There are few tools for your 4×4 that are as tough, versatile, and inexpensive as the ubiquitous Hi-Lift jack. The basic design by Bloomfield Manufacturing dates back over 100 years. Cast steel construction and a 7,000-lb. capacity means that the Hi-Lift you buy could last you the next 100 years. They can lift your vehicle, clamp together broken parts, spread bent cage tubes, and even winch you out of situations that would otherwise leave you stranded. Hi-Lift jacks can also be dangerous with the potential to cause smashed fingers, missing teeth, and concussions. That doesn’t mean that you need to be afraid of these tools. You just need to have a healthy respect for them and learn how to use them properly. The trick is to learn the easy way and not the hard way.
Are you scared yet? Good, we have your attention. When used correctly, the Hi-Lift jack is an irreplaceable piece of equipment for any vehicle in any terrain. These jacks lift the chassis up, which can be useful when you are bellied out on a rock or tree stump. If you want to lift a tire off the ground the entire suspension will droop out before the tire lifts, so we recommend strapping the axle to the chassis at ride height so the suspension cannot extend. This is not only useful when changing a tire, but also when placing sand ladders or filling a hole under a tire. We have even pushed the vehicle off a Hi-Lift to move it out of ruts and put a Hi-Lift across a rut as a bridging platform and driven over it. Sketchy? Not if you understand how the jack works and how it will react to different forces.
How A Hi-Lift Works
Two climbing pins on the Hi-Lift’s runner alternate up the bar’s series of holes. One pin holds the load as the other is freed and moved to the next hole above when raising or below when lowering your rig. The standard Hi-Lift is 48 inches long, but a 60-inch Hi-Lift is also available for taller vehicles. The vehicle is lifted by the leverage of the handle and the weight of the operator. If you overload the jack’s 7,000-lb. capacity, a shear pin in the mechanism gives way before any critical part of the jack breaks and freezes the jack in place rather then suddenly dropping to the ground. Simple, right?
How To Use A Hi-Lift
Before you even get your Hi-Lift out, think about what you want to accomplish. Are you trying to lift just a corner or the entire belly? Is the ground even or uneven? Where will you position the jack on the vehicle? Thinking about these factors will help you safely accomplish the task at hand. Stabilize the vehicle and set the parking brake or chock the wheels before lifting it off the ground.
To lift your vehicle, the Hi-Lift must have the lever in the up position and start with the handle parallel with the bar. You can run the foot up the bar to where you will begin jacking without having to cycle the mechanism. This will only be possible if the jack is not under load and the lever is in the up position. Once the jack is in position grasp the top of the bar with your fingers squeezing only the three sides away from the bar. Do not wrap your thumb around the bar if at all possible. This may be difficult the more you lift the vehicle into the air, as the amount of effort required increases. If the jack tilts or seems unstable don’t force the issue, lower it and reposition for a safer lift. Practice makes perfect in this regard.
When you’re ready to lower the vehicle, hold the jack with one hand holding the bar and handle together. Strike the reverse lever into the down position, using your foot if the lever is stuck and stubborn. Keep one hand on the bar with your elbow locked and grab the handle with your free hand to lower it. After you hear the climbing pin click, you can raise the handle. As the handle arcs up the force will increase and the handle will be pulling your arm up to the bar. The leverage increases as the handle rises, so be conscious of your footing if the ground is slippery and keep your body clear of the handle.
When A Hi-Lift Can Be Dangerous
Lowering a Hi-Lift is when there is the most potential for danger, but there is an enormous amount of potential energy any time the Hi-Lift has a load on it. The only time the jack is truly safe with a weight on it is when the handle is up and parallel to the bar and the lever is in the up position. When lowering a Hi-Lift the force will not transfer until you have lowered the handle past a horizontal position and the climbing pin disengages. Never let go of the handle or leave it in the down position. If your hand should slip off, clear away from the jack. During lifting and lowering, the weight of the load pushes up against the jack’s handle. If your hands slip off the handle, or if the handle is horizontal when you move the latch, it may move up very quickly. Normally the handle just hits the bar, but sometimes when you are trying to lower the jack, it will auto-ratchet down extremely fast, with the handle flying up and down. If you have not witnessed this before it is terrifying, and the jack handle will destroy anything in its path. If you are prepared though, even if your hand does slip off the jack and it auto-ratchets down, there will be no harm because your hands, face, and the rest of your body are clear of the danger zone.
All The Accessories You Can Dream Of
As handy as the Hi-Lift jack is, there is an entire aftermarket industry devoted to making these jacks even more safe and useful on the trail. These include various attachments to the foot of the jack to securely capture round tubing, hook on a wheel, or mate to aftermarket bumpers. Other accessories are designed to go under the relatively small base that comes with the Hi-Lift. By increasing the surface area, the jack will be more stable and less likely to sink into soft terrain. Daystar, Energy Suspension, and Hi-Lift make handle isolators that keep rattles at bay, and Hi-Lift also offers neoprene covers to keep your jack’s moving components protected from the elements. This is critical to keep the jack from sticking and the climbing pins from gouging into the bar when you attempt to use your jack.
Another whole segment is dedicated to storing your jack. Being four-feet long and weighing over 30 lbs., a Hi-Lift is not the sort of thing that you just want to toss in the back seat before you hit the trail. Spare tire mounts and tube clamps for roll cages are the most common mounting systems. But Hi-Lift and Warrior Products make mounts for the hood of Jeeps, BOLT makes brackets that attach the Hi-Lift upright at the door hinges, and Garvin makes roof rack attachments. The best mounts hold the jack securely and protected from the elements, but are easy to access when you need them.
The Final Word
After you learn how to safely use your Hi-Lift and have it easily accessible, you will be amazed by how often it comes in handy on the trail. A Hi-Lift might not be a replacement for a snatch strap or a winch, but it is a valuable piece of recovery equipment for a wide variety of situations in just as wide range of terrains. These jacks are not only useful for changing tires but also for clamping together broken parts, lifting a high centered vehicle, and dozens of other uses. Take care of your Hi-Lift and it will take care of you for years to come.