Garage Trailer Lift

If your into garages, gadgets, or mechanical things… you’ve got to watch this.

If you plan on doing something similar for your garage, be sure to consult a structural engineer and properly calculate loads to ensure safety.

As a woodworker, you gotta have the ability to haul lumber and equipment.  I don’t have a truck.  So, I did the next best thing and bought a trailer.  It’s an awesome trailer.  It can tip pivot (for loading a lawn tractor) and its made from lightweight aluminum.

My wife was surprised by my unannounced quick purchase.  She didn’t see the value in spending $750 for this behemoth.  Thankfully, she has realized it’s value many times over… since being used on many projects around the house.

My Volkswagen Golf GTI VR6 isn’t known as a vehicle for hooking a trailer to, but after a fair bit of effort, I was able to attach a trailer hitch.

For all its benefits, the trailer did cause a very big problem.  Where to put it?  I didn’t want to waste half my garage just to keep my trailer.  Actually, I already had a plan before buying it.  I had decided to hoist the trailer onto my garage ceiling when not in use.  So once I had purchased the trailer… I was committed to engineering a working trailer lift / hoist solution.

Initially I contemplated a manual cranking hoist (as you can see in this early sketch), but quickly changed my mind to a motorized hoist.

It is important to note the differences between a hoist and a winch:

A hoist is for lifting and a winch is for pulling.
A Winch is geared for pulling a load on a relatively level surface. A winch uses a dynamic brake that must slide.
A Hoist is geared to lift (dead weight) and has a locking brake that can support a “hanging” load.
If a Hoist can lift (dead weight) 250 lbs., then it may be capable of pulling 1000 lbs rolling weight across a hard packed surface. If a Winch can pull 1000 lbs. across a hard packed surface, it may only have the capacity to support 100 lbs. (dead weight) because the winch employs a different braking system than that of a hoist.
A Hoist is used for lifting and supporting “dead weight”.
A Winch is used for pulling (moving rolling weight).

This is the space above the garage ceiling.  I had to customize a mechanical solution that would fit in this space.  Let the engineering begin!

Luckily, I have experience with many computer graphic tools.  This allowed me to visualize my ideas and confirm the alignment of the cables through the trusses.

For those who might be curious… these renderings were done with 3d studio max and mental ray rendering engine.

Here you can see the engineered trusses of my Pulte built home.  It’s deceptively strong.  Combined with the fact that my trailer is made of aluminum and is only 700 pounds… means my garage ceiling easily carries the load.

The hoist cost me only $70 at harbor freight.  Unfortunately, as you can hear in the above video, the hoist had some broken plastic parts rattling inside the gearbox.  So I had to exchange it and install a replacement which has worked flawlessly since.  Here you can see the hoist and the beefy structure I built to ensure the it wouldn’t come undone from its’ mount.

I used lag bolts to hold most major components together.  Here you can see how I redirect the cable downward through the ceiling at each of the 4 points.

The same pulleys were used to redirect the 4 down points to the single connection at the hoist.

The strongest link in the chain… a single stainless steel ring with a very high weight rating is connected to 4 carabiners and then the 4 cables.  Do you think 3 saddles is overkill for each cable?

This is one of the 4 drop cables just after coming through the ceiling.  I added some rubber coated lead weights to maintain tension on each line when the trailer is detached.  I did this to reduce the chance a cable would fall off a pulley track.

There are 4 additional STATIC lines where I connect the trailer after it has been fully lifted to the ceiling.  Therefore, the trailer has 8 lines connected to it when it is on the ceiling.

Here you can see 2 static lines and 2 pulley lines on the left side of the trailer.

Watch my garage trailer lift video.

Check out some other garage trailer lifts:


  1. October 10th, 2009 at 01:22 | #1

    My dad did a similar thing years ago for the canopy on his PU truck, but he used a hand crank (the canopy is MUCH lighter).

    Your execution and planing is, as always, top drawer, you media skills are great too. Your cute daughter at the end of the second video is a nice surprise, priceless!

