Using the Hi-Lift Jack

Story & Photos by Jim Allen
The Hi-Lift is still produced by the company that first offered it, the Bloomfield Manufacturing Company, which began in 1895.

Long travel suspensions combined with big tires pose some problems. Sometimes even the mighty Hi-Lift runs out of travel before the tires come off the ground. In the case of this axle repair on a Jeep coiler, in a rather inconvenient spot on the trail, the suspension was chained up at ride height to facilitate getting the tire off the ground.
When it was invented by P.J. Harrah in 1905, it was called the Automatic Combination Tool. With a major design revision in 1919, it became the Handyman jack. In 1963, a version of the Handyman was spun off into the truck and 4x4 market as the Hi-Lift jack. The Hi-Lift is still produced by the company that first offered it, the Bloomfield Manufacturing Company, of Bloomfield, Indiana, which began in 1895. If that isn't enough to give you the warm and fuzzies, note that it's still owned and run by the Harrah family.



The Hi-Lift Family Details

The latest Hi-Lift jacks share the same basic lift specifications, which start with a tested maximum load of 7,000 pounds. Rated load is a lower 4,660 pounds. They are rated for a winching load of 5,000 pounds, a clamping load of 750 lbs and a spreading load the same as the lifting load.  

There can be some problems with late model trucks and SUVs finding suitable jacking points. The receiver hitch is one possibility in back but curved and plastic-cladded bumpers present special problems. With a curved metal bumper, this Hi-Lift bumper attachment can work. On a painted bumper like this, some padding is needed to protect the bumper.
Variations in the Hi-Lift line are mainly in construction materials and bar heights. The unit built of a combination of cast and stamped steel parts is the economy model. It's powder-coated black and comes in 36, 42, 48 and 60-inch heights. Hi-Lift says the cast/stamped model will wear out sooner than the all cast, but this writer had one and wasn't able to wear it out before selling it to a buddy in the '90s.
The all-cast models are more expensive, powder-coated red, stouter (though with the same ratings) and come in 42, 48 and 60-inch heights.


Key to Numbers
1) Winch/clamp/spreader attachment. Has 3/8 chain slot and 7/8 shackle hole. This can be purchased separately to upgrade an older jack.
2) Steel handle (either painted or anodized).
3) Bar (a.k.a. standard).
4) Handle spring clip. Holds handle in up position
5) Climbing pins, one each on large and small runners.
6) Lifting toe section of the large runner.
7) Small runner and shear bolt. The pitman connects the two runners.
8) Foot piece. Attaches with cotter pin or clevis. Jacks with cotter pins can be drilled out and upgraded with a clevis.

If you use the Hi-Lift as a winch, your money is well spent buying the Off-Road kit. It contains what you need, including a tree strap (with a load-sensing red stripe), the lift toe attachment with 3/8 inch chain, a special tensioner attachment to hold the load, a clevis conversion for the foot, a shackle and gloves. In a handy carrying case, of course!

The new X-Treme is an all-cast model powder-coated a gun-metal color. Its most unique and useful feature is a cast nose attachment that has a 7/8 shackle hole and a chain-slot for 3/8 chain, both of which make for easy winch hookups. The attachment also has a stouter toe that has a higher clamping load rating. Other X-Treme features include corrosion-resistant anodized parts and a quick release clevis that attaches the bar to the base.

It's a Jack

Well, duh! The Hi-Lift can hoist a load from a minimum of about 4.5 inches low to within a few inches of it's bar height. The 60-inch jacks have a reduced rated capacity on the last 12 inches of travel. The Hi-lift can be used to jack a vehicle out of the mud, off a rock that has it hi-centered or diff-hung, or to jack it up for repairs or tire changes.

Here's how to use the Hi-Lift as a winch. Start with the jack at the bottom of its travel. Attach the bracket and transport chain to the lifting nose.

The key elements to using the jack safely start with blocking the wheels to prevent the vehicle from rolling off the jack. Natural wheel blocks (rocks, logs, etc.) combined with the parking brake will do that. So will another rig bumped up against it or even a winch cable, strap or rope secured to a solid deadman.
Stabilizing the vehicle so it won't tip off to the side while being lifted is job two. Winches and ropes are also the best idea for securing the vehicle from falling off to one side while jacking. Short term, a person on each side may be able to do that. Another vehicle can also be used if body damage can be avoided.

 If repairs are being made, find some way to block the vehicle from falling if the jack were to fail. A jackstand is perfect, but not many of us carry them on the trail. The removed tire may do the job, as well as logs, rocks or other stout materials. Obviously, you need exercise caution in situations such as this.
When not jacking, the safe place for the handle is clipped up, parallel to the bar. While holding a load, keep the reversing latch in the up position for safely. When switching the reversing latch to lower the load, do so with the jack handle up. If you don't, the handle can suddenly pop up and nail you in the face or mash fingers between the handle and bar. That tendency will also be felt while lowering the jack, so you have to hang onto the handle on the upstroke.

Remove the foot and install the tensioner near the base.

