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. August 15th, 2013 at 12:51 | #1

    1 beam might be enough, but 2 should be plenty. I used the word stagger to mean evenly distribute 2 on your ceiling trusses. Look at this photo which demonstrates my setup and how I would lay 1 beam. Just be sure to orient the beam vertically for maximum strength. The other real boards you see in my photo are not vertical… they are laid flat to help distribute the load across multiple trusses. If my load were greater then the load doesnt get transferred to the walls very well without a beam. The larger the ceiling span the more inefficient the load transfer is to the walls and stress that is put on the trusses. Here is the photo … http://www.panofish.net/beam.jpg

  2. Benny
    August 15th, 2013 at 13:26 | #2

    Good picture! and Thank you for the explanation.

  3. zerox
    November 7th, 2013 at 15:19 | #3

    Hey Alan excellent job! Really admirable work!

    Let me ask you about this, I have a HF trailer (weight 252 lbs). Do you think I need to get property plans to be sure it support it?

    Thanks!

  4. November 7th, 2013 at 15:22 | #4

    @zerox Thanks! Make sure you know what you are doing or check with a structural engineer to be sure your garage ceiling can carry the load. FYI: my trailer is aluminum and weighs more than yours… I think the HF trailer is smaller and less material, although it is made of steel. Good Luck!

  5. Travis
    May 8th, 2014 at 10:06 | #5

    I built a similar lift system using the same pulleys. I’ve been using it for about a year and have replaced probably 5 of the pulleys. My cable continues to slide thru the pulley and it is not rolling. Eventually the cable eats thru the pulley wheel and it has to be replaced. I’m not sure what is causing this to happen but I’ve been fighting this whole setup for a while.

    Thinking about trying to find some nylon wheel pulleys or something that will grip the cable better.

  6. May 8th, 2014 at 11:39 | #6

    @Travis. My pulleys do not have this problem at all. They are national brand. There is no resistance under strain.. the pulleys roll smoothly and freely. I bought pulleys that are rated for at least twice the weight they need to carry. They have the weight rating stamped on the side and mine are rated at 420lbs each. I’m sure my pulleys will continue to last a lifetime. The only wear trouble I am seeing is when the main cable spools (under load) onto the motor winch…. the cable sometimes abrades against the adjacent line and will eventually weaken the main cable, but this is typical of any spooling cable under load. If I ever have to replace that cable, I may consider a plastic coated cable.

  7. Gregg
    May 12th, 2014 at 08:17 | #7

    Do you know how much load each pulley anchor point is carrying of the 700 lbs? Is there a simple formula.

  8. May 12th, 2014 at 10:03 | #8

    @Gregg My trailer weight is roughly balanced front to back and side to side. Therefore, the total weight of the trailer can be divided by 4. So for my 400-500lb trailer, each line needs to support about 125lbs. Of course once all lines connect together… the main connect ring and the main line and hoist.. need to support the full load.

  9. July 13th, 2014 at 09:15 | #9

    Where did you get the rubber red coated weights?

  10. July 13th, 2014 at 17:49 | #10

    @William branson, I made them :) I melted some lead into a small camping iron pot.. then I drilled the center hole and cut the slot. Then I dipped the lead weights into a product called plasti-dip. Finally I could mount them on the line and I put a piece of rubber into the slots. They work great. I should have video documented that process but I didn’t

  11. DD
    July 16th, 2014 at 15:19 | #11

    Outstanding idea! I will be doing it soon. One thought on the weights. Weights from a SCUBA belt. Just a thought. Again, great idea and great job! Thanks.

  12. July 16th, 2014 at 15:20 | #12

    @ DD, Thanks! Scuba belt weights should work just the same!

  13. Matt
    July 23rd, 2014 at 14:28 | #13

    I had an idea to do something like this for my Truck camper top(fiberglass). I want to get it inside the garage and out of the elements but it would be VERY handy to have something like this so no only would it be out of the way, but I could easily install and remove it from the truck just by backing in and hooking it on. My setup will have to differ from yours, as my house is a split level and I have bedrooms over my garage instead of just trusses. Any suggestions? The camper top is significantly lighter than your trailer(maybe 100lbs MAX, probably a lot less) I’m not sure exactly how much it weighs but I know I can get under it and life it by myself.

  14. Jim Lewis
    November 29th, 2014 at 09:39 | #14

    Hi,

    nice project and it’s got me thinking.

    I have quite a large crawl space under my house, and while I don’t need a bar with beer fridge most of the time, havng one that raised out of the floor when required would be pretty neat (i think you can agree).

    I think the principle is exactly what you’ve done here, but with the need to make the top surface flush to the floor when lowered.

    In principle I understand what you’ve done here, but I’m having a hard time to find suitable pulleys.

    Are the ones you used designed for a specific application so I can look for some with that use in mind?

    Thanks for any help,

    Jim

  15. November 29th, 2014 at 13:19 | #15

    Just get some that are rated to carry more load than you need. Mine are rated to carry 420 lbs each which is almost 4 times more than needed since each is only carrying 1/4 of the total load. http://www.amazon.com/3219BC-Plated-Ceiling-Single-Pulley/dp/B000FPDGA6/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

  16. February 4th, 2015 at 11:47 | #16

    thats awesome

  17. Lance
    February 4th, 2015 at 17:36 | #17

    Do you think this would work if you made a platform and attached eye bolts to four corners and lifted a riding lawn mower or four wheeler? Approx weight would be 450lbs. I am guessing it could be a little risky but wanted your thoughts….

