If you’re going to learn to do your own auto maintenance and repair, one of the core skills you need to develop is getting the car off the ground safely. Learning to use the jack is only step one, albeit an important step. Chances are that unless you’re just changing a tire, you need to go further and secure the vehicle so you can safely work underneath it. Some experienced home mechanics swear by brake pad changes using only a jack, but the ones who have worked as mechanics secure a vehicle so they can work on both sides safely, and without having to do anything to the car.
Prepare the Area
Make sure there is nothing on the ground in the area where you are placing the jack. Look under the vehicle and make sure you are going to be in the right place to safely lift it. Your owner’s manual will tell you where to place the jack, and it’s different for every car. If you don’t have the manual, a maintenance handbook should be easy to find at your local auto parts store or online. If you are securing the car so you can work underneath it safely, have the jack stands near the jack. Make sure you have the wheels blocked where you will not be lifting the vehicle off the ground to avoid any chance of rolling out of place.
Lift and Secure the Vehicle
Use the jack to lift the car according to the directions for the model you have. If you are changing a tire or performing another single-wheel operation, lock the jack and begin work. If you are using jack stands, place the first one. Then lower the jack, allowing the stand to support the vehicle. Move to the other side and lift the vehicle again, placing the second jack stand. Remember to secure the crossbar to stabilize both stands.
Lower and remove the jack after setting up the jack stands. Before getting under any part of the car, give it a firm wiggle to make sure the stands are securely holding it. If there is no movement in the jack stands, it should now be safe to work on the vehicle. After you’re done working, use the jack to lift the vehicle off the jack stands and remove them one at a time, in a reversal of the process for putting them up. When doing the work under the car, make sure to follow all the steps in the tutorial, because learning how to bleed brakes or do other work to your own car is half learning mechanics and half learning to safely access that part of the car.
Remember these points as you set up jacks and jack stands:
- Never change a tire on a freeway or highway
- Make sure you are parked on level ground before lifting the vehicle
- Put the vehicle in park and engage the parking brake for added safety
Not every repair will need you to get out the jack, but sometimes the ones that do will surprise you, because auto designers will make some odd choices sometimes. You might even wind up needing the jack while trying to figure out how to tell if your car battery is dead. Go ahead and laugh, but practically anything an auto design team can try, they have tried.