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:

http://panofish.net/garage-trailer-lift-3/
http://panofish.net/garage-trailer-lift-4/

Comments

  1. September 11th, 2011 at 16:05 | #1

    @Rodney
    The design will work equally well if you mount the hoist on the wall or underside of the ceiling. Just angle the pulleys from each corner to the hoist and allow enough range of motion to lift and drop the platform. I’d love to see some photos when you get it finished … good luck!

  2. Rodney Ziebol
    September 14th, 2011 at 23:52 | #2

    @Alan Lilly
    Thanks for the feedback. It will be a while before I get all the pieces together for this. I will look for parts information in the questions and replies already posted here. My next step is to have my garage door opener replaced with one that is configured on the side of the garage door. Liftmaster makes one that will allow me to completely eliminate the door opener in the center of my garage and free up more ceiling space on the other side of the garage door. Once I get this in I can move onto the next stage of this process. I will be glad to post some pictures when it all comes together. I am sure there are other Model Railroaders in California that are in the same situation as me. Thanks again for sharing this with all of us here. I was so happy to find your original post and videos. It has really inspired me that I can make this happen.

  3. Joe
    April 11th, 2012 at 14:13 | #3

    Nice implementation, I’ve had the exact same idea floating around in my head for awhile now, it was so exciting to see somebody actually did it. I will use my lift for a portable winter ice fishing house in the summer time and for all my outdoor lawn items (mower, seed spreader, etc) during the winter months up here in MN. My garage ceiling is 12′ high so i’m assuming I just need longer cables, but the basic design can stay the same right?

  4. April 11th, 2012 at 14:54 | #4

    The ceiling height is not an issue. The cables would be long and the winch might need to be a little further from the pulleys to give enough pull distance for the main line which would be equal to the distance you want to lift your pallet. The only other important consideration is the total lift weight and the strength of your ceiling trusses to carry the load. Be sure to send progress photos!

  5. Joe
    April 11th, 2012 at 16:15 | #5

    Weight won’t be an issue, most I would hoist would be around 100-400lbs at the max. Any issues other than aesthetic to having everything mounted on the top of the garage ceiling, instead of in the garage attic? Won’t it be alot easier to maintain/monitor the system on the outside, or did you just decide to trust your engineering?

  6. Joe
    April 11th, 2012 at 16:18 | #6

    I forgot to mention, instead of a trailer, I plan on building a simple 2×4 lipped platform/basket to load my stuff on and then lift to the ceiling. I’ll post pictures once it’s done..

  7. April 11th, 2012 at 16:33 | #7

    Great questions Joe. Should be doable . The space above my garage is also an attic space with folding attic ladder so access is no issue for me. I trusted my engineering and I’ve had no problems since it was built in 2003. It’s so easy and quick to use my trailer whenever I need it … I use it frequently. I can have my trailer hooked to my car in under 5 minutes.

  8. Joe
    April 17th, 2012 at 15:32 | #8

    If i’m lifting 500 lbs or less, will a 1,500lbs capacity electric winch work fine or do I need a hoist?

  9. April 17th, 2012 at 15:54 | #9

    Hoists are for lifting and winches are for pulling. A 1500lb capacity winch might only be able to lift 100lbs and hold it under static load, but I’d get a hoist for lifting stuff over my head in the garage. Thanks for the question… I’ve updated the post to clarify the differences.

  10. Joe
    April 25th, 2012 at 10:46 | #10

    Any issues with securing the pulleys & winch to the ceiling through the 3/4 inch drywall before getting to the studs? I’m worried about the 3/4 inch drywall gap to the studs…Should I just install cross-mount support boards to the ceiling and then mount the pulleys and winch to it? I have 12 inches of spray insulation in the garage attic so I’ll have to install it on the ceiling.

