How to Use a Car Jack

Learn how to use a car jack safely, whether you’re stuck on the side of a road or hard at work in your own garage.
Written by Bonnie Stinson
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
To use a car jack, you will need a safe location on level ground, wheel chocks, and jack stands. If you are replacing a tire, make sure you have the proper torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts. Whether you are dealing with a flat tire or another type of auto repair, here is everything you need to know about how to use a car jack, including the proper techniques and safety precautions for lifting and lowering a vehicle.
We’ll explain how to find your car’s lift points, how to use jack stands, and how to use the most common types of car jacks.
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Choosing the right jack for your vehicle

A car jack is a tool that can help you DIY a repair and get back on the road.
If your car already has a car jack in the trunk, it’s probably a scissor jack. But here is a brief overview of the major types of automotive jacks, how they work, and where they are mostly used.
A scissor jack, aka screw jack, is a compact mechanical car jack most often found in the trunks of consumer vehicles. The scissor jack looks like a pair of scissors, with diagonal pieces of metal that expand and contract to lift your vehicle. 
Remember to only use a jack that accommodates the weight of your vehicle and its specific jack points. A hydraulic jack is the general umbrella term for a jack that uses a pump with a piston to lift a heavy load. Hydraulic fluid or pump oil is typically used to transfer applied pressure.  
A hydraulic floor jack is a jack that lifts only a portion of your vehicle. It is often set on caster wheels and used by professional mechanics. This is a good choice for a home mechanic.
A bottle jack, aka hand jack, is a hydraulic jack that resembles a milk bottle. It is mounted vertically and can lift more weight to a higher height than a floor jack. A bottle jack is more compact but less stable than a floor jack. This is a good choice for truck drivers.
A hi-lift jack is a multipurpose tool commonly carried by off-roaders to help gain clearance over an obstacle, lift the vehicle to access the undercarriage, or even clamp broken parts together as a short-term solution.

How to use a car jack and jack stands, step-by-step

Park your vehicle securely

The first step is to park on a solid, level surface such as a driveway. If you are on the highway, turn on your hazard lights and drive slowly on the shoulder to the next exit. 
Do not park on grass or a dirt-covered surface—and do not attempt to change a tire on a busy highway.
Once you are on level ground, set the parking brake. If you have a manual transmission, leave it in first gear. Then, place wheel chocks on the rear wheel or front wheels to help secure the vehicle. Chock a back tire at the end of the car if you are lifting the front wheels.

Find your jack points

Check your owner’s manual to find out where to place the jack. On a two-wheel drive truck, for instance, you should look for the jacking pad which is a flat spot beneath the engine.

Position the jack

The correct placement is probably on the pinch weld, a reinforced weld that runs down the side of the car between the front and rear tires.

Raise the vehicle

With a scissor jack, start by placing the rod or wrench over the knob. Then, crank to the right. You will notice some resistance as the vehicle slowly rises. Stop once you reach the desired height.
With a hydraulic jack, pump the handle until your vehicle reaches the appropriate height. The vehicle will rise much faster with a hydraulic jack than with a mechanical jack. Between three and 10 pumps should get you to the desired height.
Keep going until the tire lifts off the ground—but do not lift any higher than necessary. In most cases, several inches of clearance is enough space to remove a tire or examine the suspension. Never get yourself fully beneath a car that is purely supported by a jack!
Now, it’s time to place the jack stands. Lower the vehicle until it is resting securely on the stands. Then, test the car by giving it a tiny wiggle before performing your task. 
When you are ready to lower your vehicle, lift the vehicle off the jack stands until it is purely supported by the car jack. Remove the stands and then use the jack to lower the vehicle to the ground. 
Work your scissor jack in the opposite direction. If you have a hydraulic jack, slowly twist the long handle to the left.
MORE: How to put a car on jack stands

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