Wrenching on cars as a hobby requires that you come to terms with the fact that unless you’re Tony Stark, you won’t have equipment that matches your ambition. However, spending the equivalent of a used Honda Civic on one piece of kit can bring you one hell of a lot closer to being the master tinkerer you always dreamed of being.
For most of my car-appreciating life, I’ve had to make do with working on my automotive projects in the not-so-safe front yard of my parent’s house, braving the Chinese hoax known as the harsh New Jersey winters and summers.
My wrenching, both for general maintenance and larger projects drew the looks of concerned neighbors, curious car-lovers, and weird nomadic passersby that told me that they definitely had something that would beat my car in a race before asking if I knew a good “weed guy.”
Installations and repair, ranging from slight modifications to full blown drivetrain swaps, were done as any self-respecting back or frontyard mechanic would have it: Laying belly-up on dirty concrete with fluid dripping down my elbow, with the nagging thought in the back of my head that if the Harbor Freight jack stand I tasked with saving me from a crushing death inexplicably failed, I had probably brought it on myself.
A garage with some sort of car lift, to raise up the car to a comfortable working height would have been the ideal, but even with the cash available, I wouldn’t have been able to do it, as space was at a premium.
My parents’ aging one-car garage couldn’t fit a Range Rover inside it without an insurance claim. It sure as hell wouldn’t be able to fit something that made things notably easier for me to work on one.
However, when the time came for me to buy my own house, I chose the state takes pride in its automotive anarchy, Florida, and chose a house with a modestly sized two car garage with ceilings that wouldn’t give me blunt force head trauma if I did a jumping jack.
This allowed me to plan for my automotive future and save for a thing I’ve always wanted, and now had both the space and resources to afford: a four post car lift.
Before considering this move from a passing hobby to uncomfortable obsession, I had to get a new garage door, both to insulate the garage against the Satanic grip of Florida’s heat and bugs, and to raise the height of the door runners to accommodate for the extra height needed, with a door opener relocation to boot. Only then was I ready to start shopping.
After shopping around and Googling lift brands and reading reviews that ranged from outright shills for the competition to ones that were only probably shills for the competition, I had made my choice. I was to order the Bendpak HD-9 four post car lift.
At just under $3,000, it wasn’t the most cost-effective option by a long shot. In fact, a four post lift from another, less well-known brand would have cost half as much, but marketing is a hell of a thing, as I was convinced by its ALI/ETL certification to its 9,000 lb weight limit, an accolade the other manufacturers didn’t have. Despite my haggard appearance, safety is at least in the top five things I consider when buying something that suspends a car above my head.
That, and the fact that many professional shops use exactly this model for their day-to-day work, and just like grandpa living to a ripe old age of 105 on a diet of booze and bacon, if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.
One premium that I incurred during the order process was that switching the color from the stock drab blue to a fetching red cost me an extra $300. Now, I’m not sure how much paint costs, but I don’t think Bendpak will sell me a lift without paint on it, and the red was a standard color that the company provided, so I suspect that the extra charge was a bit of a test of how much I really wanted my new lift to match my Harbor Freight tool box. As it turns out, exactly $300 worth. Fancy that.
I then picked up an RJ-45 rolling jack that would plug into the inner rails of the lift and allow me to lift the car’s body independent to its wheels, turning the four post lift into essentially a two post lift without the inherent danger of a weekend-ruining event such as a car falling off the lift and killing me. This air-powered jack gave my already dented-in bank account another good whack, as it cost an additional $1200 to fit to my order.
I scheduled to have the lift delivered to a local installer who charged $800 to fit it into my garage with the promise that they probably wouldn’t break anything in the process, and waited until the magic day arrived when my normal-ass two car garage would transform into the beautiful three car garage I always knew it would be if it tried hard enough.
After a few hours, the freestanding lift was installed, I rolled my Aston Martin on, and lifted the entire mass, hoping that I wouldn’t accidentally put a hole in my 10-and-a-half foot tall ‘80s popcorn ceiling.
I then took off the impractically heavy and gaudy yellow steel approach ramps and drove my Mercedes-Benz under it. I nearly cried.
With just about a foot’s clearance between the two, they fit perfectly.
Years after I started this wrenching hobby and made sure that my hands would never be devoid of cuts and oily scrapes, I finally had a more-or-less professional setup that wouldn’t render me a life-hating, defeated mess after doing an all-day job that would have likely take a few hours for a professional shop, including a coffee break.
$5,000 went into this, and although it’s a quite significant sum, I don’t miss the money for a second.
Above all, I’m excited to share my adventures and rusty findings with all of you in the near future. Let’s get dirty.