Unless you outsource every car related maintenance activity, at some point you will have to jack up your car.
If there is a “Frazier vs Ali” in car tools, it might just be “bottle jack vs floor jack.”
Both are great products, and both have their supporters. Choosing the right one basically depends on the type of vehicle you have and the type of maintenance required.
While the best floor jack will cost more than the best bottle jack, what really matters is evaluating their relative strengths and how those strengths apply to your situation.
Let’s figure out which one makes the most sense for you.
What is a bottle jack?
A bottle jack is a hydraulic jack with a vertically mounted cylinder.
It gets its name because it does somewhat resemble a bottle. A more fun name for it is a whiskey jack.
Bottle jacks have a pressure pump and a side mounted handle. Lift capacity ranges from 3 tons all the way up to a monstrous 20 tons. Some have a jack stand incorporated with them, but most do not.
What is a floor jack?
A floor jack is also a hydraulic jack, but the shaft is set horizontally. Floor jacks are mounted on 4-wheel platforms.
A long handle at the back of the platform allows users to pump up the jack to the preferred height.
The round disk that touches the car is referred to as a “jack saddle.”
Floor jacks are the most common jack found in automotive shops and garages. Their sales far outstrip bottle and scissor jacks in these environments.
Bottle Jack vs Floor Jack: Pros and Cons
Both of these jacks have clear pros and cons, which helps make the decision easier for aspiring home mechanics.
The pros of bottle jacks include:
- Higher lift capacity for the same sized cylinder due to the vertical shaft mount
- Smaller foot print for those working in small spaces
- Lower price on average (up to 50%)
- Can be more convenient for truck owners because of their relatively higher profile (floor jacks require more lifting due to their lower profile).
The cons of bottle jacks include:
- Take longer to lift due to their shorter handle
- Higher profile makes it difficult to get underneath some cars
- Stationary foot print increases the risk of the vehicle slipping off the saddle jack
- Not suitable for emergency maintenance on the side of the road.
The pros of floor jacks include:
- Easily movable since they are mounted on wheels
- Low profile allows them to fit underneath most cars, even sports cars
- Faster to operate (quicker to lift) due to having longer handles
- Larger jack saddle lowers risk of slipping
- More stable due to larger foot print which distributes the weight better
- All around easier to use if you have the space.
The cons of floor jacks include:
- Much larger foot print requires more space
- Low profile requires more lifting (pumping the handle) versus bottle jacks
- More expensive on average.
As you can see floor jacks literally have more pros and fewer cons. However, if you need to lift a lot or have a small space, a floor jack may not be feasible.
Always remember that both bottle jacks and floor jacks are safe to lift cars but not to hold cars up for extended periods of time.
Here are the basics you should know, but carefully read the manufacturer’s instructions if you are inexperienced with car jacks.
- Make sure your car is on a flat and level surface. If the surface is soft, such as dirt or gravel, using a large piece of ¾” sheet of plywood is recommended.
- Be sure the transmission is in park and apply the parking brake.
- Use blocks underneath the tires (the opposite side from the corner you’re lifting) to prevent any movement.
- Place jack stands under a solid part of the car such as an axle. Ideally the jack stands are stronger than the jack. E.g., use a 5 ton jack stand with a 3 ton jack.
This may go without saying, but DO NOT crawl under the car until you are completely sure it is both stable and well supported.
Here is a great video that shows how to use jack stands.
The answer to the bottle jack vs floor jack debate for any given user again depends on budget, the type of vehicle and the task being performed.
Floor jacks are much more common and tend to be safer. They are likely your best bet assuming you have plenty of room and are comfortable with the extra cost.
Bottle jacks make sense for those needing to lift super heavy weights and / or to work in a tightly confined space.
Whichever type is best suited for you, always read the manufacturer’s instructions and don’t forget the safety tips we listed above.
The good news is there are many quality options for each type. If you buy a good quality bottle or floor jack, it should last you a lifetime.