Get­ting to know an off-roader’s best friend

4WDrive - - Contents - Words by Tom Sev­erin, photos by Budd Stan­ley, Hi-Lift and ARB

A jack is one of those pieces of equip­ment that is just plain es­sen­tial for four-wheel­ing. The stock jack sup­plied by the man­u­fac­turer isn’t go­ing to help off-road: ter­rain is rarely level and never smooth. You have three styles to choose from: HiLift, X-Jack and bot­tle jack.

The first step in any sit­u­a­tion is to make sure the ve­hi­cle can­not move. Sometimes the emer­gency brake isn’t enough, be­cause you might be lift­ing that wheel. You might have to chock the op­po­site side. Sel­dom is the ter­rain flat and level. In this case, run the winch out to a tree or stretch a strap tightly from the ve­hi­cle to be jacked. Al­ways be care­ful when jack­ing.

Hi-Lift Jack

The Hi-Lift is very ver­sa­tile but has a lot of safety risks. It is ver­sa­tile in the sense you can lift (jack) with it, you can “pole vault” (more on this later) with it, and you can use it as a “poor man’s” winch in a pinch.

Lift as close as pos­si­ble to the tire you want to get off the ground. If you lift in the mid­dle of ei­ther bumper, the ve­hi­cle is likely to tip in one di­rec­tion. Ve­hi­cles today don’t have notches in the frame for a jack, so latch onto the bumper close to the af­fected wheel.

The base on a Hi-Lift jack is pretty small. That makes it chal­leng­ing to lift on soft or un­even sur­faces. You may want to pur­chase a safety kit. That in­cludes an ex­tra-wide base and sup­port ca­bles.

“Pole vault­ing” in­volves shift­ing a ve­hi­cle side­ways while jacked up. Let’s say you’re stuck and just need to move a foot or two to one side. Set the jack near the mid­dle of the op­po­site side, at a slight an­gle. Once both wheels on the near (jack) side are off the ground, the ve­hi­cle will fall away. Re­peat as needed to move away from the ob­struc­tion.

With a chain on one end and a tree strap on the other, the Hi-Lift can be used as a “poor man’s” winch by lay­ing it side­ways. The chain al­lows you to ad­just the dis­tance from the ve­hi­cle to your an­chor point. Since you can only move the stuck ve­hi­cle about

a me­tre at a time, the chain makes it eas­ier to re­set the jack each time. By loop­ing the chain around the “nose” of the jack, you can shorten it with a grab hook. Be­sides all the hard work, the dif­fi­culty is keep­ing the ve­hi­cle in place ev­ery time you re­set for a new bite. A Hi-Lift re­cov­ery kit has all the gear your need to solve this prob­lem.

That be­ing said, you need to be care­ful with Hi-Lifts. Use only on solid ground and when the main part is straight up and down. If you must jack on sand or soft soil, place a piece of plywood or other board un­der the foot.

Make sure the han­dle is straight up when at rest. When low­er­ing a ve­hi­cle, place a hand at the top of the cen­ter­piece and gen­tly coax the lever up and down. Keep your fin­gers on top and clear; if the lever takes off, you’ll get “ham­mer thumb.” You should keep your head out of the way for the same rea­son.

A ba­sic Hi-lift runs about $70. They’re rated to nearly 2,268 kg (5000 lb) for the first me­tre. With safety ac­ces­sories, you’re look­ing at about $230. Though there are safety is­sues, the HiLift jack is an ex­tremely ver­sa­tile and use­ful tool. Don’t leave home with­out one in the group.


The X-jack is re­ally help­ful in sand and snow. You slide it un­der the ve­hi­cle, and use ex­haust to in­flate the bag and raise the ve­hi­cle (see our re­view in vol­ume 18, is­sue 3).

Watch for sharp edges on the body or frame, and keep the bag away from the ex­haust pipe. It’s a good idea to place pad­ding on top of the bag. The X-Jack comes with a pad, but I sug­gest grab­bing one or two floor mats for ad­di­tional pad­ding. Make sure there are no kinks in the hose as you’re play­ing it out.

The X-Jack works best with two peo­ple: one to hold the fun­nel tightly on the ex­haust pipe and the other to keep the bag in po­si­tion. If work­ing alone, use a com­pres­sor. The bag also has a valve stem to at­tach a com­pres­sor so you can tap into that while po­si­tion­ing the bag.

Be care­ful if lift­ing on sand. We tend to use high RPM in the sand. This causes a hot­ter ex­haust, and it’s eas­ier to melt the hose. If you have a com­pres­sor, use that in­stead. You may find that the bag quits in­flat­ing the last foot or so. It is nec­es­sary to run the en­gine at a higher RPM (than idle) to fully in­flate the bag. An­other rea­son to have help.

A draw­back is that the kit takes up a fair amount of space in the ve­hi­cle. Con­sider ty­ing it on the out­side or roof if space is a premium.

Bot­tle Jack

Com­pact and more sta­ble than the Hi-Lift, a bot­tle jack al­lows you to lift just an axle as op­posed to an en­tire side of the ve­hi­cle. A big dis­ad­van­tage is that you don’t al­ways have sufficient clear­ance un­der the ve­hi­cle (use the Hi-lift or Xjack).

The sec­ond down­side is that it won’t al­ways lift high enough for what you need. The post usu­ally ex­tends only about 12 to 15 cm (5-6 inches). That’s why you may want to buy ex­ten­sions. If you don’t care to do that, try a block of wood.

Bot­tle jacks come in a va­ri­ety of sizes. A 3-ton model is sufficient for most 4WD ve­hi­cles. For larger ve­hi­cles like a Sportsmo­bile, a 5-ton jack is bet­ter. I’ve seen good re­sults with elec­tric mod­els.

A stan­dard bot­tle jack runs $40 to $60 at auto parts stores. Re­gard­less of the style of jack you have, you must al­ways use it safely. Be­fore jack­ing, make sure that the ve­hi­cle can­not move. Use the jack prop­erly, and in the case of the Hi-Lift, keep your hands and fin­gers (and even body) out of harm’s way. Be pa­tient. Sometimes you need to think through the lift process to avoid se­ri­ous in­jury. Learn the proper way to use the jack, and prac­tice back home to be­come fa­mil­iar with it. Fi­nally, if you must work un­der the ve­hi­cle while it’s raised, use your spare tire or other sturdy ob­ject as a safety jack. I rec­om­mend you carry at least two of the above!

Tom Sev­erin, 4x4 Coach, teaches 4WD own­ers how to con­fi­dently and safely use their ve­hi­cles to the fullest ex­tent in dif­fi­cult ter­rain and ad­verse driv­ing con­di­tions. Visit www.4x4­train­ to de­velop or im­prove your driv­ing skill.

The Hi-Lift jack is the most pop­u­lar due to its ver­sa­til­ity and abil­ity to lift heavy high ride height ve­hi­cles well off the ground.

Let the ex­haust do all the work with an ex­haust jack.

A bot­tle jack is more com­pact and sta­ble than a Hi-Lift.

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