Learning how to use a Hi-Lift jack is a valuable skill for people serious about off-roading and overlanding. They are the Swiss Army knives of off-roading, offering the versatility and durability to solve many challenges. The most common use for a Hi-Lift is lifting a vehicle to change a tire or to lift a stuck wheel or a truck’s belly off the ground. You also can use one to hand winch a stuck vehicle loose or as a clamp or a spreader, during field repairs to squeeze parts together or pull them apart.
This guide goes into the basics of how to use a Hi-Lift Jack, including how they work and how to use them safely and how to choose the right one for your needs. But it’s not a substitute for hands-on training and experience. Hi-Lift jacks are renowned for being particularly dangerous if used incorrectly. Off-road clubs in your area can be a great place to find proper training.
Hi-Lift jacks, also known as farm jacks or beam jacks, are one style of jack used in off-roading. For a rundown of the various options, check out our guide to off-road jacks.
How Does a Hi-Lift Jack Work
Hi-Lift Jacks are basically ladders. They are composed of three primary parts: steel bar, lifting mechanism and handle. A device called the “running gear” in the lifting mechanism contains two climbing pins that walk the gear along a row of holes in steel bar when the user pumps the handle. A switch called the “reversing latch” determines what direction the running gear will travel along the steel bar, ascending (away from the base) or descending (towards the base).
Two other parts important for understanding how to use a Hi-Lift jack are the “nose” on the large runner and the handle spring clip. The large runner is the largest piece of the lifting mechanism that moves up and down the metal bar. The “nose” of the large runner is the metal ledge that the weight of the vehicle rests on as the jack lifts it from the ground. The spring clip helps ensure that the handle stays in the upright position along the rail, which is important during certain steps of use.
Hi-Lifts are rated for a 4,660 pound operating load capacity, which will be sufficient for most off-road vehicles. A load of 7,000 pounds or more will cause a shear bolt to break and the jack with lock in place.
HOW TO USE A HI-LIFT JACK
It’s a good idea for every serious off-road enthusiast to learn how to use a Hi-Lift jack, but you don’t always need one. In many recovery situations, techniques using other equipment, such as a shovel, bottle jack, winch and recovery straps and ropes might get the job done without needing a Hi-Lift.
How do you know when to use a Hi-Lift Jack? Here are the most common situations where they can be helpful:
Lifting a Stuck Vehicle
A Hi-Lift can be particularly useful when a wheel gets stuck and or a vehicle gets high-pointed and, for whatever reason, pulling the vehicle loose with a winch or another vehicle is difficult or might damage the stuck vehicle. In this case, you can use the Hi-Lift to raise the vehicle, then fill the hole under the wheel with traction pads, rock, dirt or other materials to provide grip to the tire and lift to get the belly off the ground or other objects. Hi-Lifts also come in handy when a vehicle that is stuck or needs a tire change has a suspension lift that is too high for other types of jacks.
Below are the basic steps to lifting a vehicle. Consult the official users manual from Hi-Lift before attempting to use a Hi-Lift Jack (see link at bottom).
1. Identify the recovery points on the vehicle body
The ideal recovery point is one that is firmly connected to the vehicle’s frame (for instance rock rails or metal bumpers) or axles (wheels for instance), allows the nose of the jack to fit solidly underneath, is clear of the body of the vehicle so as to avoid damage, and will allow you to lift the vehicle to the appropriate height.
This one could be a problem on many stock vehicles. Hi-Lift jacks rarely work on stock bumpers and rock sliders, unless outfitted with adapters. Curve or tubular bumpers are likely to cause the vehicle to slip off the jack, and plastic bumpers will collapse under the weight of the vehicle when used as a lift point.
Aftermarket off-road bumpers and rock rails often come with recovery points built in. A bottle jack often works best on stock vehicles, as you can fit it under the vehicle and lift directly from the frame or axle.
Hi-Lift makes a Bumper Lift that fits most steel curved bumpers. They also make a an accessory called a Lift Mate, that lets you lift the truck from the wheels, which can help if you have an extremely tall lift or can’t lift from the rock rails or bumper.