    One question, why do you keep calling it a “Wench” when it is a “Winch” or in this application, I think you could call it a hoist?

    Great work, thanks for sharing!


    Stu in Tokyo

  2. Alan Lilly
    October 10th, 2009 at 04:53 | #2

    Thanks Stu.. I am usually decent at spelling, but that is one of those words that I seem to continue making a mistake with.

  3. Steve in Mi.
    October 17th, 2009 at 15:29 | #3

    I noticed that while the trailer is in the raised position you first disconnect two of the safety cables (designed to keep the trailer from falling on you, right?) and then you grab your ladder and pass under the trailer to the other side where you remove the two remaining safety cables. During the maneuver/crossunder where you are only half safe, would you only be half dead if it feel then?

    I like it!

  4. October 17th, 2009 at 15:37 | #4

    The 4 additional lines are mainly there to keep the static load off of the main lines and pulley system while the trailer is stored for long periods of time. Of course they have the added benefit of increased safety as well.

  5. Scott Shafer
    October 21st, 2009 at 18:53 | #5

    I would like the know the model and source of the pulleys you used. This is exactly what I’m thinking of doing with my smaller and lighter motorcycle trailer but I can’t seem to find suitable pulleys.

  6. October 21st, 2009 at 19:02 | #6

    @Scott Shafer

    The brand of the pulleys is national. I got them at Ace Hardware or Tractor Supply Company. They work great because I could lag bolt them flush to the wood. As long as you keep some light tension (see my red weights) on the lines the cable tracks smooth and easy through the pulleys.

  7. Scott Shafer
    October 21st, 2009 at 21:43 | #7

    Thanks, now for another question… where’d you get the weights? Also, how did you set it up to stop the upward travel at the right point or do you manually stop it?

  8. October 21st, 2009 at 23:04 | #8

    If you look at the photo of the hoist you can see a metal bar just under the pulley. When the pulley hits the bar it triggers the hoist to stop. It is a built-in mechanism of the Harbor Freight hoist itself. The weights I made by melting lead (outdoors to avoid the lead fumes) and then I coated them in red plasti-dip.

  9. Mark in AZ
    December 2nd, 2009 at 17:25 | #9

    I just wanted to chime in and commend you on your solution. I was searching the web for ideas to my current trailer storage issue. I’m getting married in a couple months and I need a way to get two cars in my garage. Right now, the trailer is pushed up against the wall and it’s taking up a bunch of my possible storage space. I have a “flat” roof, so I won’t be able to hide the hoist and cables, still, this might be just the solution I need. Not to mention, I have a Harbor Freight a mile away! Thanks for sharing this!

  10. Alan Lilly
    December 5th, 2009 at 00:47 | #10

    Thanks for comment… just make sure your ceiling can handle the static load of your trailer. My trailer is aluminum and very light. Good Luck and keep me up to date on your progress!

  11. Scott Shafer
    February 8th, 2010 at 21:22 | #11

    Thanks, Alan, for all your help. I pretty much copied what you installed in your attic. My ceiling joists are 2×10′s on 16″ centers so structural strength wasn’t an issue.

    Here’s a video of my lift in action:

  12. February 9th, 2010 at 11:31 | #12

    That looks awesome Scott! Too bad you didn’t have room above the rafters to hoist it all the way into the ceiling so that the bottom could be flush with the ceiling. Ain’t it great to have that floor space back!

  13. JohnDistai
    March 5th, 2010 at 21:00 | #13

    Thank you for illustrating this idea. I am building something very similar in my garage to hoist bikes and bike-related items.

    I know it is hard to judge, but it looks like you have fairly light duty cables. I’d be concerned about those not having the long term strength to do the job safely.

    Also, for anyone considering this project, you do not need to make your own cables using the saddles. You can order heavier duty, thimbled, machine swaged cables for an application like this for less than $20 each. This may be cheaper than building your own cables. I bought mine from American Rigger’s Supply. I just needed my cable length, diameter, and eye treatment, and they built them for me.

