Engine stands, lifts & cranes; floor jacks


New member
I wonder if anyone can recommend a source for the engine yoke tool, VW 307a as used on water boxer engines. The local VW dealer will not deal in tools, either to owners or, especially to small shops. The engine holders available from the after-market, online sites look like junk.
The Porsche 911 yoke is a sturdy item (I have used it for many years) but it extends so low that the front exhaust pipe must come off first. I need to have the engine up on a stand, while still able to work with the exhaust pipes (fitting up a stainless system, and considerable "fitting" is needed). Any information will be greatly appreciated.
James Pate

Capt. Mike

Official VW tools are available direct from the distributor, Zelenda -- own topic this forum. It's a shame your local VW dealer is a horses' patoot. Tell him & VW Corp. I said so -- why they would turn down a sale escapes me. That attitude means you're not likely to take them parts or shop business if you can avoid it, either, so it's a case of shooting themselves in the foot. Mine loves 'home mechanic' projects because he knows there will be dozens of miscellaneous pick-up sales as the work progresses.

I use a Mid-America Engineering Corp. stand with their supplied VW & Porsche adaptors. Last address I have is Box 310, Hwy. 34E; Mt. Pleasant, IA 52641. But fair warning, that's an '81 invoice which tells you how long I've been using mine without ever needing to contact them with a problem. I've used it for up to 454 cu.in. V-8's, my Porsche 911S and others. I like it's rotatability feature and the accessory drip-pan.

I also have their engine crane. It's been excellent but if I was doing it over, I'd look seriously at the newer models that have fold-up legs for storage and extendable booms. They weren't generally available back in '81.

Look in Hemmings Motor News, own topic in the SUPPLIERS forum. They carry ads from many vendors.


New member
Thank you Capt. Mike,
I didn't mention that the local VW parts desk will also not accept phone orders, even if you know the part # and have a credit card ready. One must go in to the parts desk in person and pay before they will place an order. 1/2 hour each way for me, and every part order requires two round trips. No they do not want the parts business.

Regarding the factory yoke, I heard back from Zelenda today. The current price quote for that item is $645.00 with an eight week wait. Think I will look into that Mid America tip first.


Capt. Mike

Zelenda are great tools WITHOUT the stigma of low cost. I've got a couple where nothing else would do, but . . . it's rare I go there if I can find any substitute. Hope Mid-America is still in business -- 25 years could mean he's retired or sold-out to a big company. But do check Hemmings Motor News -- they are several good vendors in there.

Capt. Mike

Floor Jacks

I will START with the absolute warning, never work under a car supported by a floor jack. Never, not for a minute, not for any 'excuse'!

Unfortunately, the influx of the cheap made-in-China floor jacks has both driven many good ones off the market and made us assume that jacks shouldn't be expensive. A quality jack is not cheap. Jacks from reputable tool companies like Snap-On and Mac can usually be assumed good quality.

When looking at a floor jack, there are several features you want, besides quality. A good jack is heavy; cast iron base, plate steel frame, solid and heavy fittings and moving parts. If it has stampings, stay clear.

The hydraulics are deceptive. You can get high capacity from small units by the hydraulic 'gearing'. But a large diameter piston in a quality hydraulic mechanism is preferred. Is the jack serviceable? Easy access to check and top off hydraulic oil? Solid attachment to frame and saddle lift? Protected from dirt and damage? Jacks whose machined piston is in the fall area of dirt from the vehicle can become scratched and blow a seal.

The wheels should be heavy, very manueverable and easy to service. The swivel wheels should have a grease fitting and large ball-bearings. Remember these ball bearings support as much as ½ the capacity of the jack. Heavy cast wheels are expected; plastic or composite wheels are a mark of cheap construction.

The "on" position of the handle should be secure -- it shouldn't 'back off' or need constant tightening. By the same token, the release should be easily controlable and smooth. If the jack can't be made to lower the vehcile very slow and precisely, you risk accidents like falling off or damaging the jack-stands. You can also damage the vehicle -- for example in the Vanagon, if the jack stands are placed under the main fore & aft frames, which are hollow box members, you can dent or crush them by a sudden drop, which compromises vehicle strength.

The saddle should be large and secure on a large cross-section post. A saddle 4-6" in diameter is preferred. You can always use a block of wood to reduce size and customize to your lift point. The little 3" round saddles don't allow placement error and are contribute to lack of stability. Many of the cheap jacks have a deep cup to the saddle. This transfers all of the load to the edges, which also means there are sharp cuts to the vehicle support point. The deep cup also means any block filler must be customized to match the contour of the saddle.