  11. April 25th, 2012 at 11:02 | #11

    Hey Joe. I would lag bolt some horizontal boards across the studs to distribute weight. I did the same above ceiling, but I didn’t have to lag bolt to every stud since the weight would natrually distribute by just laying on top. Make sure you calculate the load on each ceiling bolt point.. it should be evenly distributed across all studs. The dry wall shouldnt be an issue, except making sure your lag bolts are well centered in the ceiling joists. Also I would pay attention to the size of lag bolt and depth into the joists. If the joists are 2×4 boards and the lag bolts are large and go deep into the board, you would effectively be weakening the 2×4 and the static load might be too much. But if your load is light enough all of this thinking might be overkill.

  12. Joe
    April 25th, 2012 at 13:47 | #12

    yep, i don’t ever see more than 300 lbs being lifted, also do the pulleys need to be directly above the lifting wire connections? If they are off to the side a little, does that add unneeded stress on the cbales and pulleys?

  13. April 25th, 2012 at 14:48 | #13

    A little off should be fine… more will increase stress when fully lifted, because the line will start pulling horizontally and not just vertically. I would still prefer to have the lines perfectly vertical though.

  14. Dusty
    April 29th, 2012 at 18:28 | #14

    Great job with the lift. I made a trip to Harbor Freight and Lowe’s today to gather the required materials to build my own. Thanks so much for the pictures and instructions. What brand of trailer is that?

  15. April 29th, 2012 at 19:30 | #15

    Thanks… the trailer is mostly aluminum from rance aluminum trailers http://www.rancealuminum.com/
    I don’t think they make this model any more, but I love mine.

  16. May 3rd, 2012 at 08:27 | #16

    I know this web site offers quality depending content and additional information, is there any
    other web page which presents these kinds of information in quality?

  17. Brady
    May 6th, 2012 at 15:55 | #17

    Hi Alan,

    I am thinking of copying your nice design, except I’m considering using a manual hoist. What made you decide to go with a motorized hoist instead (besides convenience)? I’m thinking it might be a little tricky to sturdily mount the manual hoist to the wall. I suppose I could lag a large eye into the concrete floor and attach the hoist there, but then I’d lose the floor space and mobility in that area…

    Cheers,
    Brady

  18. May 6th, 2012 at 16:43 | #18

    Originally I was going to do a manual crank on my wall, but the electric hoist was so cheap and the engineering and effort is the same with either manual or electric. Wall or ceiling … you need to span a board across multiple studs or joists to spread the load. The other advantage to ceiling is the entire system is invisible. A manual crank takes a surprisingly long time to crank because you have to turn it a bunch of times to lift from the floor to the ceiling.

  19. Bryan Harman
    May 23rd, 2012 at 15:20 | #19

    Hey Alan,

    Great project! I have a Craftsman folding trailer which has served her purpose well but now with all of the other storage items in our garage is making things a bit tight. I could grab a bit more space back by lifting the trailer up. I don’t suppose you have a master list of what you used on this project do you? My concern is that the trailer weighs in at around 440 Lbs. so I of course would want to make sure that the cables and eyes are as solid as possible. We have 2×8 joists so I am not really concerned with them splitting the load.

    I am a handy guy and don’t have a problem doing the work, just don’t want the trailer falling on the wife’s car!

    Any help is appreciated mate,

    Cheers
    Bryan

  20. May 23rd, 2012 at 16:14 | #20

    Thanks Bryan. Lifting 500 pounds should be no problem. I believe all of my components are rated to handle 4-5 times that. Each component you buy (pulleys, cables, hoist…etc) will have a weight rating. Just be sure to exceed your weight requirements by 3 or more times. As you can see in my setup … I attached 4 static cables after it is lifted for added safety. So my trailer actually has 8 connection points. The 4 extra points dont slow things down to raise or lower my trailer.

  21. Nima Jalali
    August 6th, 2012 at 19:52 | #21

    Hey Alan,

    Great lift! I am planning on doing something similar however I would like to lift the entire platform into the attic space above the garage. Could the pulleys and hoist be mounted to the diagonal beams (Sorry do not know the technical term) in the attic space? Hopefully that makes sense.

