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  • Scott

17 - All Jacked Up

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

I've had a lot of cars over the years, but I've never had the opportunity to really customize a car the way I wanted. The amount of time my education took and limited finances made it difficult to do what I wanted. Most real customizations like body kits, lighting, etc., can be pretty expensive. I owned my 2011 Dodge Challenger for 8 years and never had the time or money to do everything I wanted. I finally could afford an exhaust system about 5 years into owning it. Still, I never got to tint the windows, lower the car, change the shifter, add accent lights, etc. I promised myself I wouldn't make the same mistake with the Tesla. I wanted to start customizing as soon as possible.


The Model S is a great-looking car. It has a fantastic profile. But it doesn't look like a 762hp car. I always felt there was an opportunity with the Model S to give it that extra edge and really make it look and feel like the supercar it is. Of course, I wanted to customize the car for myself. But, I also wanted to exemplify what a customized Tesla or EV could look like. Hopefully, my example will help inspire others and continue the Tesla tradition of changing EVs' perception as stuffy and slow.


The first stop on my customizing journey would be side skirts and a front splitter. To take measurements for the parts and ultimately install them, I needed to access the underside of the car. So, one day I moved my wife's car out of the garage and pulled the Tesla in. I fully anticipated a morning of quick measurements, then shopping for splitters and side skirts. I wanted to make sure I didn't mess anything up when lifting this 5,000lb behemoth off the ground, so I pulled out the owner's manual and flipped to the section on jacking up the car. Much to my chagrin…this was not going to be the easy task I anticipated.

Red 2016 Tesla Model S P90DL with Ludicrous Mode on Race Ramps in garage.

How to Jack Up a Tesla

The Model S, and other Teslas, have four jack points, but only 4 points. On many cars, you can jack up sections or areas, then insert a jack stand at a recommended point. So, it's really not that complicated for most cars. The problem with the Tesla is the jack points are relatively small, only about the size of a jack pad. And you really shouldn't jack the car up at the control arms or other points under the car, especially if you plan on sliding under. So, that means the spot you must use the jack on is effectively the same size as the place you'd install a jack stand. So, there isn't a safe and easy way for the backyard mechanic to use a standard jack and stand combination.

Tesla Model S Jack Points

When I realized my floor jack and jack stands wouldn't be up to the job, I decided to search the internet for solutions, and I was disappointed with what I found. I was also disappointed that I'd be spending the morning trying to find ways that would allow me to jack up the car safely. Or risk this simple task ending with me being flattened like Judge Doom from Roger Rabbit. You're probably thinking, meh, just put the floor jack under it, take your measurements, and be done. Yeah, I could do that. But I've seen jack stands and jacks fail. It's an eye-opening experience. I also considered the Homer Simpson method of using a wicker basket as a jack stand, but we didn't have any around the house.

Homer Simpson holding a car up with a wicker basket.

I found a few safe solutions that had their benefits and drawbacks. Here is a breakdown of the products I was specifically drawn to.


Jackpoint Jackstands

This company has a really excellent product that was exactly what I envisioned. Still, they weren't taking new orders when I needed them. They are taking orders now. These stood out because they looked like the most robust and stable solution. The design is also quite ingenious in its simplicity. The process is quick and easy, jack up the car with a special Jackpoint pad, slide the Jackpoint base under the car and pad, lower the car. I've never had the opportunity to use them myself, but Jay Leno did a segment on Jay Leno's Garage about Jackpoints. A big plus is these jack stands are made in the USA.

Jackpoint jack stands for Teslas.

Rennstands

I also found these, Rennstands, which is another great product. This is another relatively simple design. A cross-section with an adapter is placed on the jack, the car is lifted, and two posts are placed under both ends of the cross-section. I like these because the design looks really stable and very strong. It's reassuring to see these companies using Teslas in their promotional materials. Because the Tesla design is relatively unique, it's comforting to see companies that have tested their design specifically on Teslas. These jack stands are also made in the USA.

Rennstands jack stands for Teslas.
 

Unijack

I also liked the idea of the Unijack. It's a 6,000lb bottle jack and a jack stand all in one. Unfortunately, the most significant design benefit is also a drawback. Because the bottle jack and stand are built into a single unit, you need as many jacks as points you want to raise if you're going to jack up more than one point on the car. That can get a little pricey at $100 per jack. However, in the grand scheme of things, it's comparable to other jack and jack stand combinations if you only want to lift two points at once. This design is also simple: place the bottle jack under the car, jack up the car, and lock the stand piece in place.


