How To Jack Up Your 4WD Safely, On And Off Road

how to jack up a 4wdSo, you have just bought your 4wd and your itching to take it off the beaten track, so you pack your kit and head off to the closest beach only to find yourself stuck and scratching your head on what to do next as the factory jack won’t cut it.

The two most popular ways to jack up your 4wd are with a high lift jack (Kangaroo Jack) and an Exhaust Jack both are effective but both are very dangerous if not done correctly.  The key to jacking up your 4wd safely is to work slow, methodically and to understand how the equipment works.

Knowing how to effectively jack up your 4wd will ultimately allow you to go to more places, let’s dig deeper and learn how to jack your four-wheel drive safely.

Before you continue, If your new to 4wd and offroading or are not sure what equipment to take out with you on your adventures, make sure to check out the Off Road Aussies Essential 4×4 Equipment List where I have taken the time to review and recommend the equipment I use.

If you kit yourself out correctly you will be able to tackle everything that your new adventures will throw at you.

Why will You Need to Jack Up Your 4wd At All

It’s a great question and it’s true that most four-wheel drives will have a factory bottle jack or screw jack as standard. While these work great on a hard stable surface and on a factory standard vehicle. If you have larger tyres or a lift kit and/or not on the blacktop you will have a very difficult time jacking your vehicle to a workable height.

This is where recovery items like High Lift Jacks and Exhaust Jacks come into there own when you want to take your 4wd off the black top and explore the countryside. They can used for everything from simple things like changing a tyre, to lifting your tyre when stuck so you can create a more traction friendly surface, to more advanced things like shifting your vehicle or using a high lift jack as a makeshift winch. Because of this versatility, they should be a staple of every off-roaders kit out.

Slow and Deliberate is the key

Before we go into more details about how to correctly use a high lift jack and exhaust jack, I would really like to reiterate just how important it is to use them correctly. Just walk into any 4wd store and ask if they have heard stories about people who have been hurt using the above equipment. I personally know one person who lost several teeth when he was hit in the face by a high lift jack handle. Honestly, the key to the safe lifting of a four-wheel drive is to be slow and deliberate in your actions.

You need to always be conscious of what the vehicle is doing at all times and be ready for when the vehicle doesn’t do what you expect.

The High Lift Jack

The high lift jack comes in several flavours, the two most popular sizes you will come across are the standard 46″ High lift jack also known as a kangaroo jack and the larger 56″ High lift jack known as a farm jack. they essentially serve the same purpose but the farm jack lifts to a much higher and are consequently more dangerous.

Make sure if you’re going to go out and buy a high lift jack you go ahead and purchase a Sand Foot and a lift mate. A sand foot is a shaped plastic foot which sits underneath the base of the jack to help disperse the weight and reduce the sinking of the jack in soft sand or mud.

A lift mate is not an accessory you will use all the time but when you need it, it can be invaluable to have with you. It is used to hook into the rim of the 4wd and is invaluable for when you can’t use any other lift point safely. Before you go out and buy a lift mate, make sure your rim has large enough gaps to be able to fit the hook on the lift mate.

So How does a High Lift Jack Work

Photo Of Mechanism, Notice the lever and two pins

Well, I was always told to think of it as a ladder. The mechanism has two pins in which when you crank it up (or down) one of the pins unseats and moves to the next hole much like your legs do

when climbing a ladder with the idea that there’s always one pin locked in to make sure the load is taken up.

The design of the jack has been around for a very long time, over 100 yrs in fact and the design has pretty much stayed the same. It may be simple once you get the hang of it

, but it’s because of its simplicity and variety of uses that it has stood the test of time. We are just about to go over the operation of the High Lift Jack for god sakes DO NOT, I REPEAT DO NOT have your body or face over the handle of the jack when raising and lowering, search high lift jack failures if you want to see the end result but just trust me, if you like your smile then don’t do it.

Raising the High Lift Jack

So, to start raising yourvehicle with a high lift jack, you need to

position the jack either on the steel bullbar of your 4wd, the steel tray or rear bar or steel sidesteps. Some bull bars actually have notches cut into them specifically to allow the use of a high lift Jack. I generally work off if the principle that if I could lift the car from that

Make Sure To Keep Your Face And Body Away From The Handle

point it should be good for jacking from. you may be asking, what if I don’t have or don’t have access to one of the points about, that’s where a rim lift mate comes in or the exhaust jack which I cover later in the article.


To start with, you will see a lever on one side of your jack, This lever when locked up allows you to raise your jack. When the lever on the side is clicked down and there is no weight on the jack it will slide freely. So once you find a suitable point to jack from, you want to move the lever to the downward position and raise the jack to the height where you can start jacking. Make sure you lock your lever back to the upright position and listen out for the “click” from the lever.

Make sure the jack handle is up against the ladder of the jack and then start to push the handle down while still holding the ladder of the jack (their won’t be any weight on the handle). The best way to ensure the safe use of a High Lift Jack is to listen out for the clicks of the Pins. Bring your handle all the way down until you hear the click and then bring your handle back up to the starting position. Do this a few times until you the handle gets harder to push down as the weight of the vehicle comes into the jack.

Now there should be weight on the jack, you should be ok to let go of the ladder now. From this point you need to be extremely careful of your position relative to the handle,  make sure to NEVER put your face over the handle of the jack and make sure to keep your arms and body away from the area between the handle and the ladder. Continue to jack the vehicle (at this point you may have to put a bit of body into it as there will be a lot of weight on the handle) making sure to follow the golden rules above and listening out for the click. Once you have it to the height you need, then return the handle to the upright position next to the ladder. During the whole time, you need to keep an eye on the vehicle and jack to make its lifting straight, if the jack starts to lean, assess the situation and start again if you feel the jack could slide out from under the 4wd.