If you are going to lift the vehicle from a rock rail or bumper, the suspension will sag leaving the wheel on the ground while the body raises. To get around this, you’ll need to use a ratchet strap to connect the axle to the chassis, thus preventing the suspension sag. Or lift from the wheel using the Lift Mate.
2. Properly secured and stabilized vehicle before lifting
Make sure the vehicle is in park. Put on the emergency break and/or put chocks under each side (front and back) of wheels on the opposite side of the vehicle from the side you’re lifting (for example, if you plan to lift the front driver’s side wheel, chock one or both of the back wheels). If necessary, stabilize the vehicle with jack stands or some other type of block.
Chocking and blocking, as this is called, helps prevent the vehicle from become unbalanced on the Hi-Lift and tipping, which has the potential to cause bodily injury and/or damage to the vehicle.
3. Position the Hi-Lift jack securely
Place the jack’s base securely on a firm, level, and dry surface with the steel standard bar pointing straight up. Hi-Lift sells an off-road base plate accessory that helps spread the pressure and get better grip on soft ground. You want the jack to lift vertically and not at an angle, which could cause it to tip. It’s a good idea to bring WD40 or some other lubricant with you to grease the jack’s bar and lifting mechanism before use.
4. Engage the running gear to ascending mode
For lifting a vehicle, you want to running gear to climb up the steel bar. To engage the running gear in ascending mode, lift the reversing latch until it locks in the up position. The latch can be stiff, especially on a new or lightly used jack, so it might take a firm whack lock it in place.
4. Position the running gear nose under the recovery point
Once the reversing latch is locked in the up position, pull the handle away from the steel standard bar, releasing it from the spring clip. Grasp the handle or the handle socket and raise the lifting mechanism along the metal bar the nose is at at the desired height and securely underneath the recovery point.
5. Lift the vehicle by pumping the handle
Hold onto the handle firmly with both hands, and pump the handle up and down to lift the vehicle. Keep your body parts, particularly your head, clear of the handle and out of the space between the jack handle and the steel bar. The danger zone is defined by the path of the handle where it travels in an arc from parallel to perpendicular to the steel bar. Don’t put any part of your body inside this arc between the bar and the handle.
As you move the handle up and down, the load will be raised on the down strokes. If either starts to move side to side, stop lifting and assess the situation. If the vehicle can’t be lifted in a stable manner, you may need to lower the vehicle and adjust the jack or try a different strategy. Lift the tire only as much as needed for recovery. For many recovery scenarios, you may only need to lift a tire a couple of inches.
6. Stabilize the vehicle by blocking
Once you have lifted the vehicle to the desired height, lock the handle against the steel bar with the spring clip. Block the vehicle by placing jack stands or other blocks under the frame on the portion of the vehicle lifted by the jack. Once the blocks are in place, use the jack to lower the vehicle onto the blocks, so that the blocks firming support the weight of the vehicle. See below for how to lower a Hi-Lift Jack. Never work under a vehicle supported by only a jack, whether it’s a Hi-Lift or other make and brand.
7. Conduct recovery operations
Once the vehicle is lifted and stabilized on blocks, you can remove the tire, put traction pads or other material under the tires, fill in the hole under the tire with dirt, or take care of other recovery tactics. We’ll say it again: never work under a lifted vehicle that isn’t stable and properly supported by blocks (not just jacks).
8. Removing the blocks and lowering the vehicle
Once you’ve finished your vehicle recovery tasks, you can proceed to removing the block under the lifted area and lowering the vehicle with the Hi-Lift. Do not remove the stabilizing block used on the other part of the vehicle. The first step is to lift the vehicle again so that you can remove the blocks. To do this, switch the reversing latch back to ascending mode by locking it up. Pump the handle to lift the vehicle just high enough to remove the blocks. Once the blocks are removed, proceed to lowering the vehicle (see steps below).
