When buying a floor jack, whether it’s your first model, or replacing a well-used standby, you may notice that they come in two different types: aluminum and steel. What are the differences between the two types? How can you tell which one is right for your purpose, should it be your home garage or a busy mechanic’s shop?
The weight of a floor jack is an important consideration. The lightest steel floor jacks designed for portability and infrequent use (most scissor jacks) weigh just under 20 pounds, while a heavy duty 3-ton jack can reach close to 100 lbs, though most hover around 80 lbs. This is typically as much as the average do-it-yourselfer needs to work on their car, but professional mechanics, depending on their specialty, may find themselves using jacks with load capacities of 5 or 10 tons or more, weighing a few hundred pounds in some cases.
Comparatively, aluminum jacks weigh significantly less, with the caveat of the lightest capacity jacks weighing about the same as steel jacks, at around or just above 20 lbs; they are so far stripped down, after all, that this is as much as the essential parts of the jack weigh. Once you start getting into the greater carrying capacities, however, the benefits of the aluminum jacks shine through; a 3 ton aluminum jack weighs around 40 lbs less than a similar steel jack.
You may have also heard rumors about durability, or lack thereof, between the two types of jacks. Aluminum jacks tend to face a stigma of being less durable than steel jacks, though this has not been proven or disproven in a more scientific manner. Steel jacks are also more prone to rust (especially the lower quality ones), making them an unattractive option in a humid or wet environment.
Price is probably the biggest deciding factor, in the end. In many cases you get what you pay for, but there are some expensive jacks that still have problems. Steel tends to be less expensive than aluminum, which is favored by motorsports enthusiasts. Of course, once you get into greater features (such as purely domestic manufacture, certain specialty carrying capacities, or brand loyalty), you may find yourself paying more.
Something we haven’t covered here yet is the aluminum/steel hybrid floor jack. The best of both worlds, they compromise strength with relatively light weight, and their price reflects this accordingly. They are an excellent option for the frequent automotive enthusiast, or for a mechanic who does house calls.
Ultimately, your needs regarding carrying capacity, ability to transport the jack, and amount you’re willing to spend will decide what jack is right for you.