Tire jacks are devices that come shipped with your vehicle. They are used in emergencies where you need to quickly swap out a tire for a spare.

But how do you use a tire jack?  Place the slot of the jack onto the car’s frame and spin the nut. The more you spin the nut, the higher the jack will go.

Tire jacks come in different forms, but they mainly operate the same way. There are some universal rules you should follow to avoid causing damage to your vehicle or injury to yourself. I’ll go over the different safety rules of using a tire jack, as well as some off-brand ways to use it in case the standard way can’t work.

I’ve worked in a shop for ten years and have used a tire jack countless times. Oftentimes, the floor jack in a shop will be used on another vehicle, so to save time, I just use the tire jack to service the vehicle. It’s just as effective as a jack, and can even be easier since it’s manufactured for the vehicle.

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Tire Jacks

Tire jacks are usually found in the trunk of your car alongside the spare tire. In some cars, the tire jack is packaged together with the spare tire.

In other vehicles, the tire jack is in a hidden compartment in the trunk. If you’ve never used a tire jack, you should probably familiarize yourself with your vehicle's spare tire tools.

Doing this before you need them can save time and make for an easier process instead of learning on the fly. The tire jack operates by one large screw that expands a scissor mechanism when rotated.

The screw shortens or lengthens the distance between the endpoints of the scissor. When the endpoints become close, the scissor starts to elevate, and when they become further apart, the scissor flattens.

Tire jacks usually come with a small slot in the pad area that fits perfectly on to the car’s frame. The slot is important when jacking the car, because without it, you may be looking at a difficult experience.  

Tire jack screws can be operated by a 19mm or 21mm socket depending on the different type of jack. Once the socket is applied to the screw, you can start to rotate and see the jack in action.

How To Use A Tire Jack

You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the spare tire tools before necessary. If you get a flat on the side of the road, and have never used the tools, it can become very frustrating, very quickly.

Just locating the spare tire tools while on the side of the road, if you’ve never used them before can become stressful.

Then the process of laying them all out and figuring out how they work just adds to the stress of being on the side of the highway. Once you locate your spare tire tools, remove them, along with the spare tire, out of your vehicle.

Lay all the tools out in an orderly fashion to avoid any confusion. Sometimes, the tire jack is placed into a foam cutout inside the spare tire compartment. Remove the tire jack and start to inspect it. You will see the screw mentioned above.

As well, you should notice a small slot in the tire jack. Take note of the width of this slot, because it’s the portion you’ll be mounting the vehicle on. Once you have the tire jack out, start to feel under the car for a pinch weld that’s about the size of the tire jack’s slot.

Once you locate the pinch weld, you can start expanding the jack freely. Estimate the space between the ground and your vehicle’s pinch weld. Rotate the tire jack screw to the point where the scissor is a little less than the length of your previous estimate.

Place the tire jack underneath the car and add a little more lift to the jack by spinning the screw. You can use your own socket, or the socket that came with the jack to operate the screw. Depending on which tire you’re removing, you’re going to want to place the jack as close to it as possible.

For example, if you are replacing the front passenger tire, place the tire jack as close to the front of the vehicle as possible. Placing the jack in the center is unsafe, since both tires can potentially be lifted, causing the jack to start wobbling.

Open the scissor to the point that the tire jack is just touching the car’s frame while also being mounted flat on the ground. Next, guide the tire jack’s slot onto the frame off the vehicle. The slot on the tire jack is made to be very snug so it might shift into place.

Once you have expanded the tire jack to the point where the pinch weld is fully in the slot, you can begin to raise the vehicle. Start operating the tire jack by rotating the screw, and you will see the jack and car start to rise.

Tire jack’s aren’t really meant to be maxed out, so you want to stop just as you can start to see a small gap between the tire and the ground. This clearance will be enough to replace the tire, but not enough to do much else.

With the vehicle raised, you can begin to remove the tire. With tire jacks, you want to be a little extra cautious with spontaneous movements than normal jacks since the surface area is less than a floor jack.

If your tire is stuck and you have to remove it, make sure to apply the least amount of force as possible to avoid tipping over the tire jack. Install the new tire and then rotate the screw the opposite direction you used to raise it, and lower the vehicle slowly.

Once all the tires are touching the ground, you can flatten out the tire jack and place it back in it’s compartment. The tire jack may stick to the pinch weld.

If it does, when all the tires are on the ground, it’s ok to apply elbow  grease in order to remove the jack from the pinch weld. Using the tire jack to compress your vehicle’s spring is safe as well, in some cases.

When you place the tire jack underneath your vehicle's ball joint, the surface area is large enough that you can confidently compress the spring, causing the tire to raise. But only do this if you are comfortable with operating the tire jack.

Safety

Tire jacks aren’t meant to raise the car for anything more than tire replacement. Using a tire jack to hoist the vehicle while doing brakes for example, is not recommended.  Always use a tire jack on a solid surface like pavement.

Never use a tire jack on grass, since the tire jack can sink into the dirt, causing the jack to shift while it’s under extreme weight.

Always make sure your tire jack is matched up perfectly with the pinch weld. It’s easy to raise the vehicle without the pinch weld resting in the tire jack slot.

You must make sure the pinch weld is resting inside the tire jack’s slot before you start to raise the vehicle. This may be annoying since you may have to get under the car in order to verify that everything is correct, but it’s vital you do this.

Always inspect the tire jack before you use it, and make sure it operates both ways. You don’t want to jack up the car, do the repair, and not be able to lower it.

Some tire jacks have service repairs you can do in order to elongate their life, so it’s recommended to check with your car’s manufacturer to see if this is necessary.

Tire jack’s can be life savers but if you’ve never used one before, you can experience some difficulties. Familiarize yourself with spare tire tools before you need them, and you’ll be back on the road in no time if any issue arises.

About THE AUTHOR

Christopher Sparks

Christopher Sparks

Christopher Sparks has been servicing vehicles since 2012. After completing the automotive studies program at Camden County College, he was awarded an Associates's Degree in Applied Science. His first job was a lube-tech at Jiffy Lube, and is currently an independent B-Technician servicing vehicles for the United States Postal Service. Christopher is ASE certified and loves rebuilding engines.

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