  14. March 8th, 2010 at 20:27 | #14

    I would mount a long 1×6 across the joists with lag bolts (distributing the load) and close to the wall. Just be sure that your wall can handle the load for your trailer.

  15. Matthew
    March 8th, 2010 at 20:17 | #15

    Alan, I am thinking of doing something similar in my garage. I want to mount a HF electric hoist on the wall and pull up a trailer on its end for storage. I was wondering if you have any ideas on how to mount the hoist to the wall securely? Thanks

  16. Matthew
    March 8th, 2010 at 20:53 | #16

    Did you bolt the red housing to the wood “box” that you made? If so did you purchase some other longer bolts to go through the wood housing and into the red one for the hoist?

  17. March 8th, 2010 at 21:30 | #17

    I bolted the hoist to the large board first… then the large board is bolted to multiple joists… the idea is to distribute the load across multiple joists. You can see more detail by watching the video at the bottom of my online portfolio….

  18. Brian Norwood
    March 18th, 2010 at 22:42 | #18


    If it’s okay, I’m planning on copying your design to free up some space in my garage. I’m not clear on how you anchored your winch. I’m guessing the winch instructions will show where/how to hook everything up. The rest of the pulley, winch, and anchoring is pretty straight-forward, to the untrained eye!!

    Awesome job and really clean design!!

  19. Brian Norwood
    March 18th, 2010 at 22:45 | #19

    If it’s okay, I’m planning on copying your design to free up some space in my garage. I’m not clear on how you anchored your winch. I’m guessing the winch instructions will show where/how to hook everything up. The rest of the pulley, winch, and anchoring is pretty straight-forward, to the untrained eye!!

    Awesome job and a really clean design!!

    edit; What model number winch did you get at Harbor Freight? I see they have a number of 12v winches and only a few 120v’ers.


  20. Brian Norwood
    March 18th, 2010 at 22:50 | #20

    Also, about how much cable did you end up buying for the 4 anchor points? Does Ace Hardware have all the assorted bits and pieces needed? What make pulleys are they?

    I’ve little experience doing this but am handy, have tools, and the desire.

    Thanks for your help!!

  21. John Muno
    May 9th, 2010 at 23:21 | #21

    Hi Alan, I used your concept to build a rig to lift my wife’s Hobie Wave sailboat. It worked great. When I get the energy, I’ll build one to lift the tralier over her car. But for now at least I can park in the garage again! Thanks for posting the pictures and explanations.
    For stablizing weights I used two 3/8 threaded pipe flanges and a close nipple to connect them. I saved money on the big ring and quicklinks by just using a shackle connected to the four thimbles. If you would like pictures, let me know.

  22. Jim Zerwas
    May 12th, 2010 at 07:31 | #22

    @John Muno
    Alan – this is a wonderful design. I’m going to use it to lift a 5′x10′ HO Race track table in my garage.

    What diameter wire did you use? And, I couldn’t tell from photos – is it vinyl coated?

    John – I like your readily-available weight idea. Please do supply pictures.

    Thank you!

  23. May 12th, 2010 at 09:22 | #23

    Thanks Jim! The wire is not vinyl coated. I’ll have to check the diameter when I get home. I chose cable that was as thin as possible and yet was still rated to carry more than double the load that I had to lift. I wanted to make sure the cable would easily thread and turn through the pulleys. A heavier cable would have had trouble making the 90+ degree turns and would have been overkill for the load.

  24. Jim Zerwas
    May 28th, 2010 at 07:32 | #24

    @Alan Lilly

    Hi Alan. Did you get the opportunity to check the cable diameter?
    Have a great weekend!

  25. bob
    August 16th, 2010 at 22:29 | #25

    Alan, nice setup. What brand of trailer is that?

  26. August 16th, 2010 at 22:32 | #26

    Thanks… it’s a rance aluminum trailer. Rough rider series. I don’t think they make this exact model anymore, but their trailers are pretty nice.