I was very reluctant to purchase these because numerous reviews on Amazon cite different types of failures. I've bought several inexpensive jacks over the years, and I've seen them succumb to all different kinds of failure- during the ordinary course of operation. Many of the failures I saw on Amazon aligned with my experiences with similar quality jacks. So these were a pass for me but could be worth looking into if you like the design.

Unijack in use, possible use for Teslas.

Race Ramps

I finally settled on Race Ramps. I looked at different jack and jack stand options and other ramp options, which worked for my application now. I liked the Race Ramps brand because they are made in the USA, and they had excellent reviews everywhere I looked. I must have looked at every ramp brand on Amazon and the internet in general, and nothing else made me feel comfortable.


Back in the day, I remember people used heavy metal steel ramps all the time. But, none of the brands I found inspired confidence. They all seemed like cheap Chinese knock-offs of the ones I remember from the past. I'll be blunt, if it's not made in the USA or another first-world country, I just don't trust them. It's one thing to buy knock-off coat hangers. It's another thing to buy a jack, jack stands, or ramps that will support the 4,000-5,000lb car you'll be sliding around under.


I read through all the top 10 lists titled "Best Car Ramps." I was a little disappointed they didn't seem to discuss an alarming number of failures cited in reviews for many of the products they were recommending. However, another brand that inspired confidence was called Heavy Duty Ramps. Their products are pretty pricey, but the engineering appears solid, and they are made by a company in Wisconsin. I've included a link to their products and website below.

 

Back to the Race Ramps. I may buy the Jackpoint jack stands later if I feel the need. The ramps are great because I can easily access most of the undercarriage, but I couldn't change the tires or anything like that if I needed to. Also, I can only raise the front or rear of the car independently. I've never tried backing the rear up onto the ramps, but I'd imagine it would be a stressful experience. I bought these specific ramps because of the removable front part of the ramp. Once the long part of the ramp is removed, there is more accessible space under the car.




Safety and Other Stuff

I've mentioned before that I've seen jacks and jack stands fail. It happens, and sometimes it's fast. Thankfully, I'd never been under a car when it happened. I always had another backup system in place if I was under the car. Even with the Race Ramps, I put my old school jack stands under the car when it's up in the air. Even if you're just changing a tire and you want to use the jack to hold the car up for a few minutes, but you don't have anywhere to put a jack stand, just slide the jack stand under a frame rail or control arm as a backup- in case the jack fails. Stuff happens, don't gamble with your life.


The Race Ramps also come with their own perils. First, make sure you've got some way to stop or anchor the ramps when you drive the car upon them. If you don't brace them somehow, the ramps may slide and move as you drive the car onto them. Make sure you align the ramps carefully. If the ramps are off a little or you move the steering wheel a little, the car could drive right off the ramps and really jack up your day.


I'd always recommend having someone help you with alignment and braking on ramps, especially on a Tesla. It's essential to have someone help with a Tesla. Unlike most ICE cars, Tesla's don't have an idle to hold the car's position on the ramp. The hill holder doesn't always activate, so the car rolls backward. If the hill holder doesn't activate, you have to use the brake or accelerator to stabilize. When the hill holder does activate, you have to overcome the hill holder, which requires pressing on the accelerator. This doesn't sound like much, but a little jerk can come with that, and the car will lurch forward. It can be challenging to pull any car on a ramp, but it's a full-on balancing act with a Tesla.


I also like to put a wheel chock behind one or more wheels when the car is in the air- whether I'm using ramps or jack stands. I don't recommend cheap wheel chocks either. Instead, buy something heavy and dense. I've seen wheel chocks fail too. Don't laugh too hard, but I've backed over wheel chocks before because I forgot they were there. So, I like to put a couple "Remove Before Flight" tags on the wheel chock and any jack adapters. These reminders ensure I don't forget to remove the pads or chocks before moving the car. Also, suppose you're not using an adapter of some sort to lift the vehicle. In that case, it's a good idea to keep lifting pads or pucks in the frunk or trunk so you can get a better fit when the jack is placed under the jack point. Stay tuned. I'll be discussing the blackout kit, side skirts, and splitter in future posts. If you made it this far, I apologize for all the puns, I couldn't resist.


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