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Bottle Jack vs Floor Jack: What’s the Difference?

Repairing ferrari racing car

A jack is one tool every car owner should have in their arsenal. From changing a tire to accessing hard to reach spots for repair and maintenance, jacks are wonderful to have around.

But just like there are many different uses for jacks, there are a bunch of different types of jacks. In this article, we’ll talk about two particular ones: bottle jacks and floor jacks.

Each serves their own purpose and has distinct advantages and disadvantages. After reading this, you should have a clear idea which of these two jacks is right for you.

What is a Bottle Jack?

Denzel_hydraulic_bottle_jack
A bottle jack

A bottle jack is a vertically centered and arranged hydraulic jack. Like the name implies, the jack resembles a bottle. But what does it mean to be a hydraulic jack?

A hydraulic jack is a jack that performs its main function of lifting a heavy load through the use of a hydraulic cylinder.

How Does a Bottle Jack Work?

A bottle jack essentially has two cylinders inside. An oil reservoir and a main piston cylinder. With an upstroke of the jack’s pump handle, oil is drawn out of the reservoir cylinder. And then with the downstroke, that drawn oil is then pushed into the piston.

When the oil in the piston cylinder becomes further compressed, the piston rod is forced upwards. Each subsequent pump continues to raise the pressure in the cylinder and raise the piston rod higher.

The piston rod should rest on a stable, sturdy part of your vehicle. Because when the rod raises in height, whatever rests on top will move as well.

Why Use a Bottle Jack?

Depending on the situation, a bottle jack can be your best friend. Due to the unique, simplistic design of a bottle jack, they can lift much heavier loads than other types of jacks. And not only that, they tend to lift them higher as well. This is because the starting point of the jack is higher giving more room for the jack to lift.

Next, they’ve got smaller lifting pads. While this might seem like a disadvantage–more on that later–a smaller horizontal profile lets a bottle jack fit into tighter spaces and corners.

One of the biggest attractions to a bottle jack though is its price. They’re typically on the cheaper end of the jack price spectrum. This makes the bottle jack an affordable option for most consumers.

Car maintenance

The Disadvantages of Using a Bottle Jack

While a bottle jack seems like a pretty good choice, there are some definite things you need to consider. The things that give the bottle jack a clear edge over other jacks also are its biggest weakness.

The vertical arrangement of the jack makes it difficult to use in cars that are low to the ground. This could include low riders, subcompacts, or other smaller sedans. But it’s not the vertical design that gives the bottle jack its biggest disadvantage. It’s the smaller lifting pads.

You see, the smaller pads allow for a higher-pressure point (and increased lift capacity), but they also make the jack less stable. And that can lead to slipping. That’s why it’s imperative that you pickup a solid pair of jack stands to perform maintenance or repairs to your vehicle.

Pros
  • Compact
  • Economical
  • Lifts Heavier Vehicles Higher
Cons
  • Cannot Fit Under Lower Vehicles
  • Increased Chance of Slippage

What is a Floor Jack?

Like the bottle jack, a floor jack is another type of hydraulic jack. But instead of being vertically arranged and bottle-shaped, floor jacks are horizontally centered and have a much lower center of gravity.

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A floor jack. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

How Does a Floor Jack Work?

The floor jack operates on the same principles that a bottle jack does. Picture it like this: A floor jack is essentially a bottle jack that has been mounted to be parallel to the ground.

The biggest difference is the arrangement of the external moving mechanism. Whereas the bottle jack’s piston moves vertically, a special set of linkages on the floor jack pushes the bottom of the lifting arm forward. This raises the top of the lifting arm upward along with its lifting pad (or saddle).

Why Use a Floor Jack?

A floor jack’s low profile is extremely useful. First, it can fit underneath just about any standard vehicle unlike the bottle jack. And if your vehicle has an even lower profile, there are specialty floor jacks that can slide underneath.

Second, when compared to bottle jacks, floor jacks are so much easier to use. Most have casters or wheels that make them super easy to roll around and lock into place. They also tend to have much longer and easier-to-insert operating handles. This extra length gives a mechanical advantage to the operator allowing even those with physical ailments to easily lift their vehicle.

Lastly, floor jacks normally have a much larger lifting pad than other types of jacks. This is super important because that allows more contact between the vehicle and the jack itself. The increased contact makes the jack or vehicle much less likely to slip and injure the vehicle or operator.

The Disadvantages of Using a Floor Jack

While a floor jack may seem like your ideal need, there are some things you need to keep in mind.

Because of the horizontal arrangement of the jack, floor jacks aren’t able to lift as high as bottle jacks. Sure, you can get larger floor jacks to lift higher. But that creates two other issues.

  • Floor jacks are bulky and heavy. Transporting them around can be a pain, especially with the bigger ones. These are better suited for at-home maintenance versus changing a tire on the side of the road.
  • When compared to other jacks, these get expensive. And the larger the jack, the higher the cost. If you’re on a tight budget, I’d recommend that you do some serious shopping around or opt for a different type of jack.
Pros
  • Low Profile
  • Easy to Operate
  • Less Likely to Slip
Cons
  • Not as Portable
  • Heavy
  • Expensive
  • Cannot Lift as High

What’s the Best Jack for Me?

So, how do you know whether you need a floor jack or a bottle jack?

If you’re looking for something that you can tote around for emergency uses, a bottle jack might be your best friend. It can easily be stashed in the trunk of your car and quickly retrieved when needed. Also, if you’re driving a large truck or farming equipment, the high clearances make perfect use of a bottle jack’s vertical arrangement.

But if you’re primarily doing car maintenance at home, opt for a floor jack. They’re much more convenient for that purpose. Also, if you don’t have the clearance underneath your car for a bottle jack, floor jacks are your best option.

Whichever you choose, remember that jacks are there to lift your car, not provide a stable working surface. After lifting your vehicle, we recommend placing it on a solid pair of jack stands to make the process safer all around.

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