How to add-on to your garage in a weekend

As I got tight on space in my garage with 3 Singer's and a Motorcycle and a shop full of space consuming woodworking power tools, workbench, tool rollaway, welding equipment, large compressor and glass beading cabinet, it became very obvious I needed to build on to the garage. This is my story of what I did wrong and right when I  "added on" to my garage. I have to admit, I made mistakes but what I did right, I really did RIGHT. There was a lot of discussions with my wife on how to enlarge the garage, we talked about taking out the back wall which would make the yard smaller or moving the front wall/door out but that meant the house entry way would have to be modified. Living in the Republic of Santa Barbara that was going to be quite a mess either way, we had already expanded the garage once and could not go sideways anymore due to property restrictions so going "up" was considered. We spent over a year talking about the plus/minus's of each way and decided that someday we would add a second story to the house and at that time expand the garage into both the front and back yards a little bit each way. Ok that didn't solve the immediate problem of space for my cars and working on them. I have always fantasized about having a lift or pit to work on the cars with and my wife suggested a lift for "parking/storage" purposes until we expand, my first reponse to my wife was "I love you" when she suggested it.

I then spent 6 months looking for the right lift, I messed up and bought the wrong one but I still love it. There are quite a few manufacturers out there for 4 post lifts and I talked to all of them I think. I also looked at used lifts from garages upgrading or going out of business. If I were doing it again, I would wait for a used lift, the cost savings can be substantial but as I found out, you have to have the cash ready and more importantly a method of transportation at the ready. I missed out on a lift because I "thought" about it overnight and yet another lift because I didn't have a way to haul it home and the shop needed it out that day. All the new lifts were in the same price range +/- a hundred dollars, it came down to me as to who made the shipping the easiest and seemed to be the most interested in maintaining good customer relations for when I needed to fix the thing in the future. The company that seemed to fit the bill was chosen and a lift was purchased....

 They claimed the lift would be delivered to my house on a truck and 2 people and a engine hoist would be able to unload it by taking it apart and removing it one piece at a time. By doing it this way, the heaviest piece would only 420 pounds and then 4 300 pound legs.  Ok, easy or so I thought... First hint of a problem was the shipping date slipped twice, only by a few days each time so the thing was only shipped a week late, I could live with that and didn't hold it against them. Then during shipping a problem came up and the thing was delayed for a few more days somewhere in Texas, again I can live with that, no problem and I am given a Thursday delivery date, cool I have Monday off and a 3 day weekend to build it up. Thursday comes and goes with no lift, Friday morning I call the shipping company who tells me they didn't get it unloaded from the train in time but it is in Los Angeles and I will have it NEXT Friday...NO GO on that one I have a 3-day weekend and I want to build it now, so I ask if I can drive to LA and pick it up...of course I can. Hook up the trailer and away I go...up until now as far as I am concerned the problem was not with the lift company but with the shipping company and I am still happy. We get to LA and figure out how to load it on my trailer, the thing is 3/4" shorter than my trailer so it has to be perfectly placed and their forklift makes it easy. Now I have a problem with the lift company! The thing is barely packed and there are loose parts all over the place laying on the bottom ramp, ripped cardboard boxes with parts missing are just laying on the ramp. It appears the manufacturer just kind of bolted the thing up on the ends and threw things on, I tried to take an inventory of what parts are there but I am missing the assembly manual and parts lists for the thing, I call the manufacturer and have them fax a parts list to my home and take the lift home. Hopefull the fax will be there when I get home and can see what I am missing. WRONG, this was my first real problem with the manufacturer, it was obvious they had my money and moved on to the next sucker. While loading onto the trailer, I speak to the shipper about how happy I am to have it for the weekend and glad I will be able to back it into the garage for unloading rather than one piece at a time off his truck, he says "WHAT?" The lift was going to be delivered in a CLOSED truck and no way would he have waited for me to unload or for that matter would have I been able to reach in with my engine hoist. He would have taken it back and not let even try if he had seen what I planned...but but but...the lift company swore up and down that this is the way I could do it, they even suggested it...he says no way. Second problem with the manufacturer but this one I accidentally avoided by driving down and picking it up. When I got home it became obvious this was not a "small" job and I was really happy to be able to back the trailer into the garage and use the chain hoist to lift the thing straight up and unload the trailer. We started going through everything and guessing what was missing and found out we got REALLY lucky, the only items that were missing were nuts/bolts and caster pieces, I had purchased a caster set to move the lift around in the garage.  This meant that I could assemble it and get the parts later.