  27. bob
    August 16th, 2010 at 23:12 | #27

    thanks, you’re right. I didn’t see anything on their site that matched what you got.

  28. August 16th, 2010 at 23:23 | #28

    There is one that is similar, but the side panels are aluminum and the trailer looks a little bigger with more traditional sized tires.

  29. Kevin
    September 7th, 2010 at 03:36 | #29

    @Jim Zerwas
    I am doing a similar project to lift my 5 x 10 utility trailer. Weighs about 560#. Found the stuff using Grainger–401 Catalog pages 1680-83 and 2529. The load ratings are posted with cable. 1/4 pulley sheaves can easily handle 3/16 wire with or without coating. Wall/ceiling mount pulley blocks are great. Wire rated for 740# and pulleys range from 480# to 2000#. Page 1681 has a pulley block with swivel hook that allows the lift rate to double.
    Farm & Fleet had the wire much cheaper than Grainger.

  30. Andre Turgeon
    December 15th, 2010 at 16:41 | #30

    Alan, great design…I am in the process to thinking thru the details of my implementation…will be close to yours, however, I want to put the winch inside the garage, below the ceiling, and not in the attic where it is very cold in the winter (I am in Toronto)..LInes and pulleys are OK in the attic but I need a final 90 degree turn downward to get below the ceiling where the winch will be secured to a large steel I-Beam. any suggestion on this last pulley that would have to support the full weight of the trailer..any otrher suggestions…?

  31. December 15th, 2010 at 21:40 | #31

    @Andre Turgeon
    Thanks Andre. Cold is not an issue for my setup. I live in in Mid Michigan and we get the same temps as Toronto in winter. The winch works fine in sub zero. If your going to pull down through another pulley… then make sure it is anchored to a structural point that can handle all the weight x4 … like a wall beam or a cross i-beam so that you won’t pull the ceiling down. In my setup the weight that is pulling down on the ceiling is divided between 4 points. Keep us up to date on your progress!

  32. Andre
    December 17th, 2010 at 07:43 | #32

    Will do..just ordered the pulleys thru…should be able to get the rest..also bought the winch already locally. Can I add pictures here ?

  33. Andre
    December 17th, 2010 at 07:44 | #33

    Will do..just ordered the pulleys thru…should be able to get the rest from Home Depot..also bought the winch already locally. Can I add pictures here ?

  34. Chet Seymour
    December 31st, 2010 at 11:29 | #34

    You’re my hero.
    I had to give up my Pick up for a family/work cross-over SUV. I’m going to get a trailer and I was working on a similar system when I came across your system.

    I’m very impressed. Nice job.

    PS> You’re daughter is cute as can be.

  35. December 31st, 2010 at 13:19 | #35

    @Chet Seymour
    Thanks Chet… be sure to get a lightweight trailer or that the ceiling can support the weight. Good Luck and be sure to update me on your project!

  36. Andrew
    January 4th, 2011 at 11:47 | #36

    This is a great set up! Where did you get the winch and what model was it?

  37. January 4th, 2011 at 12:56 | #37

    Harbor freight

    I got it several years ago when Harbor Freight was still doing 40 percent off coupons, so I only paid $60 for it back then.

  38. Andre
    January 7th, 2011 at 12:54 | #38

    Alan, just a short update…I had my first trailer lift last night…everything worked
    as planned…I finishing my 4 security back up lines today. I ended up spending more time yesterday adjusting the length of my cables to maximize the lift close to the ceiling…I ended up doing it 3 times. BTW, I used 4 weights from the fitness stores…2.5 lbs each….works OK…should have picked 5 lbs each….would have worked better. I just installed this morning a smooth floor (1/4 inch finishing veneer to support the cable and rigging in the ceiling so that it would slide more smoothly…..I am very happy with the setup…’s pretty much a copy of your layout…the only structural difference is that my lift cables run between the bottom of the trusses, and the top of a new floor / ceiling of 2×8 underneath…I have 3 inches in between .

    Thanks again….happy new year.

