Jacks…. A Controversial Topic…..

In Articles, Technical by Andre Van VuurenLeave a Comment

What type of jack to have in your 4X4 or overland vehicle is a topic that is quite often discussed at 4X4 driver training days, around camp fires in the bush and on the floors of 4X4 Accessory shops and fitment centres.  It is further more a question with no definite answer. There are just too many opinions and to many different vehicles to have a definite black and white answer.

High Lift Jacks

A hi-lift jack is an immensely useful off-road accessory provided, of course, that you know how to use it properly. If you don’t know what you’re doing, using a hi-lift jack can be quite dangerous. In fact, the handle alone could easily break an arm or a jaw if not handled correctly. You could also damage your vehicle pretty badly.

If you want to use a hi-lift jack, you’ll need to ensure that your 4×4 has the necessary jacking points. Replacement bull bars and bumpers tend to have these points, but as you’ve probably noticed, a lot of replacement bumpers and bull bars have rounded hi-lift jacking points. If you want to use these points, you’ll need to buy an adapter that fits onto the jack’s large runner.

Stowing your High Lift Jack can also be problematic. It is obviously best to keep your jack in a place where it is protected from the elements, but since it is big and bulky, there is often little option but to install it on the outside of your vehicle. For most people, placing the jack on a roof rack will probably make the most sense. My personal opinion is that the use of High Lift Jacks are becoming Old School and may be a bit of a macho thing. On Land Rover Defenders and other big overland vehicles with a long wheel travel/ articulation it may be a handy piece of equipment, but I am convinced that it is a complete overkill on the most modern Double Cabs and SUV’s.

 Air Jacks

Then there are Air Jacks and a large part of the 4X4 fraternity that thinks that the Air Jack sets a new standard in convenience, with absolutely no specialised jacking points required and no need for mounting brackets or heavy base plates. This “lightweight and compact” PVC bag can be inflated in minutes using your own exhaust pressure or if damaged, a standard compressor. People say that it is considerably safer than a standard HiLift jack, although I am having my doubts. Laying underneath an unstable vehicle trying to keeoa air bag in posision is definitely not my definition of “safe”. The one good feature of air bags is that it is very efficient in soft sand and mud.

My personal experience with Air Bags is that:

  1. It is bulky to pack
  2. It is not easy to use.
  3. It damages easy on sharp edges and a hot exhaust underneath the car.
  4. You need at least three people to operate
  5. If the exhaust system is not up to scratch, it will blow out rotten sections.
  6. Useless on vehicles with twin exhausts.
  7. Those with compressor fittings take forever to inflate.

Bottle Jacks

The bottle jack is still the best and most practical jack to use.The main problem with our 4×4’s is the long suspension travel. If you try to jack up the body/chassis most jacks will be fully extended long before the wheel is off the ground.

I keep a few pieces of plank in my vehicle (off-cuts from 228×38 pine can be usefull). One to use as base plate with the others to use as shim spacers if needed. A nice piece of wood can also double up as a chopping bord or something to put under a hot pot.

A 2t jack will be enough, a 4t will be better, a 6t even better …..I got a 3stage 4ton jack and it works fine. We all travel with a shovel and it can be used asan extra base plate so the jack don’t push into the ground.

BUT, there are more important criteria than the tons it can lift:

Deflate a front wheel and make sure you can get the jack under the car. Now you jack up the car and make sure that you can fit a fully inflated wheel.Repeat for the rear axle.

The jack that is short enough to fit when a wheel is completely deflated and high enough to re-fit a fully inflated wheel is the right one, so long as it has a capacity of at least 2t. The answer is a SMALL jack that fits under the rear axle, or under the independent front suspension (or axle) and actually lifts the WHEEL, not the whole vehicle.

About the Author

Andre Van Vuuren

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Explore Africa Adventures is a privately owned safari enterprise, specializing in Guided Self Drive Safaris to Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Botswana. We also offer safaris to destinations in South Africa, that people know little about, and do not want to go there on their own.

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