Lift & stability go hand-in-hand. You want a good lift, yet it needs to be able to go low enough for whatever vehicles you intend to use it on. You may also use the jack as an engine dolly when dropping VW engines out the bottom during overhauls. SO a low start is usually better. If the lift is high, it then needs the stability of a larger frame's footprint to avoid tipping. Expect something in the vicinity of 5-20" lift range. Supporting a couple of tons at that hieght requires a wide, stable base in the jack.

Obviously, capacity is important and you should have excess capacity so as not to push the safety factor. A fully loaded Vanagon is 5,500 lb. Your jack has to be capable of lifting over ½, because the load is never equally distributed. Thus anything less than 1½ ton is unacceptable.

However, I will agree that too large a jack is cumbersome and difficult to use. I have a quality Walker-built Craftsman 1½-ton from the '70s with about a 5" saddle I love. It's great for the Vanagon and my drivers. Great lift, low initial start point. But it can't handle my trailer or truck. This is an exception to my quality rule. I bought a 5T heavy duty from Northern Tool that is made in China. I understand its limits, but I couldn't justify a $1-2000 dollar jack in my circumstances. It does have most of the quality characteristics I've described and I take that into consideration when using. It is a "long chassis" jack and too cumbersome for every-day use. But its 5T capacity handles even my trailer with a vehicle inside. (8,000#).

There are a number of light-weight aluminum framed jacks available, ala NASCAR. Maybe if you have to carry yours around a lot, but personally, I'd stick to steel in the home shop.

The little jacks you see on sale at the Harbor Frieght types aren't worth the carboard box they are packed in. When you see a hydraulic floor jack in the $30-60 range, don't let it in your shop. I'd hesitate to change a tire with it.

Oh, my "Walker-built" is no longer available. The were the prestige maker from the '40s through the '80s. Then bought by Lincoln, who moved them to China in the '90's, where they were quickly resold through half-dozen hands. The final owner, though Chinese, has reintroduced them as the old Hein Werner brand and they are back to being produced in the USA to the old '90s standards.

In the mean time, Miwaukee & USJack are quality American-made. OTC's US produced & Hein Werners are presumed good, but need time to reestablish their track record. One major jack distributor, Otto Service, indicates the Norco's, Zinko's, AC and Compac lines should be serviceable to the budget constrained or home shop.

Capt. Mike

Jack Stands

Whenever working under a vehicle, use quality jackstands. We're not your mother and there is no law against being stupid, but working under a vehicle on a jack is about as smart as a possum crossing the Los Angeles freeway during rush hour. It's really hard to drink beer when you look like road-kill.

There are two basic styles of commercial jack stands, the rachet and the pin. The rachet style generally has a welded steel frame and a cast saddle. The saddle arm has notches so it can be adjusted up & down with a release mechanism built into the frame. The pin type is simpler, basically a simple pin passing through holes in the arm. These usually have a steel saddle. Some stands may have a flat base, others legs. The size of the 'feet' on legged version may vary. Since the entire weight rests on the tiny footprint of those feet, it becomes an important consideration if you are using them on other than a strong concrete floor. Some models have a cast housing for the base, which gives better lateral stability.

Quality depends on many factors. Size and strength of the materials is one. Also, do the rachets or pins have sufficient size, strength and 'bite' to engage fully? The frame can be stamped in the cheapest versions. Some are 3-legged, but heavier duty models have 4-legs. The size -- footprint -- of the base is important to stability. Also the size and tolerances of the lift arm. Good stands should not have 'wobble' at full extension. Range, from low to high, is a function of both base hieght and arm length, so they should be proportional. If you need higher lift, get a larger jack stand, not one with a longer arm on a small base.

Jackstands should be sold & used in matching pairs. The safe working load is usually per stand, but I'd recommend you pick a set where EACH is capable of the load you plan to put on the pair. Since you are often jacking one end of the vehicle at a time, there is more than ½ load on the first set of jack stands at that point. Since the design is inheritantly simple & strong, capacity alone should NOT be your criteria. Consider 3T (each) a minimum but since they are all that stands between you and looking like road-kill, look carefully at the features, heavy-dutyness of materials and design. There is a reason a 3T set can jump from $17 to $60 or more!

While on the subject of jackstands, otherwise smart people sometimes do stupid things. Like substitute stuff at hand to hold up a vehicle instead of jack stands. Cinderblocks are an absolute no-no. The may look fine and hold for a long time; next day crush just when you slide under. Concrete is porous and they have air pockets, develop hidden cracks and damage, including freeze damage that may not be visible. Most of the other substitutes are equally poor choices. Stacking a variety of objects should be avoided. It might be OK to put a big 2"x12"x12" under a jack-stand, but that's about it. A solid wood block, such as a 10"x10" is usefull, but use a square one, don't put a 2"x10" on edge. I do keep an assortment of heavy timber pieces around the shop for off-vehicle component support, but nothing I'd get under. Bricks, patio pavers, fieldstone and similar substitues deserve the same "don't do it".

