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How To Safely Use An Engine Hoist in the Workplace

Have you heard the slogan, “No Safety, Know Pain?”  How about “Safety Rules Are Your Best Tools?” Safely operating anything should always be of primary concern.  Here’s how to safely use an engine hoist in your shop or workplace.

First, this.  There are three main types of engine hoists.   These hoists can be used for other heavy lifting applications besides engine removal.  

Types Of Engine Hoists

The most common type, the hydraulic engine hoist, is mobile (it rolls on casters) and can be used indoors or outdoors, as long as there is a flat, hard surface.  

Construction of a hydraulic hoist consists of a primary vertical post to which other parts of the hoist are attached.  There are two horizontal legs with casters which allow the hoist to roll across the floor (or your driveway).

The top of the hoist has an extendable center boom, often with locking positions for different engine compartment depths.  At the end of the boom is a steel grab hook. That is where lifting slings or chains can be attached to your engine.

A hydraulic cylinder located in the middle of the hoist and attached to the boom and the main post performs the lifting action.  You use a handle and pump it to increase pressure in the cylinder (just like a hydraulic jack for changing a tire).

The other two types are the manual chain hoist and the electric hoist.  These two both require fixed mounting above ground (usually to the ceiling or special scaffolding) to perform their lifting action.  So, they are not considered portable engine hoists and are more commonly used in other applications.

Overall, the excellent lifting capacities of hydraulic hoists (typically 1 to 2 tons, but with greater capacities available), their mobility, and their ease of maintenance make them ideal for both professional and do-it-yourself mechanics.

We will focus on choosing and safely using hydraulic engine hoists.  

Safety Tips

1.  Choose Proper Lift Capacity

When selecting a hydraulic hoist, it’s best to opt for one which has a greater lift capacity than what your engine weighs.  So, even though your engine doesn’t weigh 2,000 lbs, you should buy a hydraulic hoist rated for 1 to 2 tons.

Why?  The laws of physics tell us the actual weight capability of the engine hoist decreases as you extend out the hoist’s boom.   It’s the lever principle.

So, you need to know what your engine weighs, and then purchase your hoist accordingly.  Here is a representative sample of engine weights for cars.

Hydraulic hoists also come in foldable models so you can collapse them for storage purposes.  This is ideal for do-it-yourselfers because you can free up space in your garage once the engine has been safely extracted and placed onto an engine stand (or wherever you are planning to work on it).

2.  Assemble Your Hydraulic Hoist With Care

Hydraulic hoists are relatively large, so they usually come disassembled. Be sure to follow all assembly directions from the manufacturer closely. Figure on a timeframe of up to two hours, depending on instruction detail.  Make sure to double check tightness of all nuts and bolts.

Now, read the instruction manual and ensure you understand how to operate it!

Okay, so your hoist is assembled, you know how it works, and you are ready to lift out your engine.  Here we go.

3.  Clear Your Workspace

Position your vehicle so that there’s plenty of room to maneuver the hydraulic hoist around it. Make sure there are no obstacles that would hinder safe footing and freedom of movement.  Organize all tools and necessary equipment.

Make sure your work area is clear of unwanted persons (especially children).  Wear proper attire – no loose-fitting clothing or jewelry that could snag on the hoist mechanism.

Secure the vehicle (i.e., with the parking brake) to ensure no unwanted movement during the engine removal process.

4. Operate Your Engine Hoist In A Safe Manner

  • Disconnect, store, and label all engine and transmission mounting bolts, as well as connections for hoses, wires, etc.  Take pictures, if it will help you.
  • Find a spot at the rear of the engine where you can attach the chain or lift slings you are using. This could be the exhaust manifold bolts, or any other location that you are sure can support the weight of your engine. Consult the owner’s manual for your vehicle for recommendations.
  • Find a spot at the front of the engine to attach the other end of the lift slings or chain. Align such that the engine stays level as you lift it and loose enough that you can connect to the hoist hook.
  • Center the hoist on the engine and connect your lift slings or chains to the hoist hook. Start raising the engine slowly (by pumping the hoist jack handle) to be sure everything in the engine bay is properly disconnected.
  • Keep pumping the handle until the engine is clear of the vehicle.
  • Move the hydraulic hoist slowly and carefully to where you want the engine to rest for maintenance purposes.
  • Word to the wise:  Do NOT get under the engine while it is being moved to the engine stand or blocks.  You are tempting fate if you do.
  • Slowly and carefully lower the engine onto the engine stand or blocks, by turning the bleed valve a little bit at a time.
  • Make sure the engine is properly secured in its holding device before removing the lift slings or chains.

Stay Alert – Don’t Get Hurt!

Hydraulic engine hoists are safe to operate and very effective in what they do for you, provided you follow this simple guide.

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