One day some clever mechanic determined that if you put an 8 ton bottle jack horizontally in a framework pushing against the back of a lever for 6 inches or so, you could create a vertical lift at the front of the lever of 20 inches (tho you would lose about 3/4s of your pushing ability resulting in a 2 ton jack instead of the 8 tons you started with, but the trade-off was well worth the convenience achieved). With millions of automobiles now needing regular service the floor jack swept the industry and before long every service station worth it's salt had at least one and their trusty old bottle jack became a dust collector.
First, there's the original 'alligator' - About 4 1/2 feet long, a foot wide, 8 inches high with a handle rising at the back to about chest level. The hydraulic jack was in the back third and the main lifting arm took up the front two thirds. The original cast iron beasts weighed in at close to two hundred pounds but became lighter in the 50's. This configuration is still very much with us today, tho confined primarily to the heavy duty side of the aisle for working on trucks, recreational vehicles and big rigs in 4 to 10 ton capacities. 20 ton jacks ARE made but are rather rare.
Somewhere in the late 30's some other clever fellow came along with a new design for a 'compact' jack only about three feet long and a tiny bit less capacity than the alligators - from 2 tons down to 1 1/2 tons. The hydraulic unit was squeezed into the back 1/4 of the frame and the lifting arm took up the remaining 3/4's of the chassis - it'll never work, the old timers scoffed! They were wrong and grudgingly, through the 50's the 'compact' short chassis jack took over the industry. An added PLUS of the shorty was it's removable handle and lighter weight (a tad under 100 pounds) which allowed for a new portability - you could actually haul them around in a car instead of a truck! They couldn't make 'em fast enough!
I hesitate to even mention the third size floor jack, but because so many people actually believe it exists I will... Back in the 40's when the 'compact' short chassis jack was hitting big, someone tried taking the shorty down even a couple of notches more. It sort of worked, kinda, if you didn't use it too much, if the vehicle was small, if the wind wasn't blowing... Several respected manufacturers since have tried and ditched the idea altogether. Then, in the 70's a flood of Taiwanese 'mini jacks' hit the U.S. shores (along with millions of small light weight Japanese and European cars that these itsy-bitsy jacks could actually lift, if the wind wasn't blowing...) Somehow these dangerous 'jack impersonators' have caught on and sold like hot cakes mainly in the home/consumer market (tho many a foolish professional mechanic has one in the back of his shop, too). All we can say about these things are, if you do get the car up in the air for God's sake, USE JACK STANDS - DON'T EVER CRAWL UNDERNEATH A VEHICLE SUPPORTED ONLY BY A MINI JACK and as soon as you can afford it - buy a real jack, PLEASE.
MILWAUKEE HYDRAULICS is and always has been American made.
US JACK is almost completely American made except for their newest short frame model (which has an American made frame and a Taiwanese hydraulic unit).
WALKER/LINCOLN - This one is REALLY CONFUSING, sit down and have a cup of herbal tea...
Walker was all American from the 40's through the 80's when it was bought by LINCOLN. LINCOLN kept it American up til the end of the 90's when they moved 99% of their production to China (one floor jack was still made in the USA). After a few years in China LINCOLN sold off their jack line to a company called CLORE who changed the name to MARQUETTE. They held the company for about a year and then in October of 2003 sold it to the big Chinese maker, SHINN FU. SHINN FU held it as it was for the better part of 2004 then surprised everybody by bringing back the old prestigious HEIN-WERNER name back (retired in the mid 90's) and began making the line in America again! The jacks are not at all the HEIN WERNER jacks of the 40's-through early 90's, they are purely the American made LINCOLN jacks from the 90's.
Meanwhile SHINN FU still markets the BLACKHAWK import BANNER jacks, made in China. And also the famous Blackhawk PORTO-POWER line of body shop jacking equipment, made in America. They also sell their own OMEGA Jacks made in China.
NORCO has a mixture of products ranging from Denmark, China, Taiwan and the USA. Their China products are made by the well respected YASUI company and by using Japanese seals have become very credible tools.
OTC has a couple of jacks made in America and the majority of their jacks made in Japan.
ZINKO jacks are made by the popular MASADA Company of Japan and have been around quite some time with good results - Pretty decent jacks for a reasonable price.
Recently 2 jack companies from Denmark have established operations in America, the AC and COMPAC lines. Both have been around for quite a while in Europe and offer extensive lines of fairly well made jacks.
Most everything else is made in China and designed for the Home Consumer Market, inexpensive, lower quality jacks not intended to be used more than a few times a year.
WHAT TO BUY depends on your wallet and your needs...
For the professional mechanic demanding the best - It's MILWAUKEE or US JACK, period.
For the pro on a tight budget there are a lot of choices - We have found the Norco's, Zinko's, AC and Compac imports to be great values while the American made OTC and HEIN-WERNER jacks 'might' be good, but need a little more time to prove themselves.
The remaining low cost Chinese jacks are difficult to recommend on any level with the exception of the Norco models using Japanese seals, they, in fact, are proving to be the best jacks around for the money!
In all situations - a jack is a LIFTING device only. Once the vehicle is up off the ground before crawling underneath it - Support the load on JACK STANDS!
FLOOR JACK SPECS & PRICES
They are generally made of aluminum and usually substitute a roller in place of the standard front wheels.
To get more lift per pump stroke larger diameter (and sometimes even double) pumping pistons are used to move more oil through the system, faster.
Being exotic by design and necessity, when off the track and speed is not important a standard floor jack should be used in their place...
Recently quite a few lightweight racing jacks have been hitting the market at bargain basement prices, I believe I have actually seen them for under $100. Sorry, they are pale comparisons to the respectable makers ($500 and up) and one is usually just throwing away good money on one.
RACING JACKS SPECS & PRICES PAGE
Your three main choices are the Hein-Werner (formerly Lincoln) 4 and 10 ton models, the
Gray 3, 6 and 10 ton models and the Norco 2 1/4, 5, 10 & 20 Ton models
imported from China & Denmark.
With Hein Werner just coming into the market we would give our nod to the American made Gray jacks for rock solid, day after day service and would advise Norco's Chinese models to shops where a big jack is used occasionally, a few times a week...
Shy away from the bargain priced Asian imports - They have not proven their worth and are impossible to get parts or repairs when needed.
AIR/HYDRAULIC FLOOR JACK SPECS & PRICES
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