    Thanks
    Nima

  22. August 6th, 2012 at 20:19 | #22

    Thanks Nima. Anything is possible, but it depends on how much weight you want to lift and how much weight the joists can carry. I would think the diagonal trusses can not carry as much load. Have others in your area with some engineering background analyze the load carrying capability of your trusses.

  23. August 14th, 2012 at 15:46 | #23

    Hey nice lift. It gave me an idea to start working on a project like that and this post will going to help me alot in doing this. Alan i will also communicate with you by this blog if anywhere i need your help or a suggestion. Hope you never mind…

  24. August 26th, 2012 at 23:33 | #24

    Hey Alan,
    I also have a Vw Golf and have been looking for a light weight trailer. Was going to ask What brand trailer is but I just seen you link.

    By the way, we have the same last name, Lilly (I’m in Alabama)

    Great blog/website.

    Greg Lilly

  25. aka Larry
    September 18th, 2012 at 15:09 | #25

    Alan,

    Slick design. I’m looking to use a winch to lift a rack of 12 tires to save floor space and may back lifting them onto a wall rack. It looks like you idea could be implemented into my situation with some modifications. One question I have is I see you have a double-pulley setup on the winch cable which gives you a 2:1 pull to lift ratio correct? Would the winch work just as well without the 2:1 setup? I don’t have room to double the length of the cable pull in my scenario.

  26. September 19th, 2012 at 21:54 | #26

    A hoist is for lifting and a winch is for pulling. A winch is not designed to carry load, otherwise my design can be used to lift almost anything. I just over-designed it so it was capable of lifting 2-3 times what I actually needed to lift. Just make sure you over engineer and your lift is capable of lifting 2-3 times what you will actually lift.

  27. Michael
    October 8th, 2012 at 15:55 | #27

    Alan,
    Excellent Design!!
    I have purchased the hoist at Harbor Freight, but my question to you ; where did you find the red counter weights?
    Does Harbor Freight sell them?
    Thank you,
    Michael

  28. October 8th, 2012 at 16:09 | #28

    Thanks Michael… I made the red counter weights.
    Melted lead fishing wieghts in a small cast iron pot … then drilled a hole and cut a slit for the wire… then dipped the lead into a product called plasti-dip. Then I wedged a piece of rubber into the slit after the weight was put onto the wire. Worked great!

  29. JD
    October 11th, 2012 at 20:27 | #29

    Alan – wow, your lift idea is exactly what I have been looking for, for something similar in my shop. Would you have a parts list handy?

    Thanks,

    JD

  30. October 11th, 2012 at 20:39 | #30

    Thanks JD… I don’t have one, but I plan on reshooting a video in the near future and focusing on how I built it and I will include more detail on the parts.

  31. Rick D.
    November 29th, 2012 at 17:57 | #31

    Alan how close in can i position the winch and the back pulleys to the actual lift pulleys? Is there a formula or rule of thumb? mine will be mounted on 3.25″ Cooper B-Line B11 20′ unistrut to masonary walls. I am trying to tuck in everything as much as possible both horizontally and vertically.
    my ceiling is only 10′ tall. the ceiling is 14″ trusses on 12″ centers very tight and close together with no way of fishing anything thru. Also My lift platform will not be the full length of the garage walls. something like 5′ x 8′. I do plan on making the unistrut a bit wider than the lift platform. how wide it is is not the problem. its how long everything needs to be to max out the platform length. also the lift platform will only go up about 7′. Since i want to raise my snowblower, lawnmower up without taking apart the handles. thanks for your advice. Rick D.

  32. November 29th, 2012 at 18:08 | #32

    There are no hard rules. Once the 4 lines go through the first lifting pulleys… they must meet at a master ring. The geometry is flexible to your circumstance. The only requirements I can think of are… there must be an equal amount of line from the master ring to the hoist as the length you want to lift your object. The lines just need unimpeded angles. Try drawing a sketch of the design and I will review it for you. Better still … use sketchup to model it.. that’s what I did!

