January 12, 2014

The jack from hell: a high lift can bite … but it’s still a wonderful accessory

It’s hard to think of a piece of off road gear more potentially dangerous than a high lift jack; maybe a chainsaw or a frayed winch cable under heavy load; maybe not. OSH must hate them. But in spite of its potential to seriously injure or kill, I love the high lift. Designed in America as a sort-of farmer’s Swiss Army knife, the tall, unstable jack was adopted with enthusiasm by off roaders because, like an “as seen on TV” product, it promises so much. It can raise the front or back of a vehicle by a metre or so, or anywhere in between. It can be used to push out dented panels. It can be used, with difficulty, as a winch. It can break the bead of a damaged tyre.
Treat it with respect, great respect, and a high lift can be your best off road friend, particularly for getting unstuck in ruts. You can get it out, jack the truck, put some traction enhancing stuff under the tyres and be on the way faster than getting out the vehicle’s own jack, assembling, and then mucking around trying to position it. There’s only one problem; it’s not possible to use a high lift on many vehicles – most vehicles actually, even good off roaders. The jack was adopted by four-wheel drivers back when vehicles had strong, angular bumpers and bodies tough enough to take the snub lifting tongue. Today, even a Defender, caught as it is in its own time warp, is barely high lift friendly. Don’t even try to look for points on something like a Land Cruiser 200 or a Jeep Wrangler.

But don’t worry. The aftermarket is your best friend and if it should fail you, a mechanic or someone competent working with heavy metal may be able to think the problem through and make up some jacking points. Aftermarket bumpers often have high lift jacking points. In the case of ARB, there’s also an optional device that “locks” the high lift’s tongue to the jacking point. I used one of these on the Defender and it was great. My two-door Wrangler Rubicon has ARB bumpers front and rear, so I can happily high lift away from either end. It’s an ideal setup, particularly as I’ve chosen not to fit a winch.

Don’t think a set of aftermarket sidesteps will make high lift points. Many are not strong enough and are tubular, so don’t offer a flat point for the tongue. Even the ones that look (and are) strong may not have a sturdy-enough mounting to the chassis. But there’s more from the aftermarket, such as accessories that wrap around or otherwise grip a modern bumper, and hooks that allow you to lift from many (but not all) types of wheel rim. These make a much wider range of vehicles high-liftable.
If you buy a high lift, read the instructions several times, practice in the driveway, seek instruction from someone who truly knows how to use one. This will save lots of grief later. First, make sure the vehicle itself is well secured. The first problem with the jack is its wee base. On any soft surface, you’ll just be pushing it into the ground rather than lifting the 4WD. I carry a 25cm square of thick board to act as a base. The second problem is that it’s heavy and spindly. In some terrain, just getting it ready to use can be a mission. If stability remains an issue, just don’t use it. Next, it requires muscle to work. You don’t need to train at a gym, but be aware that it’s hard going for anyone, um, muscularly challenged. If it’s not properly mounted and/or the base on level ground, the whole thing may tip over during the lift. You don’t want that to happen. Keep people away.
Keep yourself at arm’s length, too, as much as is practical. The jack’s handle may fly up without warning, although it rarely happens. The reversing latch can also be tricky. Never work the latch unless the handle has been placed against the spine and into its clip. Once the load’s off the tongue, the mechanism may suddenly fall down the spine.
Another bad point is that a high lift is bulky to stow. Some off roaders mount it outside the vehicle where it’s easy to store and quick to get to. Wrangler owners are lucky; a clever American-made accessory allows the jack to be bolted to the rear part of the “roll cage” for transportation and easy access. These days, there are many copies of the original Hi-Lift brand. I’ve had a genuine product since the early 1990s; it’s never failed, never killed or injured anyone – and has got me out of several tricky situations. I love it.


  1. Trouble is, with the flex of some suspensions a hi-lift doesn't lift high enough, especially if the terrain is uneven.

    1. Yes, I've found that; even with the big 60-incher some guys carry.