Lowering the High Lift Jack

First off, I would recommend you wear gloves for the lowering of the jack as you need to make sure your hands don’t slip off the handle when lowering.

The Mechanism With The Lever Down


Lowering the jack is by far the most dangerous part of operating the jack because as the pin comes out of the ladder, you effectively have the weight of the 4wd on the handle but don’t let that scare you off as its quite safe if done correctly.

The first thing you are going to do is make sure the handle is upright and next to the ladder, next you need to knock the lever on the mechanism downwards, I generally knock it down with a clenched fist (thus the gloves) but even a piece of wood will do, nothing should happen when you knock the lever down as both pins are locked in.

Now grab onto the handle with both hands like it has weight on it and lower the handle to the bottom, once you reach the bottom you will hear the click of the pin *WARNING!* Make sure to hold onto the handle tight as now the weight of the 4wd is on the handle, if you were to let it go or it was to slip out of your hands, the handle will fly back up. Now SLOWLY return the handle back to the upright position you know its safe to let go of the handle once you feel the weight come off it. Continue to lower the jack using the steps above, one thing to note is once the vehicle is back on the ground and the weight is off the jack itself if you let go of the handle it will fall to the ground.

For a more visual explanation, watch the video below from 4wding in WA

Maintaining your High Lift Jack

Maintaining a High Lift Jack is a 5 Minute job that is critically important. As most people store these on the outside of there vehicle exposed to the weather, there would be nothing worse than needing the jack only to find that it has seized up from neglect. Every time I use the jack, I give it a quick blow down with some air and give the mechanism and pins a squirt of WD-40, i also every now and again check to make sure the bolts that attach the base to the ladder have not loosened. I also keep mine in a bag so if your jack doesn’t come with one it’s worth buying a bag for sure.

The Exhaust Jack

The exhaust jack was originally designed as a replacement for the trusty High Lift Jack, an exhaust jack has most of the benefits of a high lift jack but requires less effort and skill to use. one area an exhaust jack excels in is when you are really stuck and its impossible to use a high jack (think side rails deep in mud). Because of its low profile and the large surface area, it tends to have better lifting performance in muddy and soft sand situations.

While they are a fantastic recovery tool they are not without some drawbacks. One, in particular, is stability because your 4wd will be effectively be lifted by a bag of gas, as its raises how the 4wd will move can be quite unpredictable at times. Another downside to an exhaust jack is there tendency to fail of not stored correctly. Google exhaust jack fails to see what I’m talking about but the last thing you want or need is a face full of black exhaust gas.

Using The Exhaust Jack

Like a mentioned above, the exhaust jack is simplier and safer to use then a high lift jack but there is a few thing you need to remember when using one

While you can get away with using an exhaust jack by yourself, it’s better to have a second person to assist, as then one of you can hold the pipe to the exhaust and the other can watch the bag and its inflation.

so you want to start by inspecting your exhaust jack for anything that can reduce its performance, once you do that you need to find a lifting position under the 4wd with no sharp edges as there is a good chance of puncturing the bag if it’s up against a sharp edge. Now that you have found a point to jack from, clear the ground underneath of sticks and debris and try and make the surface as flat as possible.

Almost all exhaust jacks come with a heat and abrasion resistant mat which is to be used on the top side of the bag between the vehicle and the bag, as a safety measure and to help stop the bag from slipping I try and put a rubber floor mat from my 4wd underneath the exhaust jack. One key thing to note is to make sure the top and bottom of the exhaust jack are aligned because if they are not there is a good chance the exhaust jack could slip out under load.

Once you have everything ready its time to inflate the jack. fit your hose to the jack and position it near the exhaust. turn your 4wd on and let it idle, now head to the back and put the exhaust jack pipe over the exhaust (be sure to maintain a tight fit). Be aware it won’t take long to inflate and most exhaust jacks have a relief valve to stop you from overinflating. Once the exhaust jack is inflated go ahead and turn your 4wd off as the exhaust jack has a one-way valve to stop the gas escaping out of the bag.

Once you have done what you need to do, you need to release the air from the bag, to do this, you simply press in the valve and the gas will escape the bag. A word of warning with exhaust jacks, you really need to keep an eye on the bag as its inflating, I have personally seen a bag flip a 4wd once because the operator was not paying attention. It also goes without saying, never work underneath a jacked up vehicle without fitting stands, like I mentioned if these exhaust jacks have not  been cared for correctly they have a tendency to split open, and you do not want to be under the vehicle if a back (or high lift jack for that matter) fails.

For a more visual explanation, watch the video below

Maintaining your Exhaust Jack

Maintaining your exhaust jack is quite simple really, you want to make sure the exhaust jack and the bag it goes in to are clean. Once a sharp rock is in the carry bag can wreak havoc as you bump around the tracks, the last thing you want is to need the exhaust jack only to find there is a hole in it.  It’s also worth making sure the hose that comes with the exhaust jack is not kinked when placing it back into the bag.

A Final Word on Safety

I probably sound like a broken record when it comes to safety, but honestly, jacking up your four-wheel drive is one of the most dangerous things you can do when offroading, so please ladies and gentleman, don’t rush and be acutely aware of your surroundings, the jack your using and how the vehicle is reacting to being jacked!


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