Types of Vehicle Jack - Which is Best for You?

There are several types of vehicle jacks available to buy so it's usually just a case considering the various options and then choosing one you feel will be capable of meeting your needs.

Among the most popular types used in the UK by motorists and professional vehicle mechanics in car repair and servicing garages are the bottle jack, scissor jack, trolley jack and the transmission jack.

Other types of jack include the air jack, the electric jack, the racing jack and the motorcycle jack. Some jacks are powered by air or electricity, but the most commonly used devices are manually-operated hydraulic jacks or the manual lead screw jacks. 

Each type of jack has its own advantages so let’s take a look at the various types of jacks used for vehicle maintenance and repair.

Hydraulic Trolley Jack: We'll kick off with the trusty hydraulic trolley jack which is, of course, discussed extensively throughout this site. This is arguably the safest, easiest to operate and best all-round jack available.

You simply wheel the jack below your car at one of the vehicle's lift points. Then you pump the attached handle which is connected to a socket and the lift arm will make contact with the undercarriage of the vehicle and raise it.

Your car can be lowered later by turning the pressure relief valve. It's highly recommended to place jack stands below your car if you plan to keep it raised for any length of time to carry out an oil change, disc pad change or other maintenance work.

The hydraulic system in a trolley jack means very little manual effort is needed by the operator in order to raise a vehicle. This type of jack is renowned for being very safe and stable and is capable of lifting a vehicle much higher than some other kinds of jack.

Bottle Jack: This type of jack can be mechanical, hydraulic or even electric. The hydraulic bottle jack is the most commonly used during vehicle maintenance. It is often referred to as a whiskey jack in the USA.


A bottle jack has a cylindrical body from which a hydraulic ram is activated by hydraulic pressure when the attached handle is pumped. These jacks are very easy to operate, relatively cheap to buy, at around £15 to £50. 

Bottle jacks are not low profile and their compressed height is around half that of their extended height. This means they are usually too tall to fit under a vehicle with low ground clearance. 

Therefore you will need to confirm a bottle jack will fit below your car as they are often better-suited larger vehicles such as trucks and minibuses. A scissor jack or trolley jack is likely to be a better option for you if your car has low ground clearance.

You should be aware that the lifting arm on some bottle jacks allows for a maximum lifting height of just five to 15 inches, which may be enough to change a tyre but allows for little else in the way of maintenance. Some bottle jacks have a larger lift height range of 10 to 20 inches.

Lifting capacities on some bottle jacks are very impressive - namely they can raise a vehicle weighing up to 50 tonnes! You won't find many other types of jack capable of such an impressive feat of strength. More common lift capacities are 2, 8,12 and 20 tonnes.

Bottle jacks are so powerful there are even used in bulk to raised houses and other buildings!

Scissor Jack: The scissor jack is probably the most common, cheapest, and well known type of jack. It's the type you'll usually find in the boot of a new car, sitting in the spare tyre recess. 

Scissor jack are small, compact and lightweight. They are very portable and easy to use, if sometimes a bit fiddly. It's worth buying one made from decent quality materials as some cheaper makes have been known to prove problematic and even fail after minimal use.

These jacks are sometimes mislabelled as screw jacks - assumingly the reference is made with regard to the device's central screw which acts upon the rotary pivots when turned. 

Scissor jacks are mechanical in nature and require more physical input than some other types of jack to initiate the lifting motion of the jack. Electric scissor jacks are a better option for anyone who doesn't want to exercise their muscles!

These are low profile jacks, meaning they can comfortably to fit under most cars and other vehicles. Maximum height lift for scissor jacks is generally around 15 to 30 inches. 

A downside of many scissor jacks is their lift capacity which is can be a mere one or two tonnes. This is fine for most small vehicles but they won't be up to the job of lifting a larger car, truck, minibus or 4x4.

Transmission Jack: These are used to perform a transmission lift and they are relatively cheap and easy to use. Sorting out a transmission problem on your car can be a time-consuming and costly job and these jacks can play a big role in making the whole thing less frustrating.

These jacks are nearly always hydraulic devices and generally cost around £60 to £150. 

Lifting a car's transmission is beyond the scope of most car owners, so you'll mainly see this type of jack being put to use in an auto repair garage. When the jack has done its job the main block will normally be held aloft by an engine hoist. 

If a hoist is not available, a transmission jack adapter can be used in conjunction with a floor jack to enable the transmission to be lifted from below the vehicle. 

Using this method will involve lifting the vehicle enough to get the transmission out from underneath. In this case tall jack stands or car ramps will be required to do the job safely and effectively.

A precision type of device used by professionals is a pedestal transmission jack. This high lift jack allows the transmission to be supported while being disconnected from the vehicle. It can then be lowered slowly and safely to an acceptable height for a mechanic to work on it.

Racing Jack: These are often found in the pit stops at motor racing circuits - most of us have seen them in operation when driver's pull in for tyre changes and refuelling during Formula One races.

A racing jack can lift a vehicle extremely quickly, due to having dual pump pistons, and has a really low clearance level which makes it ideal for use with racing cars and other vehicles that have a low chassis.

This type of jack is solely for lifting and doesn't support a load - hence it is primarily used for raising a vehicle onto axle stands which have been put in place to bear the load.

Racing jacks are normally used for raising vehicles in the one tonne to 2.5 tonne range and sometimes have handy features built into them, such as little LED lights to aid with visibility below a vehicle.

Motorcycle Jack: A motorcycle jack is the right choice of device for any biker who wants to carry out some work on their pride and joy.

This type of jack is designed specifically for bike maintenance because lifting motorcycles is not as straightforward as lifting cars. 

It is possible to lift a motorbike with a standard floor jack and then support it with jack stands - but this will not provide the bike with the same stability given by a dedicated motorcycle jack or table.

These jacks are often powered by a hand or foot-operated hydraulic system and generally cost in the region of £50 to £150. Some have locking castors and locking bars on either side for added safety and security.

Air Jack: There are various kinds of air jack, but one of the most well known is the exhaust air jack which raised a car or other vehicle by means of emissions expelled from the exhaust pipe.

A hose is attached at one end to the exhaust and the other end to a large cleverly-designed PVC-coated canvas bag or sack which is placed under the vehicle. The emissions from the exhaust then fill the bag and raise the vehicle.

Air jacks are available in various sizes and the bags are able to stay inflated for up to 45 minutes. 

They operate with low weight and friction materials to lift a car very quickly indeed with minimal effort. They are widely used in the world motor sport market.

Electric Jack: This type of jack is proving popular with motorists who just want a simple alternative to a manual scissor jack which can raise their car to change a tyre. Many electric jacks are powered by connecting to the vehicle cigarette lighter socket.

Some devices have two functions and can operate both as a jack and a tyre inflator pump. They usually have a weight overload protection feature and a safety unloading knob, in the event the electric power supply is cut from the jack.

Electric jacks are pretty powerful and usually capable of lifting a vehicle weighing up to two ton. They cost around £50 to £120 and brand names include Pictech, Bouyi and Fishtec.

We hope that gives you plenty of useful information about the various types of jack - this site is aimed at helping your find the ideal trolley jack for your needs, but maybe you will decide to opt for another type of device instead.