A car lift is a mixed blessing.

March 29, 2016

When our son Charlie planned a shop for his hobby, he insisted upon a 12′ ceiling to provide clearance for a car lift.  He had worked on his Porsche for a couple of years on a gravel floor in a crowded plastic hut, freezing in winter and utterly baking in summer until I took pity on him and cut the end out of the edifice with an exacto knife.

We mutually agreed that he needed a separate shop for automotive pursuits.  He insisted that no sawdust make its way into his clean area.  My preference was for a space not filled with used brake rotors for my woodworking.

In any case, Charlie, Martin, and other volunteers popped the garage up in a surprisingly short period of time.  Charlie learned drywall and taping, then he and Roz painted the interior to a high standard of quality.

The centrepiece of the shop was the asymmetric-arm, two-post auto lift.  Charlie located a beauty weighing a bit over a ton.  My trailer easily hauled it down the 401 and home, thereby saving $500 in shipping.

Les Parrott lent us a heavy drill, I bought a 3/4″ bit for it, and Charlie drilled the holes for the many 6″ lag bolts which anchor the massive posts.  Then we attached the beam across the top, and Peter Myers came over to assemble the hydraulics.

If you don’t mind that the left post is almost an inch lower than the right, things went together very well.  A narrow vehicle looks a little tilted to me when up at the top, but everyone has either had the decency not to mention it, or else hasn’t noticed the flaw.  Everything else is admirably straight, plumb, and torqued.

There’s a manual to tell the operator where to place the arms and pads to lift each model of car and truck.  Safety instructions call for one to make a vigorous attempt to shake the vehicle on the hoist before raising it above knee height.

It works well for cars, not badly for UTVs, and not at all for garden tractors, but that is covered in another story in this series entitled Why It’s a Bad Idea To Raise Your Kubota On a Car Lift.   

To get on with the current tale, I need to recount that our 2005 Lexus has had an exemplary career mechanically, but this week it broke down.  The power steering mechanism began to make a lot of noise.  A check revealed that it was low on fluid.  Up onto the hoist it went.  Into the bowels of the beast I crawled with alacrity, armed only with a penlight battery on a long, flexible probe with an LED at the other end.

After a few minutes of searching I located the power steering pump.  Its belt was snug and looked new, but the reservoir was almost empty.  With a turkey baster I topped it up with ATF.  On Internet discussion boards Dexxon Automatic Transmission Fluid is the unanimous choice for Toyota/Lexus power steering repairs.  Then I went looking for leaks.

To make a tedious story shorter, I concluded that I needed a 42″ hose to carry high-pressure oil from the pump to the steering rack.  RockAuto.com had it for $94.  The Lexus dealer wanted $900 for the Lexus model, but suggested an after-market equivalent for $480.

I promise:  the Lexus dealer comes out o.k. on this.  Keep reading.

Grudgingly I agreed to the expensive hose and Brian Madeley ordered it for this morning. Derek prepared the car while Brian picked up the part from the nearby dealership.  Derek didn’t think the wet spot I identified as the source of the leak was bad enough, so he kept looking, only to find a split metal tube on a low-pressure return line which he promptly repaired with a length of hose and a pair of clamps.  Total bill: $250.

While it looks wonderful in the shop, the hoist is not the whole deal in auto repair.  It takes experience to know when a blemish on a line is cosmetic and when it’s a broken part which needs to be replaced.  Had I tried to do this job myself I would have ordered parts from RockAuto.com, an admittedly excellent parts source, but they would have had to make it across the border and couldn’t be returned if they turned out to be the wrong ones, or not needed.  The car would have been out of service for at least a week.

For an evening I ranted freely at Lexus and Toyota for the outrageous price on their hose, but is it wrong to put a very high value on a part if it lasts the life of the vehicle and nobody ever needs to replace it?

What’s more, with the use of the hoist in this case I was able to make a prompt diagnosis of the problem and prevent further damage.  My wife suggested having Brian do the repair regardless of the potential cost in order to get her car back into service quickly.  In this case while its benefit proved far from clear-cut, the hoist offered more advantage than liability, a balance I’ll ponder while switching out the winter tires and admiring this tall, red icon of the do-it-yourself culture.

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