Picking out an engine hoist seems simple enough, at least at first. Yet somehow, you can find yourself staring blankly at a surprisingly wide (or very sparse) selection of engine hoists at the tool store, and wondering which hoist is best (or if the only one they sell is good enough).
The fact is, engine hoists come in many different sizes, designs, and prices. If you’re a DIY’er, chances are that you’ll need to use an engine hoist at some point. Here’s a breakdown of the key engine hoist options to consider before you buy.
Engine Hoist Design Types
There are three main types of engine hoists — here’s what you can expect to come across when searching:
The fold-able engine hoist is the most common design. This type of unit features an arm (or boom) that extends out to reach over an engine bay. The height of the entire hoist is also adjustable through a hydraulic shock that operates just like a car jack. These hoists are mounted on casters for pulling an engine away from the car, or to move into storage position.
When ready to pull an engine with this type of hoist, you attach the chain mounted hook to a mounting point or strap on the engine (these aren’t included with the hoists) to lift it with the hydraulic pump. Most people find these to be the most practical and affordable for their function.
Another variation of this design is a truck mounted lift, but those aren’t typically used to pull engines in a personal garage. These units are mounted to the bed of the truck, which replaces the base of the hoist.
The telescoping units aren’t commonly used by the at-home mechanic due to their size and price, but if you have the space and funds, you might see their benefit. This design uses an overhead i-beam, mounted to steel posts, to easily lift heavy objects. The crane adjusts in height and it operated by a crank for lowering and lifting. Some units are mounted to rolling castors, while others are made to install into the garage floor. Most complete telescoping setups will run into the thousands for a new unit.
Lever Chain Hoist
For the capacity, the chain hoist design is the least expensive, but probably not practical for your home garage. These units use an overhead winch design and heavy duty chain to lift an engine high into the air. The caveat is, they have to mount to something capable of holding the weight — a normal home garage doesn’t usually have such mounting points.
It’s also important to note that lever chain hoists can go by many different names. You’ll see them called:
- Engine Hoists
- Cherry Pickers
- Engine Lifts
- Crane/Engine Cranes
- Shop Lift/Shop Cranes
Engine hoist capacity is the most important thing to consider when choosing a unit for your garage. The engine hoist ratings you’ll see at your local tool retailer (from 1/4 ton all the way top to 10 tons) refer to the maximum weight the unit will hold…kind of. Depending on the design, you might only be able to use a fraction of this load rating safely.
For example, on a fold-able 1 ton unit, the weight rating can fall dramatically if you have to extend the arm all of the way out – it can drop to a measly 1/4 ton capacity (or less). This is why most hoist buyers opt for a 2 ton unit; Even though car engines obviously don’t weigh 4,000 pounds, the hoist can be used to hold 25% of that amount (1,000 pounds) when fully extended.
If you’re working on classic trucks with big block motors – like some of the classic trucks we caught at GoodGuys Pleasanton 2013 – it might be wise to opt for an even bigger 3 or 5 ton unit. Likewise, if you’re able to use the hoist in it’s strongest configuration, a 1-ton unit may be sufficient.
If possible, ask to see the owner’s manual(s) for the hoist you’re considering. That way you’ll know exactly how much the hoist can hold in whatever configuration makes sense for you.
How Much Should an Engine Hoist Cost?
The last factor you’re probably going to wrestle with is price – this is something all at-home mechanics have to consider carefully, as saving money is often a big part of the reason that DIY’ers chose to be DIY’ers! (Only second to the sense of accomplishment you get when working on your own car, or course.)
While some hoists can run into the thousands, expect to pay at least $200-$300 for a good quality fold-able hoist rated at 2 tons. Most tool stores run regular sales on engine hoists, so keep an eye on their ads to catch the best price – tools stores are also good about sending out in-store coupons to their customers. However, units don’t usually go on clearance since the designs haven’t changed much in the last decade or two.
At this point, you might be thinking “Can I rent or buy used instead?” Many home mechanics will rent a hoist, as the rental price is a fraction of the purchase price. With a little luck and planning, you might be able to rent a hoist and do what you need to do in a couple of days. If you don’t see yourself using a hoist for a long period of time – or using it more than once – rental is a fine way to go.
As for buying a used hoist, it’s not recommended. The problem with buying a used engine hoist is safety. If a hoist is used to lift substantially more weight than it’s rated for just one time, the risk of the hoist failing at some point in the future skyrockets. This is why hoist manufacturers go out of their way to caution vehicle owners to be certain about the weight of the load they’re trying to hoist – one bad lift can weaken welds or bolts and lead to failure.
What’s more, you never really know if the previous hoist owner modified their hoist in some weird or dangerous way. Thus, just like you’d never want to trust your life to a used bullet-proof vest, it’s not a good idea to buy a used hoist from someone you don’t know.
Finally, whether you buy used or rent, be certain to look the hoist over very carefully. Make sure all of the structural joints have their original welds, all hardware is intact, and the hydraulic pump is functioning properly. If the hoist seems like it’s been damaged, don’t rent it or buy it.
[i]Author Jason Lancaster is a life-long car nerd who appreciates a 12 second quarter mile, a solid axle swap, and a heavily modified classic car. When he isn’t offering advice on engine hoists, he writes at AccurateAutoAdvice.com.
Due to factors beyond the control of EricTheCarGuy, it cannot guarantee against unauthorized modifications of this information, or improper use of this information. EricTheCarGuy assumes no liability for property damage or injury incurred as a result of any of the information contained in this video. EricTheCarGuy recommends safe practices when working with power tools, automotive lifts, lifting tools, jack stands, electrical equipment, blunt instruments, chemicals, lubricants, or any other tools or equipment seen or implied in this video. Due to factors beyond the control of EricTheCarGuy, no information contained in this video shall create any express or implied warranty or guarantee of any particular result. Any injury, damage or loss that may result from improper use of these tools, equipment, or the information contained in this video is the sole responsibility of the user and not EricTheCarGuy.
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