Buying a used lift? Buyer beware

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The idea that a dealer would want to buy a used lift has Jim Smith, Rotary Lift Canada’s Ontario sales manager, scratching his head. He knows that dealership closings have flooded the market with a lot of service department equipment. And the prices are tempting.

“But you don’t know what the owner did to it. What if an inexperienced mechanic was using it and didn’t know how to use it?”

Misuse such as using one arm under the corner of a two-post lift can cause stress or cracks inside the weld that can’t be spotted no matter how meticulous the inspection, says Smith, who has been selling lifts for 20 years.

“Whether it’s 18 months old or 15 years old, until you use it there’s no way of knowing, especially if the lift’s disassembled and sitting on the floor.”

He says buyers should insist on seeing the lift’s maintenance records history. If there is none, forget it. Even so, there’s no guarantee any report is adequate. Yes, most provinces mandate yearly inspections, but they don’t mandate inspectors’ qualifications, he says.

He runs off a list of parts that may need repairing or replacing: adapters; cylinders; cables. So make sure that replacement parts are available. The repair bill can easily equal the cost of the lift and then there are the shipping and reassembling costs. And even if the warranty’s still valid, it’s not transferable, he says.

Darcy Tallon is Canadian operations manager for Hunter Engineering Company. He’s responsible for service as well as sales and has over 10 year’s experience with alignment hoists. Hunter sells only alignment hoists.

Tallon says don’t shop for price.

“Don’t think only about the dollars. Don’t think that if something’s going for $3,000 and looks good, it’s a better deal than a new lift, which is going for $25,000.”   

He urges dealers to stick to name brands and see if parts and service are available for that brand. Even so, repairing or replacing these parts can be “expensive.”

Check for corrosion. If it’s visible, then what you can’t see underneath will be much worse.

“Check the front turn plates and the rear slip plates for ease of movement. The lift may go up and down. That’s OK for lube jobs, but if you are doing wheel alignments and the plates are seized, that means the alignment readings are guaranteed to be inaccurate.”

Like Smith, he recommends checking bearings, cables and pulleys.

Are the cable locks working? It’s critical because they keep the lift from collapsing should a cable fail.

Have it installed by a qualified installer.

“The most popular four-post lifts, called open beam aren’t connected in the front as nothing joins the two runways horizontally where all the weight is borne,” Tallon explains. “If the front columns are not anchored properly the columns can collapse inward because most of the weight is on the turn plates.”

So it’s important to sink the anchors in concrete that’s thick enough and free of cracks. He says Hunter will not install a front column base plate on an open front lift that is within 30cm of a crack or seam and anchored in less than 10cm thick, 3,000psi concrete, because the slab could come up, he warns.

If you are still intent on going with a used lift, Tallon warns you should insure it is in good working condition and have a qualified technician inspect it.

“Take the Hunter service guy along,” he says.

Timo Vuorela has been repairing, reconditioning and selling used as well as new lifts in northern Ontario for over 20 years. Based in Sudbury, Ont., Vuorela runs Classic Hoist and Door.

Don’t buy on looks alone, he says. And don’t buy without the help of an inspector. He says an inspection should take 30 to 60 minutes. Get a detailed report, so the lift can pass the annual inspection required by most provinces.

“The hoist may look good with a new paint job on it, but you could have worn globe blocks inside. They move the carriages up and down smoothly and they will wear out over time,” he explains.

Glide blocks are “relatively” inexpensive at $200 to $400, but the cost of taking the hoist apart to install them is high, he says.

Replacing cables and pulleys can cost $1,400 plus labour.

“It doesn’t take long, and you are well on your way to spending 60 to 70 percent of what you’d pay for a new one with a warranty.”

The inspector should check for “hazard alerts.” Sent out by the manufacturer only to the original owner, they warn that the unit should be scrapped. Despite these, he says, many are still in use.

All in all, Vuorela favours buying new.

“The new ones are manufactured to higher safety standards. The good manufacturers are all certified Automotive Lift Association members and their lifts are third-party tested to higher standards. That makes it worth the investment.”