How Hydraulic Car Lifts Work
There are many different designs of hydraulic car lifts in use today. The most common designs have two or four posts with arms that extend beneath the car to lift the car by the frame (or at specified jacking points). Another common design, sometimes called a "drive-on" lift, has solid metal tracks for the car to drive onto before being lifted. Other designs sometimes use a center column sunk into the floor beneath the lift. Regardless of the design, all car lifts operate using hydraulic systems.
A car lift operates using the same basic concept as any hydraulic system: when you apply force to a liquid in one place, the pressure is transmitted through the system to exert an effect somewhere else. Car lifts use hydraulic fluid (a petroleum oil with additives), which cannot be compressed no matter how much pressure you exert on it. Instead, the fluid flows through the hydraulic system and moves a cylinder that raises the car off the ground. Some car lifts use an air compressor, while others use an electric motor. Regardless the power source utilized, the basic idea is the same. The lift exerts force on the hydraulic fluid, which in turn moves a cylinder to raise the car. Trading force for distance is a common idea in mechanical systems. In the case of a car lift, this means connecting a narrow cylinder to a wide one via hydraulic lines. Oil compressed through the narrow cylinder travels a great distance. When that force is transferred into the wide cylinder, it moves a shorter distance, but with much greater force.
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