  33. January 24th, 2013 at 14:35 | #33

    I’m trying to find parts for the trailer lift project. I found a 45 lb, that looks like yours at Lowe, will that work? Plus, my project will need to lift 1000 lbs. Thanks, for the help. Larry

  34. January 24th, 2013 at 14:42 | #34

    A 1000 lbs is nearly double what my lift is meant to handle. I got my pulleys from a hardware store and each pulley is rated for 420lbs each. Make sure your ceiling can support a static load of 1000+ lbs.

  35. January 24th, 2013 at 15:45 | #35

    Thank, that help, I’m building the support from the ground with 6 x 6, first level 6 feet, second level 12 feet, using 2 x6 for support, 16 on center, will this work?

  36. January 24th, 2013 at 15:58 | #36

    I don’t know and most importantly you should do the necessary engineering to make sure it will be safe or consult a structural engineer. A thousand pounds is a lot of weight to lift.

  37. Gregg
    January 28th, 2013 at 12:55 | #37

    I’m looking forward to starting this project. I don’t have the attic space above so I’ll be doing an inverted version.

    Where did you get the wire rope from? Most wire rope I found online has a warning “Not suitable for overhead lifting”
    Which hoist did you get from Harbor Freight? I have a similar trailer and don’t expect to ever lift more than 350-400lbs

  38. Kevin
    February 7th, 2013 at 23:35 | #38

    Hi Allen,
    Great Idea and I almost have everything to get started.
    Can you tell me what size diameter wire you are using you are using.
    I have a trailer from Harbor Frieght that I pull behind my motorcycle and
    I think it ways in under 300 lbs.
    Great idea and thanks for sharing.

  39. February 8th, 2013 at 00:03 | #39

    My wire rope is 3/32″ in diameter. I think it is a perfect thickness for my application. My trailer is somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 pounds (steel axle/leaf spring & aluminum frame with tires and 4 wood side rails).

    My static lines are 1/8″ which is fine since they don’t go through any pulleys. The flexibility difference between 1/8 and 3/32 is surprising.
    I’ve been regularly using the same wire rope for nearly a decade and it still looks great and the pulleys are still fine too.

    The web says that 3/32 (7×7) wire rope Working Load Limit is 184 lbs and 1/16 wire rope is 94 lbs.

    http://americancablerigging.com/store/page37.html

  40. Kevin
    February 8th, 2013 at 20:49 | #40

    Thanks Allan
    I hope to get this up and running in 2 to 3 weeks.

  41. Kevin
    February 8th, 2013 at 20:50 | #41

    Now if I can only spell your name right
    Sorry Alan

  42. Michael Franzen
    May 23rd, 2013 at 11:14 | #42

    Allan,
    Great site, love some of your posts.

    about your trailer lift:

    The video mentions winch several times but it looks like you used a hoist in the video, not a winch right?. This is one that I am looking at:
    Northern Industrial Tools Heavy-Duty Electric Hoist 2000-Lb. Double Line/1,000-Lb. Single Line Capacity Item# 142262
    http://www.northerntool.com/shop/tools/product_200328855_200328855?isSearch=142262
    but it draws 17 amps which means new circuit needs to be run :-(
    so what about using this instead:
    Dutton-Lainson StrongArm 120V AC Electric Winch 4000-Lb. Capacity, Model# 25046
    http://www.northerntool.com/shop/tools/product_734798_734798
    as it has less amps

    I could go with this unit (below) which is 15 amps which is considered a hoist and should cover my trailler which is about 400 lbs as it is all aluminum:
    Northern Industrial Electric Hoist — 750/1500-Lb. Capacity
    http://www.northerntool.com/shop/tools/product_200307347_200307347

    What are your thoughts….

