Editor's note: The author of the following article on in-ground automotive lifts is Tom Phillips, vice president of sales and marketing for Rotary Lift, A Dover Industries Co., based in Madison, Ind.
The in-ground automotive lift has been the single most important piece of equipment in U.S. service shops since it was introduced by Rotary Lift 70 years ago.
Now, after decades of very productive service, many shop owners find it necessary to replace their older in-ground lifts. And although this is a straightforward procedure, certain aspects of it-namely following federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations-are enough to cause sleepless nights for some owners.
However, there's no need to panic over the prospect of replacing an in-ground lift, nor the EPA regulations that must be considered in the process.
Dealers simply need to understand all the factors involved, including the EPA regulations and how to: recognize fluid leakage from an in-ground lift; properly test the lift for leaks; repair or replace a non-functioning in-ground lift and properly dispose of one after removing it.
The EPA has issued rules for underground storage tanks (40CFR 280) which exclude in-ground lift tanks from regulation.
The EPA reasoned hydraulic lift tanks pose a low level of risk compared to other types of storage tanks because they contain small amounts of non-hazardous regulated substances used solely for operational purposes. The EPA stated that losing fluid would so affect the operation of an in-ground lift that the operator would recognize its faulty operation.
However, even though the EPA has excluded in-ground lift tanks from regulation, shop owners are still required to report oil spills-including those caused by leakage from in-ground lifts.
In-ground lifts, when properly filled with hydraulic oil, operate very smoothly.
However, when the system becomes low on oil, the lift will operate erratically, rising smoothly at first, then suddenly increasing the speed of its rise as it nears full height. When bringing down a lift that is low on oil, the operator can see that it descends quickly at first, slowing considerably as it nears the floor.
It is important at this point to note that since 1974, in-ground lifts complying with American National Standard B153.1 have been supplied with a low-oil control device. It should also be noted that a low-oil control device was supplied as optional equipment with many in-ground lifts prior to 1974.
If the lift has a low-oil control device and has lost hydraulic oil, the operator may notice it beginning to stop short of its full stroke and, as more oil is lost, the rise height will become less and less.
Once the in-ground lift begins to operate as described in either of the above examples, the operator should assume there is an oil leak that could possibly be occurring below the shop floor.
Once it is suspected that there is a leak, the operator should have a hydrostatic test conducted by a qualified professional. This is the point at which an operator can be 100-percent positive there is a leak in the system.
Hydrostatic testing is done by introducing 175-200 psi pressure into the system and gauging the pressure for approximately one hour. If the pressure remains constant, plus or minus 5 psi, there generally is no leak in the system. If the hydrostatic testing indicates there may be a leak, a qualified professional should visually check the piping on the wall controls and seal and gland assembly looking for oil leakage. If there are no visible signs of a leak in these areas, chances are it is occurring underground.
Once the location of the leak has been determined, the leak should be repaired and any contaminated soil in the area removed.
At this point, the shop owner should make certain the lift system remains in good operating condition and is unlikely to leak in the future and experience underground corrosion.
One option is to install a sacrificial magnesium anode to the lift system. This requires a 12-inch hole be cut in the concrete near the lift or the lift piping. The anode is then attached to the lift and buried four feet beneath the surface.
Underground electrolytic currents, a major cause of pitting of the piping system, will then concentrate on the anode instead of the lift components and piping, thereby extending the life of the lift. Pitting and corrosion are two factors which accelerate in-ground lift oil leakage.
Another option is to replace the hydraulic fluid with a biodegradable fluid. This requires that the existing oil in the lift be fully drained then replaced with biodegradable fluid.
The combination of installing the sacrificial magnesium anode and replacing the oil with a biodegradable fluid provides extended protection against underground corrosion and pitting of the lift components and piping and potential contamination of the surrounding soil.
If the lift owner chooses not to make the repairs, the lift and the contaminated soil should be removed. Removing the oil, the lift components and the contaminated soil should only be done by qualified professionals thoroughly familiar with disposal procedures as outlined by EPA guidelines and state and local requirements.
Lift removal may vary from location to location, but it will generally include the following steps, usually in the order listed below:
1) Remove oil valves and oil fittings from the wall.
2) Evacuate oil from the system, including tank, jack assembly and piping.
3) Remove lift superstructures.
4) Saw cut the floor around the lift and piping leaving smooth edges (in order to facilitate a clean appearance after the concrete has been removed and the floor repaired).
5) Remove the concrete around the lift and piping.
6) Remove contaminated soil from around the lift and piping.
7) Remove the piping, jack and tank assembly.
All underground lift components that have been removed should be disposed of by qualified personnel in accordance with local, state and federal regulations.
It is also imperative to have a properly documented disposal manifest when disposing of the old hydraulic oil and contaminated soil.
The shop owner should maintain complete records on the disposal of the oil, the contaminated soil and the lift components.
Once the lift components have been removed, any contaminated soil should be removed and disposed of in accordance with local, state and federal regulations.
If contaminates have entered the soil from sources other than the lift, disposal may have to be handled as hazardous waste. Again, proper documentation is very important.
Soil testing should be conducted by a qualified person to ensure all contaminates have been identified and removed from the hole.
Typically, local environmental firms will take soil samples from all sides of the hole, packaging them in individual containers, properly marking them as to their exact location and then packing them on ice to assure any possible contaminates do not evaporate prior to arriving at a testing lab.
If lab tests indicate the soil is clean, the lift bay is ready to be put back into operation.
If the tests indicate the soil is still contaminated, additional soil removal may be necessary. Each soil sample originally sent to the lab should be clearly marked as to the exact location of extraction in order to indicate where additional soil removal may be needed.
Once the lift has been removed and soil samples indicate the area is clean, the shop owner can begin putting the bay back into operation-complete with an auto-motive lift.
The shop owner may install either a new state-of-the-art in-ground lift with underground corrosion control features or elect to install a surface-mounted unit.
If the choice is an in-ground replacement unit, the owner also may want to consider getting a factory-applied fiberglass coating to increase the unit's longevity.
As can be seen, this is a very straightforward process. However, it's important to note that many states have adopted the federal EPA's position relating to in-ground lifts.
Shop owners should check with the proper officials to assure their compliance with all local and state regulations as well.
As with any industry concerned with environmental issues, there are a number of sources of help in the repairing and removal of an in-ground lift, including environmental consulting firms and lift manufacturers.
By obtaining such help, dealers can be assured that their businesses will be environmentally responsible.
Dealers can consult lift manufacturers and shop layout con-sultants for help in this process.
A free step-by-step video on the process of removing and replacing in-ground lifts is available from Rotary Lift at (800) 445-5438.