While it’s true that every American automobile comes with a car jack, what you think you get may differ considerably from what you might expect. Regardless of what equipment your car, truck, or SUV has, there is one safe bet: when you need to use your car jack, you must use it very wisely.
A car jack does one hell of a job. It bears the weight of the vehicle as you raise it from the ground, often done to change a flat tire or perform some other type of repair that requires the vehicle be off the ground.
However, not every car jack is created equal nor will every jack do the job you need it to do. Yet, more importantly, even when you use your car jack properly, following all the warnings and directions laid out in the owner manual, you can still get hurt as you work around your car, truck, or SUV with the jack in use.
Locate your car jack. This is often in the trunk or storage compartment of your vehicle. If you cannot seem to find it, consult your owner manual.
Once you have your car jack, follow the directions for its use to the letter. Also use your common sense. It is not smart to jack a car up just inches from the right-most lane of a superhighway, along a dark road, or on anything less than a sturdy, level ground surface.
Also remove anyone and any great weight from the vehicle before you attempt to use your jack. Even a small child can rock the vehicle enough to make a car jack fall.
If you absolutely must work by a dark roadside, you need to illuminate the area as much as possible. Road flares are good for alerting other motorists that something is going on so they slow down as they pass you, but you also need lighting for yourself. A rechargeable flashlight can be great for that. I keep a million-candle rechargeable work light in my car trunk for just these kinds of situations.
But there really is no good way to compensate for a less than level road surface. Avoid situations where you must use your car jack in ice, snow, mud, or standing water. The chance of the jack – and the vehicle – slipping can rise exponentially if you do.
Also, take great care not to place any part of your body under the vehicle while it is raised. I’ve witnessed at least three bad accidents that occurred because someone wedged themselves against a fender while they changed a tire only to have the jack slip, the weight of the vehicle fall, and the careless person hurt badly. Physical injury is not only potentially serious, it can also be permanent or even fatal.
Never raise your car any higher than necessary. For most tire changes, for example, you usually just need enough lift to take the weight off the affected tire. Watch where you place the jack as well; you do not want to risk trying to mount the jack to a lightweight bit of bumper or placing the jack too far from the spot on the vehicle you need raised. I was with a female friend once who blew off my offer to assist her with a flat tire. When I happened to glance back after she started to fuss, I noticed what she did not: she had put the jack at the left front of the car to raise it when the flat tire was at the right rear. As you can imagine, this was not the right way to proceed.
As you work, keep a watch on the jack and the vehicle itself. Any sign that the jack is failing or the vehicle is moving means you need to get away from the vehicle as fast as possible. Do not wait for it to fall upon you.
You can reduce the risk that the vehicle will move far, such as roll down the hill if you don’t have the parking brake engaged, if you chock the wheels. This means placing something heavy – a cement block or a very big stone – directly in front of or behind a tire. But simply chocking the wheels won’t prevent a jack from failing. I’ve also seen one nasty time when a very cheaply made jack simply broke as a person went to look for his fuel line. Thankfully, the reluctant mechanic was not hurt, but the call was pretty close.