To lift or not to lift, that is the question

Dr Gavin Bailey (RV8 BRG 0766 and V8 Glacier White 0199) from Surrey describes how he tracked down a hydraulic lift and has found it very useful. (Jun 04)

After a number of years dragging a trolley jack around my driveway, and latterly my garage, to lift my MGBGTV8 onto axle stands, and even then having limited clearance underneath to work on the car, the thought of an arrangement that would give greater access was of increasing appeal. From my early days of working on cars in my father's garage, I had long lusted after some kind of ramp or pit, and following a recent move to a house with a garage that had sufficient space to accommodate such an arrangement, I started to look in earnest at the various options.

What are the ramp or pit options?
If one wants good access to the underside of the car, there are really only two serious alternatives: some form of pit sunk into the garage floor with boards covering it when it's not in use; a ramp to lift the car off the ground. The latter come in two basic forms - the four post variety which you drive on and which lifts the whole car off the ground, wheels in channels and which is a necessity for MoT testing stations; and the two post variety or variations on the theme which have swinging arms with rubber pads which when placed under the jacking points, allow you to raise the car off the ground. The latter option crucially, allows the wheels to hang free giving good access to the brakes and suspension.

Glacier White 0199 up on the hydraulic ramp. (Photo: Gavin Bailey)

Having explored the options, I was quickly able to rule out a pit, as even with the launch of the excellent 'Mechmate' (which is essentially a lined fibreglass moulding for the pit), they all required

Autec hydraulic ramp in action. (Photo: Gavin Bailey)

a significant amount of excavation which was a non-starter with my existing garage. I then started to look at the other option of a lift which had to be compact enough to operate in my garage which although wide, had limited headroom given the rafter arrangement supporting the roof.

As chance would have it I came across an AL-2006 'portable' hydraulic ramp made by Autec of Holland on Holden Classic & Vintage's stand at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The web addresses are:

Their display attracted a great deal of attention as the lift was supporting their large Transit van. Although I was impressed with the engineering, I was not ready at that point to shell out the £1,200 (now £925 + VAT), they were asking for it. Being a disciple of eBay, I started to look for second-hand ramps, and quickly found that there were many advertised for sale, commonly coming from garages that were closing down. After a short search I was lucky enough to find one second-hand on eBay, and eventually ended up paying just over half the new price for a ramp that was only a few years old, having had only light occasional use. I would mention at this point that one needs to be careful when buying second-hand equipment of this kind, ensuring that the equipment has been regularly serviced and is safe to use. One can take no chances with a ramp that is going to support the weight of a motor vehicle, especially when you're going to be

The Autec ramp lifts the car well clear of the ground. (Photo: Gavin Bailey)

working underneath it! After getting the lift home (although described as 'portable', four of us just managed to lift it into my 6x4 trailer), I installed it in my garage. After changing the hydraulic fluid it was ready to use.

So how does it work?
From the photographs you can see it is essentially comprises a steel frame with a large hydraulic ram that lifts the platform to which four swinging arms carrying rubber jacking pads are attached. The ram is connected to a separate single-phase 240v hydraulic control unit which has two switches - one to power up the unit, and a separate toggle to
lift or lower the ram. To use the lift, you simply drive the car over the lift, swing the arms out, and position the rubber jacking pads (which slide along the lifting arms thus offering a multitude of adjustment), under the jacking points. It's then a simple matter of checking that all jacking pads are aligned under the relevant jacking points before operating the lift and raising the vehicle. The ramp will lift a vehicle of up to 2 metric tonnes up to a maximum of just over a metre in just over 50 seconds.

Given the weight of the vehicle, and the fact that you are going to be working underneath it, safety is a prime consideration. To ensure the vehicle is safely supported when raised, the lift has a series of stops or detents, which are essentially steel stops which are welded to the bottom frame of the lift. As you raise the vehicle, the lift 'clicks' past each detent in turn. Once you have reached the desired height, it's a simple matter of lowering the ramp slightly so that the lift locks firmly in place against the steel stop. There's no need for any further support as the weight of the vehicle is off the hydraulics, and the ramp is securely and physically locked in place. To lower the vehicle, simply raise the ramp slightly before 'capsizing' a catch on one of the supporting arms. This lifts the arm sufficiently to pass over the metal stops and lower the vehicle to the ground.

So how does the ramp work with an MGBGTV8 and RV8?
I first tried it with my MGBGTV8 (a chrome bumper car, although rubber bumper cars should be no different), and the lift worked perfectly. The car had sufficient ground clearance to drive over the ramp, and once swung into position, the pads located securely under the spring pans on the front suspension, and under the rear spring hangers just in front of the rear wheels. With the RV8 however, it was a different story. Firstly, the lower ground clearance posed a problem and I had to source two short planks of timber to place alongside the ramp so that when I drove the car over the ramp, the catalysts did not foul the ramps frame. Once in position however, the supporting pads on the front jacking arms were again placed under the spring supporting pans at the front, whilst the rear pads fitted under the spring and torsion bar mounting brackets at the rear. Although more of a fiddle with the RV8, the whole setup makes the car far easier to work on compared to scrabbling around on the ground under a car supported by axle stands.

Extent of the access
Lastly, one of the most important issues when choosing a ramp or lift is the extent of access to the underside of the vehicle when up in the air. Of course a two-post lift with swinging arms is the ultimate wheel-free lift which also gives access to the underside of the vehicle for changing exhausts, gearbox etc. On my Autec model, access to the underside of the vehicle whilst on the lift is of course restricted by the frame of the lift itself. All is not lost however, as Autec can supply extra long axle stands which, when place under the vehicle, allow the ramp to be lowered (and even removed) leaving the vehicle up in the air and with full access to the underside.

So in conclusion, if you do all the maintenance work on your own cars and have the space, a ramp is a very worthwhile investment. My next step is to sink the ramp into a shallow pit in the floor of the garage which will allow me to ensure the floor is clear when the ramp is not in use. I've got the steel frame waiting for the pit aperture - it's now just a question of getting digging!!!If anyone has any further questions, I'm happy to answer them by email (see the V8 Website for my contacts) or at Silverstone.

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