A friend sent me an interesting picture. It showed a small (probably foreign) side-wall truck tipped to one side 45° and held up what appeared to be two long (about 3') 4x4's on end. A 'mechanic' was working underneath, sitting cross-legged on the ground. The picture was labeled, "Why women live longer than men." Duh!


New member
Originally posted by Capt. Mike:
Zelenda are great tools WITHOUT the stigma of low cost. I've got a couple where nothing else would do, but . . . it's rare I go there if I can find any substitute. Hope Mid-America is still in business -- 25 years could mean he's retired or sold-out to a big company. But do check Hemmings Motor News -- they are several good vendors in there.
Just to close the loop on this one........Mid-America appears to either have closed down or changed names. In the end I have ordered that stand tool from Zelenda after all, but will not have it for three months or so.

Capt. Mike

Engine Cranes:

I probably use my engine crane for other things far more than pulling engines. After all, my VW's and the Porsche come out from underneath. But that makes it worth it without the engine use. I have a Mid-America (NLA per above). It's fine quality with Blackhawk hydraulics. But . . . there are design consideration.

Mine is a 1,500 # capacity, but that's at the shortest arm padeye -- about 3' from the pivot. At the end, 4½', it's 1,000#. Still fine for most engines, but won't handle my Cummins Diesel in Redneck Pickemup. The lift range is also marginal for trucks or SUV's. I have made a 2nd mount for the ram that will give it a 6" rise. What that will translate into hasn't been measured yet (I did it in preps for a neighbor's truck engine change, but he went another route last minute), but I estimate it will raise my lift range at the end about 2'.

I have used it on my VW/Porsche to pick the engine up to mount on engine stands or set on work benches. Also to load engines into a pick-up to take to machine shops.

But it's probably got more use in various lifting chores. Engines aren't the only heavy things I've loaded into the truck. It's been a support for working on bush-hogs, welding projects, and moving some heavy stuff.

Design features you should consider. The first is the arm -- there are many available with extendable arm length. I think this is a great feature as you can have the arm length to fit the job. You must reduce load as the arm comes out, but this is better than fixed arms where you will have to lift from a middle padeye with an extra 1½' sticking out.

Legs: If the legs won't fit under the car, it isn't much good. Legs have to have a wide enough spread to be stable, but too wide and they can bump into the wheels. This is a compromise and not much way around it. Measure your intended use and shop accordingly. Jackstands have to be placed to clear as well.

There are now a number that have folding legs to reduce footprint for storage. It will add additional wheels as the platform must stand without the leg wheels. Most of them also allow the boom to fold so the whole thing only takes up about 2' x 2'. I like it; wish I had it.

Accessories: You'll need slings to pick up the engine. Some can be as simple as a chain with two plates on the end, bent at a 45º angle, with holes to bolt to the engine and shackle to. You'll probably end up with a couple of chain lengths and several shackles, pivots and hooks. However, some points are NOT suitable for lifts or allow the lift chain/wire to crush fragile accessores. The bolt/nut that is satisfactory in direct pull, may tear out (especially aluminum) at an angle. Don't tear up an expensive engine to save a few bucks on a lift sling.

Engine levelers are recommended. One popular model uses a wire sling with a wrap-around on a pulley. Without strain, it can be adjusted for balance. When the strain comes on, it locks in. It's a 2-leg lift. Another is a frame with a screw rod. 2 adjustable pick-up chains at each end for attachment to the engine and then the rod can be turned to change the center of gravity. Both are nice but do consume an additional 6"-12" of your lift range. You can always make your own with a length of heavy angle iron (less likely to bend under load) that you've drilled for several mounting point shackles and for lift chains at the end. I prefer a 4-leg lift over the 2-leg.

Have at least one swivel or 90º offset. It seems the lift padeye and the load are always 90º off what you want. A ball-bearing swivel might be nice but overkill.

Safety: Engine cranes have limits and failure to respect that can be dangerous & expensive. If you overload, it might bend or give way just as you're over the grill & radiator. Then you can add a couple grand at the body shop to the engine repair bill. They have a designed stability range. Remember, the center of gravity is now at the base of the crane arm. Hanging out to the side, lifting at an angle or working on the suspended load may cause it to tip. I guarantee if it's so heavy you need the crane, you are NOT going to keep it from tipping with muscle-power.

Don't undersize your chain or get cheap on your shackles. Both have Safe Working Loads (SWL). Respect them. Twists, damage or wear can quickly exceed that SWL.

