This week, we're beginning a new series on Shop Equipment maintenance. Some of the largest investments in an auto shop business are the actual equipment purchased for the shop, whether it be a car lift, tire changer, alignment machine, etc. You spend a lot of money on equipment that is used day in and day out to earn you money, so why not make sure your equipment is always ready to take on work? This week, we'll start with a piece of equipment that is used most often -- nearly on every job.
Car lifts are found in more shops than ever before. Gone are the days that require buried hydraulics or foundation monstrosities to install a lift. Lifts can be bought and installed within days, and at a nominal price. With that said, don’t let your attention to detail fade after the purchase and installation of your lift. Car lifts require routine inspection and maintenance to ensure safe and successful operation. Make sure that you have a plan in action, or begin preparing one today. Car lift maintenance will save you money in the long run and maybe even save a life.
While there are many lift manufacturers, most of these lifts of like-kind operate in the same manner. So, maintenance on these units is much the same. In fact, the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI – http://www.autolift.org) sets the standards for manufacturing, certification, inspection, maintenance, etc. The ALI is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as an Accredited Standards Developer (ASD). It is the policy of ALI to comply with the guidance offered in the “ANSI Essential Requirements: Due Process Requirements for American National Standards”. I don’t want to get into too much regulation talk, but it is important to know how this affects you and your company.
Car Lift Maintenance and Regulation
It is difficult to lay down blanket statements concerning regulation and car lift maintenance, since this can vary between states, and even with our friends in Canada. I believe this is even the case between Canada’s different provinces as well. What is correct in all US accounts is, regardless of the requirements and stipulations put on the manufacturer, the responsibility and liability of the lift in your shop rests mainly on your (owner’s) shoulders.
Ok, just a little more government mumbo-jumbo and we’ll actually get into lift maintenance (I feel like we need 3 paragraphs of #4 font following this post with all the legaleze attached, limiting our liability). While OSHA has not applied any direct mandates for lift manufacturers or lift owners, they do recognize that ALI is the knowledge holder. This is a copy from OSHA’s website, in response to a question submitted to them in 2014:
As you are aware, the ANSI/ALI ALOIM: 2008, Standard for Automotive Lifts - Safety Requirements for Operation, Inspection and Maintenance is the industry recognized consensus standard for employers operating automotive lifts. While OSHA does not enforce standards from other standards-setting bodies or non-governmental organizations, unless incorporated by reference into an OSHA standard or adopted as an OSHA standard, national consensus standards and manufacturers' recommendations may be used as evidence of hazard recognition and the availability of feasible means of abatement in cases where an employer is cited for a violation of the General Duty Clause.
Define this as you will, but please understand that the lift in your shop is a valuable asset that also requires intentional attention.
Inspection and Maintenance Record Keeping
As shop owners and workers, so many times we do the work and move on. Don’t do this with your car lift maintenance. Be prepared to document each time you or qualified personnel inspect and maintain your car lift. Keep these records in a secure location that is known and accessible. This will help with safety and liability. Keep repair records, including model and serial numbers. These will come in handy, not only with accidents and Insurance needs, but also warranty claims. If you will prepare and schedule now, you won’t have to panic later.
Scheduled Inspection and Maintenance
How often should you inspect your car lift? In short, every time it’s used. There is no reason why you can’t take a few seconds to look over the car lift before you walk under the 6,000-pound steel anvil (car) you’re working on. Be aware!
- Always look the lift over before using it, this may be multiple times each day
- Inspect cables, hoses and chains for obvious signs of wear
- Look for any hydraulic leaks or defects in joints and connections
- Look for any potential pinch points for fingers, limbs, cables or hoses
- Ensure that clamps and straps are retaining cables and hoses as they should
- Confirm the lift is working as it should – rises and lowers remaining level, with no sticking points
- Make sure that the locking mechanisms work correctly and that the arms swing as they should
- Check all fasteners (nuts, bolts, screws, etc.) and tighten where necessary
- Check all cable connections, bolts and pins to ensure proper mounting.
- Lubricate all chain rollers and cable pulleys – typically with white lithium grease, but be sure to confirm with your manufacturer’s recommendations
- Lubricate safety lock pivot points with white lithium grease, or the manufacturer’s suggestion
- Grease the carriage tracks inside towers
- Check and lubricate all safety mechanisms – Replace any worn or defective parts
- Check anchor bolts – Tighten as necessary
- Inspect moving parts – Replace any worn or defective parts
- Check all Cables for excessive wear and correct tension
- Check all connections, bolts and pins to ensure proper mounting
- Lubricate columns with grease
- Check all columns for square and plumb – ensure they aren’t leaning or twisted
- Inspect all pivot arms and pins
- Ensure any cut-off switches activate and work properly
- Lifting cables should be replaced every 3-5 years or when visible signs of damage are apparent.
- Cables stretch over time and can jump a pulley or create uneven lift
- Each cable should have about .5” of deflection – This should be the same for a 2-post or 4-post lift
- Adjustments are typically pretty simple, but be sure to look over the manufacturer’s instructions on how to adjust your cables
- Wire rope is only fully protected when each wire strand is lubricated both internal and external. Excessive wear will shorten the life of the wire rope. Check with your manufacturer for their recommendation on lubricants.
- All sheaves and guide rollers in contact with the moving rope should be given regular visual checks for surface wear and lubricated to make sure that they run freely. This operation should be carried out at appropriate intervals generally not exceeding three months during operation.
- Lifting cables should be removed from service when you see six randomly distributed broken wires within any one lay length, or three broken wires in one strand within one lay length.
Other Reasons To Replace Lifting Cables
- Corrosion that pits wires and/or connectors.
- Evidence of kinking, crushing, cutting, bird-caging or a popped core.
- Wear that exceeds 10% of a wire's original diameter.
- Evidence of heat damage.
How To Find Broken Wires
- The first step is to relax your rope to a stationary position and move the pick-up points off the sheaves. Clean the surface of the rope with a cloth - a wire brush, if necessary - so you can see any breaks.
- Flex the rope to expose any broken wires hidden in the valleys between the strands.
- Visually check for any broken wires. One way to check for crown breaks is to run a cloth along the rope to check for possible snags.
- With an awl, probe between wires and strands and lift any wires that appear loose. Evidence of internal broken wires may require a more extensive rope examination.
Annual Certified Inspections
You should look into having an annual certified inspection done by an ALI certified inspector. There are more than 200 certified inspectors in the country, so there is a good chance you have one near you. The ALI website can help with this search, and your supplier can probably help as well.
Continue to inspect and maintain your lift to ensure proper operation. This not only keeps the cost down from possible large fixes, but it also reduces your risk from accidents and safety issues. If in the unfortunate event of a workplace injury regarding your car lift, presenting all your documented inspections and maintenance alleviates a lot stress and pain. In my years of experience, I do understand if you make it easy, or easier, for any governing body to do their research, they will look much more favorably upon you.
You have invested a lot of money into your lift, so make sure spend a little money and time on your car lift maintenance. You and your employees will be glad that you did.