How to use a bottle jack correctly

Bottle Jack

Bottle jack or hydraulic jack as it is called sometimes, is obviously derived from the shape of the bottle jack as it resembles a bottle. This type of hydraulic bottle jack comes with an inbuilt oil reservoir and a manual pump that is operated by a lever at the base.

Green Hydraulic Bottle Jack

The bottle jack is very strong and comes in lifting sizes from around 1/2 a ton through to 40 tons and larger in specialised applications. The ones we are likely to see in the public eye are sometimes found in light trucks through to Semi Trailers, 4 wheel drives, SUVs and farm machinery.

They are very easily operated due to the mechanical advantage of the small pumping piston at the base that feeds pressurised oil into the base of the lifting piston or shaft. This easy operation come at the expense of the many pumps needed to get the piston to move upwards and the sometimes awkward position of the bottle jack under the vehicle.

This type of bottle jack is designed to lift a vehicle from the axle or spring base plate as these areas can take the weight of the vehicle and provide stability at the same time due to their distance from the centreline of the vehicle.

If one tries to jack a vehicle from the chassis then there is a liklihood that the bottle jack will be fully extended before the wheels lift from the ground: this is due to the springs rebounding as the vehicle weight is removed from them.

A note of caution here when operating a bottle jack. Firstly, place wheel chocks under the opposing wheel and place the handbrake in the ‘on’ position, put the vehicle into gear or park and finally remove the ignition key.

Car Wheel between chocksOne needs to lay down and push the bottle jack under the vehicle placing the jack on a strong base of some sort, like heavy plywood, wooden bearers or steel plate if the jacking operation is not carried out on a firm base like concrete or bitumen. Failure to do this may result in the bottle jack sinking and slewing sideways rendering the vehicle unstable and therfore unsafe.

You then align it with the axle or spring base, winding out the adjusting screw until it almost touches the axle. Next, you tighten the hydraulic release screw and remove yourself from under the vehicle. Then place the pumping handle into the socket at the base of the bottle jack (usually next to the lowering release screw) and start pumping. Once the vehicle has lifted to the height you need, you should gently rock the vehicle to make sure that the bottle jack is seated correctly and not misalinged.

Bottle Jack under axle

Once this has been done, one needs to lay down once more and place an axle stand under the axle close to the bottle jack. Do not put the axle stand under the chassis or body as the springs will rebound when the bottle jack is lowered with the result that the wheels may touch the ground again.

Do not put your body under the vehicle until the axle safety stand is in place. If you need to jack up more than one wheel, then repeat the process on the other axle(s). Once all the axle stands are in place check the vehicle for stability by pushing it side to side and back to front, making sure there is no sway that may lead to the vehicle collapsing.

Bottle Jack maintenance

Safety Axle Stands

The Bottle jack has a great longivity cycle providing they are maintained. One of the key issues with the hydraulic bottle jack malfunctioning is the lack of sufficient hydraulic oil, caused by a leak. Cause of oil leaks usually stem from the way the bottle jack has been transported in the vehicle. If it is left to roll around in a toolbox then don’t be surprised if the piston seals start leaking.

The piston shaft is of a very highly polished and accurately machined steel and can get damaged if knocked around with other tools. The shafts do not like dirt, period. This is due to the fine abrasives sticking to the shaft when it is extended and then binding into the oil seals surrounding the shaft when it retracts. This binding can cause cuts and distortion of the seals allowing oil to leak out. A low oil level will render the jack not capable of being fully extended. Do not use a jack in this condition as it may very well have air in the system which can result in the jack collapsing rapidly and it further reduces the lifting capacity of the jack.

 Whatever you do, do not refill the jack with motor oil but use a manufacturers recommended hydraulic oil.

Bottle jacks are best stored upright with the jack locked into a retaining mechanism that allows one to apply a slight pressure (by pumping the jack by hand only – no handle!) that holds the jack firmly in place and applies a light pressure to the seals. Keep your jack clean and away from water, sand and debris.

Buying a bottle jack

When buying a bottle jack, quality says it all. Jacks made in the USA, Europe (Germany and the UK anyway) and Australia tend to fair better that the cheaper ‘no name’  Chinese clones that are often over rated and lack dealer support and spare parts. Furthermore, these ‘Western’ jacks have generally been around a lot longer than the Chinese ones and so they have been thoroughly tested in the public arena and any weaknesses or design faults have well and truly been sorted out.

Bottle jacks are not suited for all makes of vehicles as many small cars today lack the clearance needed to slide the jack under the vehicle. Furthermore, these cars usually lack a strong enough base to support the vehicle’s weight. For this reason as well as cost and the weight associated with a bottle jack, scissor jacks are usually found in the family sedan and small commuter type of vehicle.

A good bottle jack that has been maintained and kept stored correctly will last a lifetime, having had a bottle jack that was used frequently for over 40 years by myself.

When buying a bottle jack, quality says it all. Jacks made in the USA, Europe (Germany and the UK anyway) and Australia tend to fair better that the cheaper ‘no name’  Chinese clones that are often over rated and lack dealer support and spare parts. Furthermore, these ‘Western’ jacks have generally been around a lot longer than the Chinese ones and so they have been thoroughly tested in the public arena and any weaknesses or design faults have well and truly been sorted out.

Bottle jacks are not suited for all makes of vehicles as many small cars today lack the clearance needed to slide the bottle jack under the vehicle. Furthemore, these cars usually lack a strong enough base to support the vehicle’s weight. For this reason as well as cost and the weight associated with a bottle jack, scissor jacks are usually found in the family sedan and small commuter type of vehicle.

A good bottle jack that has been maintained and kept stored correctly will last a lifetime, having had a bottle jack that was used frequently for over 40 years by myself.

Bottle jacks also come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fitted various applications such as these jacks shown below.

Other bottle jacks one is likely to encounter are these predominently red jacks that suffer from Asian cloning and suspect quality. When buying this sort of bottle jack, be diligent about where it was manufactured if you want a strong, long lasting and safe bottle jack. And lastly, buy one that exceeds your lifting requirements by a margin of 30% for large jacks and 50% for a small bottle jack under 4 tons.

Selection of Bottle Jacks

Red Hydraulic Bottle jack

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