Avoid use of fiber slings such as rope or webbing. Yes, they may have adequate straight line strength for their appropriate use, but the twists, bends and knots or sewings become a weak point. And they begin to deteriorate the day you open the package -- usually without visible signs. Ultra-violet light, ozone, chemicals and oils all attack the fibers. Even natural hand oil is acidic and I never have clean hands when I'm pulling an engine. They also stretch at all the wrong times -- some synthetics as much as 50%. It isn't worth it!

Engine crane prices are like jacks and similar load tools. There are the cheapest, usually made in China, from the discount places for less than $200 all the way up to premium commercial jobs at $4K. Only you can make that determination for YOUR intended use.

Here's a story to give you food for thought. I once worked in a race shop. A new race engine arrived damaged in transit. The claims adjuster (a lady in a nice suit and clipboard) came to inspect. The damage -- a messed up head -- was going to run about $15,000. She got a little snippy and asked what the whole engine cost. $50,000 -- without intake system, exhaust or accessories. Probably wouldn't want an ultra cheapie with a couple lengths of old rope holding that up!

Capt. Mike

Auto Dollies

If you're anything like me, I always have a couple of projects going and one car is in the way of the other. I'll be doing a long job, maybe even awaiting parts, and the family wagon will need something quick only to find the work bay full. Choices are then do it in the parking pad trying to run air and electricity out there (in the baking sun or rain), or lug tools back & forth to the garage.

Solution: Car dollies. These are a set of wheel cradles on castors. Jack the car up, slide these under the wheels, set back down and you can push the car around in the shop, or pivot to reach particular areas.

Principle is simple. A metal framework shaped to set the tire on has 4 swivel castors at the corners. When the car is sitting on a set of these, you can push it in any directions with minimal force. And they work -- on smooth surfaces. Not your yard or gravel carport. The wheels are small so even a small crack-bump or expansion joint can cause some problems, but within a floored garage or shop the do great.

I've seen 4 general styles. The basic & cheapest are just a piece of metal, bent to form raised ends to bolt the castors to with an underslung belly for the tire. Some are 'curved' in the middle like the tire, others just angle-bent like a lo-boy trailer. They rely on the strength of the metal plate. Obviously, an overload will sag in the middle. The have no side support or retainer. I've seen some so cheap they have the raw bolt end of the castor just sticking up rather than be trimmed or set into underside nuts. Adequate for a light vehicle, but not my choice.

The next set has a box or otherwise reinforced frame. My NMW RollMasters (pics at http://www.enjoythedrive.com/content/?id=10178 and also the Tech Drawings link) have the basic support plate bent to form the high ends and flat middle. I got the HD ones so I can handle Redneck Pickemup and its 7200# empty. The ends are then bent back down so the castor area is located within this inset or channel. Then they have verticle plates to frame out the entire thing. This give the horizontal planes tremendous strength as each become, in effect, a boxed in channel. This also gives me a great stacking ability when not in use.

A version of the above uses reinforcing sides. Some have bars connecting the two raised ends. Some may have a small lip around the castor ends. This I consider the minimum set. 4 can be found from US$100

A third type is just the flat dollie with box frame. The tire just sits within the box without falling through/ Similar to a flat moving dolly. Some have round frame components. Not very versital and NOT my recommendation.

All 3 of the above require the the vehicle be jacked up and then set down on the dolly.

A 4th kind has solved this problem, but are quite pricy. The have round arms (may be ajustable) so are rolled up to and inserted under the vehicle so the arms project each side of the tire. Then a small hydraulic jack (usually foot pedal) then lifts, catching the tire and lifting the vehicle. Once in the air, they manuever like the other dollies. Would love a set, but they are then large and awkward to store.

Northern Tool car dollies shows a variety except the very cheapest I mention above; don't confuse the car dollies with the wheel dollies pictured for moving/mounting truck and heavy equipment also pictured.

Buy a set that exceeds your largest possible vehicle weight by at least 50%. Remember, they will be supporting MORE than ½ while the vehicle is being jacked up and placed. Your Westy is GVW'ed at 5,500# so the "1000 lb." set is not sufficient. Capacity is not the driving force behind cost. Get very good castors -- this is what carries the weight once in use. When the castors are lined up one way, and you want to move the vehicle in another, there is some inertia resistance while the castors line up. Big, quality bearings help this. Once lined up, you'll find a single person can push the vehicle.

Word of caution -- they have no brakes. You may find yourself leaning on the car while working and see it 'move away'. (This is not insurmountable; a couple of tire chocks or large wedges make suitable 'door stops'.

These are for vehicles that will sit on their tires. You can get specialty versions that have built in 'jack stands' or fittings to become frame dollies. Do NOT just set jack stands on a wheel-style dollie.