  43. May 23rd, 2013 at 11:24 | #43

    I got my hoist at harbor freight … paid $60 on sale years ago. Current price is $129, but 20% coupons are easy to find. http://www.harborfreight.com/880-lb-electric-hoist-44006.html This hoist works great and I see no reason to pay more. I had to return the first HF hoist because the gearbox had parts rattling inside it, but this one has worked flawlessly and I use it once a month on average.

  44. Michael Franzen
    May 30th, 2013 at 09:10 | #44

    Thanks Alan for your supplier… as I am from Canada, I managed to track down what I think is a perfect unit for myself as I want to use it to also lift some rocks into place for a Koi Pond, so for those that live north of the boarder and want to get a hoist local, I found a supplier with decent price without the high delivery charges :-)
    http://www.princessauto.com/pal/en/Electric/660-1320-lb-Electric-Cable-Hoist/8107674.p
    I am probably going to get their trolley too for moving the rocks:
    http://www.princessauto.com/pal/en/Trolleys/1-Ton-Trolley/8203655.p
    So not only use it for the trailer, but also for my pond build.
    Now just have to reinforce the garage rafters as I only have 2 * 6′s that span across a 2 car garage. I will have to double them up after I clear out the storage of wood above. Mine will be pulling from the right car port to pull up the trailer in the left car port, which means I will have to take out my electric motor and track to make room above, but it will be worth the effort as we only use one car port, and then I can start on my garage workshop area.

  45. Rico
    August 13th, 2013 at 04:06 | #45

    Hi Alan,

    where did you buy your pulleys? I cant find anything similar here in Australia.
    Please advise.

    Thanks

  46. Rico
    August 13th, 2013 at 06:35 | #46

    Don’t worry Alan, i found your link to the amazon page:

    http://www.amazon.com/3219BC-Plated-Ceiling-Single-Pulley/dp/B000FPDGA6/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

    Thanks for sharing this awesome project.

  47. August 13th, 2013 at 09:32 | #47

    Great Rico! Your welcome and Thank you!

  48. Benny
    August 15th, 2013 at 10:08 | #48

    Hi Alan and others,

    Impressive work and thank you for sharing.

    I am not too handy nor having engineering brain, but looking for help here.

    I have been looking for solutions for my trailer too in my Garage, which was built in 1980. It has Fink Truss System, 21′x21, with 2×4′ chords and members. 2×4 Wall studs sitting on 3 ft concrete wall. it is not finished. The Fink Truss is like this:http://mac6.ma.psu.edu/em211/p09a/probs/compare_04_05.html

    My trailer is about 500lbs. So how did you/would you strengthen your Truss to support the weight of the trailer and other stuff.

    I looked up the Internet, some people are saying the Truss is supposed to support the roof, nothing else. I do believe that if Truss is properly beefed up, you can put stuff up there like you and others have done.

    Please advise,

    Thanks

  49. August 15th, 2013 at 10:52 | #49

    I am not an engineer either, so take this advice with a grain of salt. My truss system is also designed to support the roof and the heaviest possible snow load… so hanging my trailer and storing stuff in the same attic space is beyond its intended design. Luckily my trailer is aluminum and very light. My trailer and stuff have been loading the trusses continously (including winter snow load) for about a decade now and my garage ceiling and trusses look fine. If I were concerned about the loading … I would install 2 staggered beams across the entire garage ceiling and connect it to the top of the walls and to each truss bottom. This would transfer more load to the walls which are much stronger and can carry more load than the ceiling trusses alone. The beam could be steel, but I think a good laminated wood beam would be plenty strong.

  50. Benny
    August 15th, 2013 at 11:50 | #50

    Thank you very much Alan.

    Sure you are not engineer, but I can tell you know so much about Engineering.

    “…I would install 2 staggered beams across the entire garage ceiling and connect it to the top of the walls and to each truss bottom…”

    I have to borrow another chart to show: http://www.mathalino.com/tag/reviewer/fink-truss

    Did you mean add two beams one on D and one on F, perpendicular to the Trusses? and how do I stagger them?

    My garage door and the wall to the inside of the house are perpendicular to the Trusses.

    Thanks,

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