder” car lifts, simply cycle the lift up and down for several cycles.  When the lift is lowered all the way, continue to hold the lowering valve for about 10-15 seconds for each cycle before lifting again.  Holding the lowering valve while the lift is fully down will bleed any air back into the reservoir tank which will allow the air to escape through the vented cap.

Replacing the Lift’s Hydraulic Oil

To make the right choice of hydraulic fluid for your lift, it is important to understand each type of oil.

Most Lift manufacturers will recommend a few different types of hydraulic oil that can be used in their lifts.  We have listed those types below to help you choose the proper grade of oil for your 2-Post or 4-Post car lift, 4-Post Roller Jacks and Pro-Jacks, Mid-Rise or Low-Rise car lift, Motorcycle Lift and Transmission Jacks.


Stands for Rust & Oxidation; also contains Anti-Foam additives.  R&O is approximately a 10 weight oil with the additives.

Suitable for use in applications where a premium R&O product is not required.


Stands for Anti-Wear; also protects against Rust & Oxidation, and contains Anti-Foam additives.

  • AW32 is approximately a 10 weight oil with the additives
  • AW46 is approximately a 15 weight oil with the additives

AW provides many of the advantages of premium hydraulic oil at a moderate price. Suitable for use in applications where a Premium AW product is not required. All are blended with highly refined naphthenic/paraffinic base oils.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q) What is the difference between AW32 and AW46 Hydraulic Oils?

A) The weights (10 & 15) Sometimes called (ISO32, ISO46)

Q) What is the difference between Premium AW32 and Quality AW32?

A) Quality AW32 is approximately a 1500-hour oil, whereas, Premium AW32 has increased oxidation stabilizers making it approximately a 5000-hour oil.

Q) What is the most recommended Hydraulic Oil by Lift Manufacturers?

A) AW32 and AW46 because of their Anti-Wear, Anti-Foam and protection against Rust & Oxidation.  AW32 is the most popular choice being a 10 weight oil, it works best for all climates.

Q) Can I use ATF (Automatic Transmission Fluid) in my lift?

A) The use of ATF may affect the warranty on certain lift manufacturers hydraulic components and power units. However, some manufacturers allow Dexron III ATF as an AW32 / ISO32 equivalent.  Check the owners manual for the correct oil for your lift.

Synchronizing the Cables

The cables on 2 post car lifts are used to synchronize the 2 hydraulic cylinders (one in each column) so they travel at the same position during the lift cycle.  This synchronization equalizes the hydraulic pressure for each cylinder allowing the 2 sides to be locked at a level position.  This is achieved by properly adjusting the lift cables.

  1. Once the cables have been installed according to the manufacturers installation manual, raise the lift a few feet off the ground.  You will want the top of the lift carriage visible to see and access the adjustment nut on top of the cable.  Note which side the lock is engaging (clicking noise) first while raising the lift.
  2. Feel the tension on each cable to see that they are similar and that one cable is not tighter than the other.  Too much tension on one cable can cause other lift issues.
  3. To equalize the cables you will adjust the nut on the side that the lock was engaging first.  This will cause the other side to raise up and equalize.  Only adjust a few turns at a time then recheck the locking positions.  You want to hear both locks engage at the same time while maintaining as equal tension on both cables as possible.
  4. Once the cables have been synchronized, you may notice that the cables will lose their equalization after lifting several vehicles.  This is normal due to cable stretching and will only need readjustment when you notice the locks are not clicking together.

car lift cable access

This Lift has a Square Access Hole (black plastic square covers hole) on top of the lift carriage to allow access to cable adjustment.

Follow each lift’s operators manual for all of the maintenance requirements and frequency schedule.

Lift inspections should also be maintained and performed by a qualified lift inspector according to the manufacturers inspection guide or current ALI lift standards requirement.


  1. Mike McGowan
    • Jim Parsons

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