For most mechanical adventures, step one is lifting the car off the ground. This is conceptually simple but potentially dangerous – putting a jack under the wrong spot can do major damage and you definitely don’t want a car falling off any kind of lift! This rundown will help you avoid both those issues.
(Disclaimers; Disclosures: Servicing a car is inherently dangerous, please be careful! While we take every step we can to make sure our advice is safe and accurate, we have to say that you’re wrenching at your own risk here. When in doubt, read more before you start work. When really in doubt, there’s no shame in outsourcing a job to a pro.)
Finding the safest spots to jack the car from can be an art on its own, especially if the main factory jack points are inconveniently located for placement of a jack stand. And there’s a little too much bad car-lifting etiquette out there than I’m comfortable with, so let’s take a quick run through of what you need to find a suitable jacking and jack stand point for your day or night (it’s probably going to turn into night) of adventurous wrenching.
The first thing to consider when picking a point to actually lift the car from, is where the jack stand is gonna go once you’re done lifting the car. Remember: You’re going to use your jack to lift the car, then position a jack stand or two, then remove the jack, then begin work. Never rely on any hydraulic jack without a locking mechanism for doing any work beyond changing a tire. Most floor jacks don’t lock at all, and can collapse suddenly from hydraulic failure or mechanical failure.
Picking where to put your jack exactly is going to change car to car, but there are some universal tips to heed here:
- An owner’s manual (Google it if you don’t have one) will show you factory-recommended jack spots. Further searching on forums or Facebook groups (search, don’t just ask “what are my jack points” or you’ll get boo’d) will help you get insight from owners on what’s most practical.
- If you’re raising your car for the first time, triple-check that you’re not about to punch through a “soft spot.” Some cars have radiator supports or crossmembers that look like safe lift points but aren’t. Frame rails, the big pillars of steel running the length of a vehicle, and differentials are often safe to lift at but not always. You really need to check your specific car’s recommendations to avoid damage!
- Use a wheel chock, a little stopper that keeps a wheel from rolling, to secure the wheel that remains on the ground at the opposite corner of where you’re jacking.
- If you’re confident in your jack stand locations but still a little paranoid about a car falling, consider popping a wheel off and putting it under your car while you work as a secondary safety. If you jack stands fail the wheel will bear the vehicle weight, not your bones. Your movement under the vehicle will be somewhat restricted with a big wheel down there though.
- If you’re just going to change a tire, a jack stand is not necessary since you won’t be getting under the car. Just be very careful around your jack in that scenario, especially if you’re using the little one that came with your car. Remember it has a lot of weight on it – don’t kick it or trip over it!
Most cars will have typical jack points at the four corners of the car, inside of the wheels. These points work fine for a quick tire change, but take some more creativity to fit a jack stand if they aren’t long, like on my 2010 VW GTI. Sometimes, the engineers of your car will take mercy and make the reinforced seam of the jack point extra long so that you can jack the car, and jack stand the car from the same point.
Generally, I like to jack an entire axle up so that I can quickly put the jack stands under the factory jack points, for maximum safety. These points are designed so that the car is balanced on them.
On a lot of cars (but not enough), the front subframe has a provision for a floor jack, or easily accessible reinforced metal to jack the entire front end up as a whole. Over on the rear, a differential (if applicable) is a perfectly safe spot to lift your car up from. Anywhere on the main parts of the rear subframe is acceptable too. Just make sure you don’t hit the gas tank.
Even better for those with a classic body-on-frame vehicle like a truck or a Crown Vic, you can jack the car up from the frame easily.
The less fortunate, like myself, can only fit the floor jack pad under the jack points and rear subframe. So I have to look elsewhere.
If you don’t have any of the above luxuries, you might have to get creative. Since my GTI only has five jack points, I am really starving for places to put my jack stands. The Europeans have a special talent for making life just a touch harder for us DIYers. My special technique for my VW is to use the floor jack on the normal jack point, and then place the jack stand under the most suitable front control arm joint.
You can technically lift the car from suspension hard points like the lower control arm joints, but I usually can’t because the floor jack ends up in the way of the normal jack point, then I have nowhere to put my jack stand. Be cognizant of that.
The most crucial takeaways: Be as safe as possible. I recommend using the factory jacking points for the jack stands, and using subframes or similar to do the big general lifting. Never – I repeat – never get under a car that isn’t properly secured by a jack stand. Can you imagine getting smooshed by a car? It’s never worth the risk. Make sure that the jack stand locks once the weight of the car is on it, and give the car a good shake before you get under it to verify the stability of your lift.
Finding a good jack point is simple: where does the factory say to do it? What parts of the car are designed to bear the most weight and load? Generally, those two questions will lead you to a good jack point.