At Gwinnett County Public Schools in Lawrenceville, Ga., Jim Miranda, the district's fleet manager, knew it was time to replace three of his in-ground lifts when the locking mechanisms started to fail. "It was becoming unsafe," he says. "They were installed in 1976 and the pistons were getting rusty." Like many school bus operators, Gwinnett County had to decide whether to replace its aging lifts with new in-ground models or to switch to surface lifts. In this case, Miranda chose surface lifts, specifically, parallelogram lifts manufactured by Advantage Lift Systems in San Diego, Calif. Three of these lifts were installed at the district's main shop last summer, and Miranda has been pleased with them. "We've had very good luck with them," Miranda says. Because the lifts are above-ground, any leaks of hydraulic fluids are easily discovered and cleaned up. Bob Gordon, lead mechanic at the School Board of Volusia County's bus shop in New Smyrna, Fla., says safety is a major factor in choosing a vehicle lift. He says safety locks on the parallelogram lift in his shop are worth the additional inconvenience of the lift's design. "It's cumbersome walking around these two long platforms," Gordon says, "but it's something you have to put up with."
Fear of contamination
Terry Hiatt, shop foreman for the Parker facility at Douglas County (Colo.) schools, chose a surface lift because of environmental concerns. "This building is right on the creek bottom, so we felt it would be best to stay above-ground and not have to deal with leaking oil and the EPA," he says. Hiatt selected a mobile column surface lift manufactured by ARI-Hetra in Fairfax, Va. "The nice thing is that they're portable," he says. Hiatt's shop, which maintains 72 school buses, has eight stalls and often the posts are moved from stall to stall. "They get used every day," Hiatt says. "I only wish we had another set of them." The mobile column lifts can be moved within the garage, and they can also be easily moved to a new garage. "If you're contemplating moving to another site, you can take them with you," says Jim Stark, lead mechanic at Fallbrook (Calif.) Union Elementary School District, which operates 34 buses.
In-grounds still popular
Despite concerns about contamination of the environment, some school bus operators prefer the in-ground lifts because they provide free access to the wheels and the undercarriage. Stark says wheel and brake work is easier using the in-ground lift than the surface lift. Although jack stands allow the column lifts to be removed from under the tires, "it's a lot of extra work," Stark says. Bob Murphy, vehicle maintenance supervisor at Douglas County School District in Minden, Nev., says he's happy with his three in-ground lifts, even though one had an underground leak that had to be mitigated. "Other than that, they are superb," he says.
At Perry (Ohio) Public Schools, mechanic Larry Bonnema says his 19-year-old Weaver in-ground lift is still going strong. "We're tickled with our twin-post," he says. "We've had it since 1979 and never had to do anything to the motor." Until the late 1970s, in-ground lifts were the mainstay of the automotive service industry. In the 1980s, surface lifts began to make significant inroads. These days, sales of surface lifts far surpass their in-ground counterparts. "The in-ground lifts are dinosaurs," says Steve Perlstein, sales and marketing manager for Mohawk Lifts in Amsterdam, N.Y. "It's old technology." Perlstein says pricing is a major advantage of most surface lifts over the in-grounds. His company's four-post surface lifts, he says, can be purchased for less than $10,000, while an in-ground lift might go for as much as $20,000 to $30,000.