  39. Ricky-Australia
    January 24th, 2011 at 05:12 | #39

    Hi, great job. If you have the time may you be able to let me know what I’d need if I built it using your hand winch design. I would only be lifting about 100kg (220 pounds). I am after type names of pulleys and weather you’d use wire or rope. Type of hand winch? Any info would be great. I hope I’m not asking too much.

    Thanks mate,
    Melbourne, Australia

  40. January 24th, 2011 at 14:11 | #40


    The pulleys could be configure the same, except you would add 1 more to redirect the main line down the wall to a hand winch. I was originally planning this hand winch…
    It uses a worm gear so it is smooth and strong and won’t slip. However, it is slow and would take many revolutions to lift an item to the ceiling. If I were going to use it, I would consider using a variable speed drill to crank it and save time.
    Here’s another hand winch (slow also)…

    I used stranded wire cable (it’s very strong and thin).

    Hand winches are powerful, but SLLLOOOOWWW.

  41. Andre
    January 25th, 2011 at 06:06 | #41

    Alan, did you get all the pictures I sent you about 10 days ago…?

  42. January 25th, 2011 at 09:12 | #42

    I did get your message and sent you a reply which must not have gotten through to you.
    I updated my blog here:
    I also got some pictures from another guy that did his lift:

  43. Jason in canada
    March 9th, 2011 at 11:12 | #43

    I think you did a great job on the entire project and yes three crosby clips (the saddle is half of the clip) are a little much though by what I can see in the pictures it looks like you have installed them correctly, saddle side always goes on the live end not on the tail. I suggest for next time tie a flemish eye with a little tape holding the tail staight and there will be no need for the clips. you will also maintain the strength of the stranded wire rope. the only other possible thing i would check if you decide to take on a larger project for heavier lifts in future is make sure the rope and pulley sizes are a correct match if one or the other is incorrect they could stress each other causing unnecessary ware. For example if the pulley is to wide the rope will compress flat over time causing the wire rope to fatigue at best and at worst fail. All and all a great job its good to see people who take pride in what they do.

  44. Jason in canada
    March 9th, 2011 at 11:26 | #44

    I forgot to ask i cant quite make out the trailer sticker in the photo above who and where is that one from thanks

  45. March 17th, 2011 at 12:36 | #45

    Rance Aluminum Trailers

  46. Steve
    March 29th, 2011 at 00:16 | #46

    Have any readers had any luck locating these pulleys in Canada? They are $4.96 ea on however wont ship to Canada. Totem quoted me $10.00 each + tax !


  47. andy ratcliff
    May 9th, 2011 at 19:30 | #47

    hi there
    i have had a similar plan for many years, i finally finished my extension last year which yielded a 11 foot high garage and a fantastic space above the garage door to store my sailing dinghy on its trailer. In total it weighs 125 kg and i have a winch to lift double this but i cannot find the side mounted pulleys anywhere in the uk for a reasonable price. The best i have found is around £60 uk each (I need 5) so I wondered what you can get them for in the US to see if these are reasonable (I can buy a new mirror dinghy on a trailer for £350)
    PS thanks for excellent posting it has completely supported my “crazy” plan

  48. May 9th, 2011 at 20:09 | #48

    @andy ratcliff

    Here is a link through Amazon for the pulley…

    If you checkout the gallery page you’ll find a boat lift version of my trailer lift!

    Here’s a British site with some pulleys that might be useable…

  49. Harry
    June 3rd, 2011 at 18:36 | #49

    That was so beautiful I cried. You are master of IRON sir!

  50. Rodney
    September 11th, 2011 at 15:51 | #50

    Alan, I am looking at doing something like this in my garage. The problem is that I don’t have an overhead attic. Could I attach the pulleys to the joists of my ceiling and have the hoist mounted on the wall? I am looking at building a model train layout for this. because of foam construction in some areas and a wood frame the weight would be much less than the 500 # you are working with. I live in California and the rooms are just too small to put a permanent layout and associations around here don’t let you get away with not having 2 cars in a 2 car garage.

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