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Tips on how to shop for a vehicle lift

There are several models available from a variety of companies, here are some things to consider when evaluating them

If you’ve had enough of lying on the floor underneath farm trucks and equipment when making repairs or performing oil changes, a vehicle lift might be in your future. But before you go to the nearest retailer and pay good money for one, you really need to do your homework. Finding a good-quality lift that will work reliably and safely should be your main objective.

ALI Standards

“The first thing to do is become educated,” says Bob O’Gorman, president of the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI), the association that establishes standards and certifies hoists sold into the North American market. “Sadly, today’s automotive lift market in both Canada and the U.S. remains very much a buyer beware environment.” So far, compliance with ALI standards is only voluntary, which means there are some lifts out there that haven’t proven their design and aren’t certified.

“With global market boundaries being removed in recent years and the proliferation of internet marketing and sales, today’s automotive lift consumer is literally flooded with a variety of manufacturers and distributors selling automotive lifts throughout Canada and the United States,” he continues. “Often those distributors and the brands or models of lifts are unfamiliar and product support may not be real or user friendly after the sale.”

Bruce Buckborough, a co-owner of Babco, the Canadian distributor for BendPak-brand lifts, agrees. “There are a lot of cheap lifts on the market,” he says. “The only way to get a cheaper lift is to take metal out. 90 to 92 per cent of a lift’s cost is metal.” So low-cost may also mean less capable.

“There are some guys out there that are simply bringing in containers,” says O’Gorman. “They have no perceived liability or responsibility for the product. Pretty much everyone in the automotive industry is inundated by (advertisements from) manufacturers primarily from Asia who are simply trying to move containers (full of product).”

“But it’s not simply off-shore issues,” he adds. “There are companies here in the U.S. that make product and fail either by not knowing or by making a business decision not to have their product evaluated and demonstrate compliance with current national standards.”

So judging the quality of a lift based on the country it was made in isn’t any kind of assurance it meets current industry standards. Instead of looking on a sticker for the country of origin, looking for ALI’s certification is a better idea.

“The number one (consideration when buying) would be getting an ALI approved lift,” says Buckborough. “You know what you’re getting that way.”

“If you (as a manufacturer) want to produce a reputable product that bears our (certification) mark, our program requires you have to be legally responsible for it,” says O’Gorman. “Certainly you can have it made overseas, but it has to be made to controlled drawings, stress calculations and quality measures that a North American entity is responsible for.”

Parts and service

If there is a stable North American company and dealer network backing the lift, getting parts and on-going service is much easier. But with some brands on the market, that isn’t the case. Some importers or retailers simply add their own brand name to lifts and sell them that way, which doesn’t give you any useful background details on the actual manufacturer or its practices.

“If I had a Babco private-label lift, says Buckborough, “I’d be buying from this factory in China today, and that factory in China tomorrow. The parts won’t swap out.” That isn’t a concern with products from established name-brand manufacturers.

If the real manufacturer has no permanent presence in North America and doesn’t have a website detailing specific information about the company, its products or after-sales support policy, you may want to give it a pass.

It seems most manufacturers understand the marketing value of having an ALI certification decal on their equipment, and a few have even gone so far as to fraudulently use it. O’Groman says ALI keeps track of those incidents, and it works to protect consumers by publishing a list of firms proven to have falsely displayed or claimed to have certification on its website.

“I find some guys are selling (no-name brands) and saying anything to get someone to buy,” says Buckborough.

If you are seriously considering a particular make and model of lift, you can use the ALI website to confirm it has received certification. It’s possible to query certification records by both manufacturer and model number.

ALI has also kept track of some manufacturers’ claims of being certified by fictitious associations, which seem solely intended to create consumer confidence. A list of the phoney organizations that have been identified so far can also be found on the ALI website.

“Our website is more like a library,” says O’Groman. And consumers as well as others frequently use it as a reference. “It sees 60,000 visits per month,” he adds.

If you decide to buy a vehicle lift, O’Gorman recommends you let an expert install it. “ALI recommends if you’re a farmer or mechanic do what you’re good at and let the experts do the lift installation,” he says. “The reason comes down to proper operation of the product, making sure it’s set up correctly and doing a final inspection before accepting it for use by your employees.”

“They’re not that hard to install,” says Buckborough. But he quickly adds if you have employees using the lift, you may be required by provincial health and safety regulations to have it installed by a certified technician. †

About the author

Contributor

Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.

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