9. Lowering the vehicle from the Hi-Lift
Once you’ve removed any blocks from under the lifted portion of the vehicle, it’s time to lower the vehicle. Put the Hi-Lift jack handle in the vertical position and lock it against the rail with the spring clip. Move the reversing latch to the descending position (down). Grab the handle firmly with both hands and pump the handle up and down to lower the vehicle. It will move down on the down stroke. Note that when the weight of the vehicle is off the jack, the lifting mechanism assembly may release and slide down the metal rail quickly — watch your toes.
Winching a stuck vehicle
In combination with recovery straps and shackles, a Hi-Lift can operate as a winch to pull a stuck vehicle free from sand, mud or snow. The Hi-Lift has limited pulling range — the length of the steel bar — so using it as a winch may be slower than using snatch straps or an electric winch. That said, if you are alone or there isn’t room for another vehicle to assist or you don’t have an electric winch, winching with a Hi-Lift can save the day.
1. Connect the Hi-Lift jack to the stuck vehicle
Connect one end of a recovery strap (a tow strap, not a stretching snatch strap) to a sturdy recovery point on the stuck vehicle. Typically, an off-road recovery shackle is used to make the connection. Connect the other end of the strap or chain to the top clamp-clevis of the jack using another shackle. The clamp-cleavis should be in line with the steel bar, not at a 90-degree angle
2. Connect Hi-Lift jack to a fixed, stable object
Connect another recovery strap (also a tow strap) to a fixed, stable object such as a sturdy tree. Remember to use a tree-saver and shackle set up to avoid damaging trees. Connect the other end of the strap to the nose on the large runner of the jack. Do not attach a chain or shackle to bottom hole of the large runner on the jack.
3. Pull the stuck vehicle free
To winch a vehicle, operate the Hi-Lift similar to the steps laid out in the section of lifting a vehicle. Note, however, that you’ll need to release the emergency break and take the vehicle out of park for it to move. If you need to winch the vehicle further than one run down the jack will provide, put the vehicle in park and the emergency break on, then reset the jack to begin the process again. Repeat as necessary.
Changing a tire (in certain cases)
A bottle jack or the factory scissors jack are typically preferred for changing tires, as they present fewer safety concerns and are often easier and quicker to use. But a Hi-Lift can come in handy when the ground is too uneven for those other jacks or they don’t provide enough lift. Follow the protocol on lifting a vehicle with a Hi-Lift above to remove a tire. You’ll need to use a ratchet strap to keep the suspension from sagging, as outlined in Step 1.
A Hi-Lift can also be used as a general purpose tool for pulling things together or squeezing them together, which can be useful when performing vehicle repairs. We won’t get into those uses in this article, but there are lots of videos online.
This is not an exhaustive list, just the things we keep top of mind. Please refer to the official user’s manual for complete safety instructions.
- Make sure the vehicle is properly secured and stabilized before lifting.
- Never work under a lifted vehicle that is only supported by a Hi-Jack. If you are going to lift the vehicle with a Hi-Lift, support it with jack stands before working underneath.
- Keep your body parts, particularly your head, clear of the handle and out of the space between the jack handle and the steel bar.
- Always put the handle in the vertical up position, held securely by the spring clip, when not actively using the handle or when switching the reversing latch.
- Don’t use the jack on curved, tubular or plastic bumpers without proper attachments.
- What out for the running gear slipping quickly down the steel bar once it is unweighted.
What Hi-lift to Buy
While “hi-lift” has become a generic term for this style of farm jack, they originally were invented by Philip John Harrah, founder of the Bloomfield Manufacturing Company in Indiana. They were patented in 1910 and the company has been making them for over over 100 years.
In our opinion, it’s worth getting the real deal. They are a bargain. You can pick up their basic all-cast 48-inch jack, the standard model for most off-road needs for around $85, at the time of this writing. If you have a particularly large lift/tire combo, you might need the 60-inch model, which still comes in under $100.
A PDF of the official Hi-Lift Jack operation manual can be downloaded from their site.