My wife and I removed it from the trailer at about 2 on Friday afternoon one piece at a time, first a ramp, then each leg and then the crosspieces and last ramp, as we did this we tried figure out where it all went. Luckily and this is one plus on the manufacturers side, their website had the installation instructions and I was able to print them out. I never did get a "parts" list from them even after repeated requests but from the printout I was able to figure out what was missing. It cost me $12 to buy all the nuts/bolts/washers that were missing from poor packaging and then about a week later I received the missing caster parts that had been lost. By Friday evening I had a good guess on how this thing went together and my wife and I started moving things around. We had cleaned out the garage before going down so it was pretty easy, we used the engine hoist to move things along with the floor jack. By the evening we had the four legs positioned roughly where they belong and the crossbars in place, that was quite hard, the crossbars weigh about 130pounds and have to be lifted over the top of the legs which is about 6 1/2 feet. Just me and my wife (who is a cute little petite thing) made this chore quite interesting. It took us a while to get the engine hoist to help us with this part and the hoist would not go that high so I had to help it out by lifting one end and then the other into the column/leg. The next day was spent assembling the ramps and getting all the parts lined up and bolted together, the ramp with the hydraulics is 430 pounds and manuvering that 12 foot long chunk of steel was no fun but once balanced on the engine hoist it was not bad. The lift really is only 4 legs, 2 crossbars and 2 ramps, you would think it would only take a few hours to bolt them together but it took my wife and a entire day, partially because we didn't have very good instructions ( I assume/hope the assembly manual is much better than the simplified instructions I downloaded from the website ) and we spent time guessing where/how things went, also those 8 parts are quite heavy and big. It would go a lot faster with 2 or 3 guys. By Saturday night the lift was assembled and the locks were in place along with the top caps and all the misc. pieces were on, I fed the cables and filled the reservoir with hydraulic oil. Got the heavy duty extension cord and plug, I wired the plug onto the motors pigtail started to plug in the extension and out of the corner of my eye caught something on the motor plate. Oh oh, 3rd major item wrong with the lift manufacturer....220V motor and I had specifically requested the 110V motor. I had a very specific probably silly reason for wanting the 110V motor and now here I was with 220V. If for some reason I ever lost power (fire/earthquake/etc.) I could fire up my little generator and bring the car off the lift, with 220V the car is stuck on the lift if I don't have power, probably silly reasoning but it was my intention. Anyway I changed power and hooked up the 220V (luckily the garage is wired for 220V) and voila it worked.

It took my wife and I around 12 hours to assemble the lift and have it working, 2 guys with the assembly manual probably could do it in 6 to 7 hours, there were quite a few times where we spent time hooking up the engine hoist and moving things around where 2 guys could have picked it up and we spent a lot of time guessing how things go together.

All in all, I love it, its a wonderful way to add onto your garage, I use it for double parking and its a great way to work on a car. My complaints with this particular lift are mostly minor but there are enough of them to add up that I can not recomend this lift and company.

1. The shipping problems, this thing was very poorly packed and lost too many pieces in shipping.

2. The company was absolutely NOT responsive to me after they had my money and the lift left their doors. I am terrified at the thought of every needing any support/parts from them when the thing breaks down in the future. I doubt I will get any help at all based on their attitude after they got my money.

3. The 110V to 220V motor thing along with the fact they were not willing to change it after the fact without me paying shipping for both the motor I was sending back and the new one they would send me. Even though I had a invoice specifically stating 110V. I also would have been without a motor for some time while they were in shipment, meaning the lift was useless.

4. I don't like the design, this one is personal and I have to admit I bought this particular lift BECAUSE of the design. The columns are enclosed and all moving parts are enclosed, I thought this would be safer with my daughter around and it probably is. But you can not see if the locks are engaged or how well they are engaged. It is possible if the legs are not properly positioned to have only maybe 1/4" inch of contact on the stops and you can't see that with the enclosed legs. I have learned to reach in and check how well the stops are engaged after I move it on the casters and even though it has never been a problem, I just don't feel safe. Other lifts with external locks just look stronger, of course the company says it is not a problem and their system is stronger/safer/better and it might be, I don't contest that...I just don't like it as much as the ones that I can see. The legs can move in/out a little when you roll the lift around on the caster, it appears that around 1/4" is the minimun contact that can be made with the locks based on the way the thing is built, if you push the legs in when lowering off of the casters you can get a 1/2" inch contact and I like that better. I am probably over-worried here and its probably totally safe but if I have moved it on the casters, I check how much the stops are making contact anyway. Note: after 4+ years I think this was a silly and stupid concern, never had a problem with the locks and the lift has performed flawlessly.

On the good side:

1. I have gotten greasy with another brand of lift when I brushed up against it and that wont happen with this one since it is all enclosed.

2. Due to the enclosed parts the legs are quite large about 12 X 12 and the lift seems quite a bit more stable with a car on it than other lifts I have seen. Although it is perfectly safe, some lifts can wiggle quite a bit with a car on them and this one does not.

3. The ramps are thicker than some other brands and add to the stability

4. With the windshields folded down on both cars, I can store 2 cars where I could only store 1 before :)