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About one third of all tasks that you need to perform on your car require it to be raised off of the ground. Simple enough for the experienced mechanic, the procedure of lifting a 3000-lbs BMW can be a bit unnerving for the amateur. In this technical article, I'll show you the best places to jack your car up, and support it while you're working on it.
First, let's talk a bit about safety. Haphazard use of a floor jack can result in some pretty significant and expensive damage to you or your car. Before you begin raising the car, make sure that you have the wheels of the car blocked so that it cant roll. It's also wise to have your parking brake on as well, and the car placed in first gear. You should always use jack stands in pairs to support the car not simply the floor jack. Even if you are only lifting the car up for a few minutes, make sure that you place a jack stand loosely underneath the transmission or the motor, just in case the floor jack fails.
Before you attempt to begin jacking up the car, make sure that all four wheels are carefully chocked, and that the car is on a level surface. Keep in mind that if you back up the rear of the car, the emergency brake no longer works (it works only on the two rearmost wheels of the car). If you place the car in park, it will only lock the rear wheels as well. Place a few 2x4 pieces of wood under each of the wheels to make sure that the car will not roll anywhere when you lift it up off of the ground.
My preferred method of raising the car is to use a BMW jack pad. This special tool is available from the Pelican Parts Online Catalog. This handy tool is placed in the factory jack holes on each side of the car. The car can be raised in small increments by jacking up one side of the car, supporting it, and then moving to the other side. The ideal place for rear support is right inside these jack pad inserts. I don't recommended that you place the jack stands underneath the engine or transmission, as this can lead to instability.
Begin by removing the jack pad insert covers, shown in Figure 1 and Figure 2. A flat-blade screwdriver is all you need. After the small plastic cover is removed, you can see into the jack pad socket (Figure 3). Now, turn your attention to the underside of the car. There you will see a round plastic cover that is used as a locator for shop lifts (Figure 4). It's quite possible that these have been removed and lost before, so your car may or may not have them in place. Using a flat-blade screwdriver, pry out the plastic guide from underneath the car (Figure 5). The remaining hole and reinforced plate is the area where you want to mount your jack stands. You have removed the plastic locator because the jack stand would be unstable if you simply placed it under the plastic locator and lowered the car.
If you don't have a jack pad, then you can use this reinforced area to place your floor jack (Figure 7). Fit a rolled up newspaper in-between the jack and the car to avoid damage to the undercarriage of your car. The downside to this is that you will have difficulty placing your jack stands, because you will be occupying the reinforced area with your floor jack. The solution is to use the jack pad to lift up the car (Figure 8). Center the pad surface in the jack lifting plate and raise your jack as high as it can go. It's perfectly okay if the car tilts while the wheels on the opposite side are still on the ground. Figure 9 shows the car lifted all the way up in the air using the jack pad. Place the jack stand securely under the reinforced plate, and slowly lower the car. I like to place a little bit of newspaper between the jack stand and the car to avoid scratching or scraping the underside of the chassis. Figure 10shows the jack stand properly installed.
If you are lifting the front of the car, then place a jack stand under the front reinforced plate, lower the car onto the jack stand, and then repeat for the opposite side of the car. If you are lifting the whole car up off of the ground, then place a jack stand under both the front and rear points, lower the car, and then repeat for the other side. Likewise, if you are jacking up just the rear, place the jack stand under the rearmost reinforced point.
If you would like to raise just the rear of the car, there are a few methods that you can use. The most common one is to lift the entire car by the bottom of the rear differential. This will not damage the differential as it is very strong at this point. An advantage to this is that you raise both sides of the car at the same time. Thus, you are only doing half the work. Place the jack under the rear differential and place a rolled up newspaper under the lifting pad of the jack. Proceed to lift the car up by the rear differential until you can place jack stands under the support points described in the previous paragraph. Figure 11 shows the process of lifting the car by the differential.
Safety is of paramount importance here. Never work under the car with it suspended simply by the jack - always use jack stands. Always use a backup jack stand wherever you place your primary jack stands. These parts are made in China - do you want to trust your life to steel parts that are made in China? One flaw in the casting process can lead to these breaking, and the car falling on top of you. Hundreds die from this happening each year.
Once you have the car up in the air and supported on the jack stands, push on the car and see if it is unstable on the jack stands. If the car moves at all, you do not have it properly supported. It is far better for the car to fall off the jack stands while you are pushing on it, then when you are underneath it. Set the floor jack underneath the engine or transmission as yet another redundant support. Again, it's a wise idea to set up a spare jack stand or two as a precautionary measure against one of them failing.
When you are ready to lower the car, be aware of where you are placing your floor jack. Sometimes you will not be able to easily remove the jack when the car is lowered, or the jack handle may crush or damage an oil line or tube on the way down. Proceed very slowly and also be aware that some floor jacks release very quickly. Also be careful to place the car in gear, or to pull the parking brake before you lower it. The car may have a tendency to roll away right after its put back on the ground.
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