Last Updated on April 21, 2020 by Tim
Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes scraping around underneath a car knows that manufacturers rarely have the comfort or convenience of future mechanics in mind.
Ignoring the awkward leverage and sometimes ridiculous adapter extensions, breaking bolts loose while underneath a car can be an unappealing prospect even with several jack stands and completely stable conditions. Fortunately, in a somewhat amusing twist, rotisseries have put on some pounds and switched from spinning chickens to spinning cars.
What is an auto rotisserie?
An automotive rotisserie is an adjustable steel frame that allows you to mount a vehicle, find the center of balance, and then rotate the entire vehicle to whatever position you need to work on it from. Much like their smaller cousins in the kitchen, the rotisseries freely rotate and lock providing access to parts and mounts that may otherwise have been nearly impossible to break loose from underneath.
Who should be buying them?
There are a lot of reasons to pick up a car rotisserie, but one of the biggest is simply ease of access to the entire vehicle. Projects like classic car restoration often require comprehensive repairs that call for regular repositioning and a lot of time squirming around with a ratchet while rust flakes do their best to invade your eyes.
Rotisseries won’t help very much at all if you mainly do quick or standard maintenance, but if you spend a lot of time underneath cars, regularly paint or do whole body restorations, or just have a long-term project being rebuilt from the ground up, the accessibility of a rotisserie may be more than worth the cost.
What to look for in a rotisserie?
Like all products, rotisseries come a number of different shades and flavors. There are smaller and lighter frames designed to handle little more than a completely stripped body for painting. There are also much heavier frames designed to support and balance a mostly complete vehicle, although, it is strongly recommended to remove the engine and transmission before mounting it.
When hunting for a rotisserie, make sure that you buy one rated to handle the weights you intend to put on it, as an overweighted frame could tip or fail.
Who makes the best car rotisserie?
Since rotisseries for cars are specialty items not typically found in most garages, there isn’t a huge amount of competition out there. Two of the most well-known brands are Whirly Jig and Auto Twirler. Both are well-designed with quality construction but if I had to pick one, I’d go with Auto Twirler simply for its excellent reputation in the industry.
The Auto Twirler Elite is the original and most popular rotisserie for many years. It’s made in the USA and has smooth ball bearing pivots, clamps on all the arms, clean welds on high quality metal, and is super easy to use. Everything about just feels tight. It’s the exact rotisserie the US Army used to remanufacture Humvees and the Big 3 car companies all use it in their quality control departments.
What’s stopping me from making my own?
Great question, the answer is nothing! There are a lot of homemade examples floating around the internet. If you have experience welding and trust the integrity of your projects, then there are two major directions you can go – hoop or auto body. Do remember that this is a piece of hardware that will suspend a vehicle in the air, so don’t build it as a learning project.
A couple thousand pounds abruptly reuniting with the earth will not only damage the vehicle but could seriously injure someone as well. Build freely, but build responsibly. This is a large project to tackle and buying a good quality rotisserie is highly recommended for most.
If you still want to know how to build a car rotisserie, Redwing Steel Works provides three different ground up builds as well as the exact materials to be used, making for a fairly straightforward build. A lot of online plans are actually based around using a couple engine stands. Alternatively, here are a couple other good options if building your own:
Hoops and frames?
There isn’t as much to cover here, but as mentioned before, there are two major designs when it comes to rotisseries. Hoops are just what they sound like, and are usually a pair of welded rings that allow the entire frame to be rolled on the ground. The major advantage is the simplicity, as they do away with much of the adjustable pieces of a flat rotating frame. However, bear in mind that they are rotated by hand and need blocks to stabilize the system and prevent the car from rolling away.
Flat rotisseries are more mechanically complex, often including hydraulic lifts and balance adjustments, but can easily be locked or reconfigured as need be. The mounts are also more minimal and remove the minor inconvenience of working around the hoops of the other design. A poorly balanced or overloaded flat frame could tip or drop the vehicle, where a hoop system provides no way for the vehicle to touch the ground.
All in all, rotisseries can be a huge time saver and inconvenience solver, if they’re something you would use. If you want to restore a muscle car and know that you will be stripping the whole thing down, putting it on a rotisserie instead of blocks will save you a lot of time and suffering.
Otherwise, if you rarely find yourself with an occasion to remove the engine block and transmission, it may be worth just investing in a lift that will still provide some freedom for work, without all the preparation of a rotisserie.