When the load gets low, under 150 lbs, and the handle is up, the jack will release and drop to the bottom of travel.
Recovery jacking is fairly simple. Jack the vehicle up until it's clear of the mud, logs or rocks, place solid material under the tires for clearance or traction and drive off. Don't go under the vehicle when it's supported only by the jack.
Another useful trick is the "jack-n-drop." Save this one for when you really need it, because it's hard on the jack and can be dangerous if not done carefully. It's for when you find yourself stuck in ruts and can't climb out but only useful if there's room for you to drive on in a Treading Lightly way once out of the ruts. Have people on either side to stabilize the rig as you jack it up from the center.

 Use another section of transport chain (you supply) and connect it to the deadman, in this case a tree (note tree strap). Using the supplied shackle, attach the vehicle to the jack bar using whatever rope, strap, cable or chain you intend to use

When it's high enough, the person in the direction you want the rig to drop to steps well clear of the vehicle (taking the jack handle with them) and, the other person gives it a shove. In theory, the vehicle drops onto solid ground. Repeat the process on the opposite end.
You always need solid, level ground for the jack foot. If the ground is irregular, level it as best you can.


If the ground is soft, use a  base to spread the weight and prevent sinkage. Hi-Lift makes a lightweight base that's neat, because it has a recessed area for the jack's foot so it won't slip.


Start winching. When you reach the end of travel, hook the tensioner (arrow) to the section of chain, as far behind the bracket chain as possible. Reverse the jack, let all the tension come off the bracket chain and onto the tensioner. Bring the jack back to the bottom of travel, hook the bracket chain as bar back (behind the tensioner) as you can. Jack again. The tensioner will come loose. Repeat as many times as necessary.

You can use other things, such as a double layer of thick (3/4-inch minimum) marine plywood, with a square hole in the second piece just big enough for the jack foot. Other materials will work but the key element is a building it in a way to prevent the jack foot from slipping.

Obviously, you need a good point on the vehicle to jack from. If your rig has plastic bumper cladding or curved bumpers, you may need adapters or modifications to use a Hi-Lift jack. Hi-Lift makes some adapters for special circumstances and there are some aftermarket specialty parts available as well but in some cases, you simply may not be able to use a Hi-Lift.
Hi-Lift cautions against jacking from tubular bumpers or bars because the danger of rolling or sliding off is increased. Tubular bumpers, however, are common.


The Hi-Lift jack base gives the jack a larger footprint in soft ground so it won't sink.
You can reduce the bad odds by doing an extra-good job of securing the vehicle. I have seen some owners use a short section of chain and a bolt to secure the lifting toe to the bar, looping the chain around the bar and securing it with a high-grade bolt to the hole in the lifting toe.

Finally, the Hi-Lift has a shear bolt on the lower end of the pitman that's rated for about 7,000 pounds. Don't be silly and replace it with something stronger. If you exceed the capacity of the shear bolt, the jack will still hold the load when it breaks. If it's been replaced by something stronger, some other part may fail causing the load to drop.

The Handle-All is a new multi-tool from Hi-Lift and includes a shovel, ax, sledge hammer and pick, all contained in a soft case. The selection of tools in the Handle-All is 4x4 oriented. The shovel is very good. The ax is so-so. The sledge is very useful! The metal handle of tends to transmit a lot more shock when wailing on something than a wood or polycarbonate handle, so thick gloves are recommended. To answer the inevitable question, yes, the handle on the Handle-All will fit the Hi-Lift Jack but the tool heads won't work on the Hi-Lift handle.
It's a Winch

Used horizontally, the Hi-Lift becomes a winch rated for 5,000 lbs. It's slow and you can only winch the length of travel at a time (approximately three feet on the 48-inch jacks and four feet on the 60-incher) but it will get the job done. We detail the winching hookup in the pictures. Hi-Lift makes an off-road kit with everything you need for that. Because the travel is short, you need to be able to stop, secure the load and reposition the jack's running gear for another pull. The Off-Road kit makes that easier and safer.
Because people are near the winching apparatus, it isn't safe use vehicle power to assist. Merely have the vehicle in neutral, brakes off, with a driver inside ready to apply the brake on command. Reduce the load on the jack by clearing the wheel tracks as much as possible and removing obstructions.


It's Still a Handyman!

The Lift-Mate allows you to jack the vehicle by the wheel, which alleviates the problem of suspension travel and tall vehicles. The hooks go into wheel spokes and the rubber pad against the sidewall. Obviously it won't fit every wheel.

The Hi-Lift does many things besides jacking and winching. It can be used as an engine hoist, hooked up similarly for winching. It can be used as a clamp or spreader for trail repairs. It's commonly used to straighten tie rods. Around the farm and ranch, it can be used as a fencepost puller, fencewire stretcher, clamp or house lifter. The ultimate list of uses are limited only by safety concerns and your needs.

Care and Maintenance

 The Hi-Lift needs relatively little maintenance. High pressure water and a degreaser or solvent will clean it. If it gets rusty and stiff, use a good penetrating oil, such as PB Blaster, to free it up. Penetrating oil will also work as a maintenance lubricant. Ditto silicone, Teflon or white lithium grease sprays. Hi-Lift offers repair kits with the parts that commonly wear or break, such as climbing pins, shear bolt and springs.

Hi-Lift Jack Company

Available at:
4 Wheel Parts Performance Center stores (
Phone order: 800-284-9840
Online at:

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