  18. February 4th, 2015 at 20:24 | #18

    @Lance… use good judgement and make sure your ceiling can support a static load of 2-3 time what you want to lift. In my opinion … anything is possible, but you may need to reinforce your ceiling.

  19. CW
    March 31st, 2015 at 17:11 | #19

    The most surprising thing to me about this project is that it seems not to be easily replicable for heavier loads with an off-the-shelf solution. I thought I could buy a lightweight overhead crane system with a similar design to lift approximately 1000lbs. Lots of searching to no avail.

    Here’s what I want to do for a home photo and video studio and would greatly appreciate any suggestions.

    I want to assemble a 25’ x 25’ truss rectangle using sections from http://globaltruss.com. Several lights and backdrops are to be attached to the truss, which causes the weight to be unevenly distributed.

    Instead of using stand jacks to raise the truss to about 14’ above the ground, I think it would be better to raise the structure and all the attachments with a winch. This should allow everything to be lowered and raised very quickly for changes and maintenance to a variety attachments. Although jack stands work quite well, there are lots of issues with them such as frequently climbing ladders and requiring four people to raise/lower everything.

    My thoughts are running to a 25’ x 25’ rectangle on 18’ legs, steel structure. Using several pulleys, wind everything from a remote controlled hoist.

    Where do I start?
    Thank you.
    CW

  20. June 5th, 2015 at 10:18 | #20

    This post and design is just awesome. I was looking for a solution to remove my Jeep hardtop easily and stumbled across this article. Here’s what I came up with, based on your original idea: http://www.gregwessels.com/2015/jeep-lift.html

    Many thanks for taking the time to not only design this, but also putting together a great write-up.

    Greg W.

  21. Jerry Sallee
    October 25th, 2015 at 16:16 | #21

    I love the idea and the photos! How did you determine the cable lengths for each of the 4 cables? Also, could this same system be used at the garage ceiling vs being in the attic?

    Thanks,

    Jerry

  22. October 25th, 2015 at 16:39 | #22

    @ Jerry, the lengths were quickly derived by trial and yes this type of system can be implemented on the ceiling instead of the attic. But, you need to make sure your ceiling can handle the lift and static loads you want to apply. :)

  23. Alex
    October 29th, 2015 at 16:03 | #23

    Hello, does the “brake” on the motor depend on electricity? in otherwords, if hoist looses power, will the cable be released?

  24. October 29th, 2015 at 16:17 | #24

    @Alex, the mechanical brake on the harbor freight hoist is actually an electric switch which shuts power to the hoist when using the up button. The down button will still work of course. Which means, if the hoist loses electricity, it will stop at the current position and the load will not fall to the floor. Can you imagine the lawsuits that hoist manufacturers might get if it did? I believe a winch however might release the cable if power is not applied. Hence a hoist and a winch are 2 different things.

  25. Alex
    October 29th, 2015 at 16:38 | #25

    Thank you Alan. I imagine the static lines will also give a extra feeling of confidence. After all, the hoist is harbor freight! I will be implementing your idea in a couple months, thank you for taking the time to document and answer questions!

  26. Bill
    December 1st, 2015 at 02:40 | #26

    Hi Alan. Not sure what area of the country you live in, but is the attic space above your garage heated, or is it exposed to freezing temperatures of winter? I live in Chicago and am planning on doing something very similar to your project, with the electric hoist mounted in the attic space above my garage (which has open eaves vents and is not heated). I’m worried that the hoist from Harbor freight will not work well, or could actually break, if operated in the freezing winter months here in Chicago.

  27. December 1st, 2015 at 09:29 | #27

    @Bill… I live in Michigan and the attic is not heated and is exposed to extreme cold in winter. There is absolutely no problem operating the lift in winter. I would not be concerned about it. Just make sure your ceiling can carry the static load of whatever you are lifting. My trailer is aluminum and relatively light.

  28. Marc
    January 6th, 2016 at 15:59 | #28

    It’s hard to make out from the video but what is your ceiling height? I’ve been thinking of doing something similar for a boat trailer. Although yours is certainly more elegant than what I had in mind!

  29. January 6th, 2016 at 16:08 | #29

    @Marc, I think it is around 10 feet garage ceiling. I’m 6’2″ and I have no trouble walking under my trailer. Of course it is nice that the trailer has the smaller round tires and not the thinner and taller looking tires.

  30. Phil B
    April 1st, 2016 at 20:37 | #30

    Great layout! Are the pulleys level with each other?

  31. April 1st, 2016 at 22:28 | #31

    There are 8 pulleys. 4 at each hole in the ceiling to redirect downward and 4 at the far opposite side from the lift itself. Those 4 are set in 2 tiers simply to align the pull from the lift motor. You can actually arrange them in a wonky unorthodox manner and it would still work… you just need enough distance to account for the distance you will be pulling the trailer from the ground to the ceiling. Works great! as you can see in the video.

  32. Mike Turbes
    April 9th, 2016 at 23:32 | #32

    How many feet of cable will I need per corner of trailer?

  33. Joe
    April 20th, 2016 at 17:22 | #33

    Alan, thank you for posting such a nice design. Well thought out. The diagrams and other pics were very helpful. I don’t have attic space above my garage so I inverted your design onto my garage ceiling. Took me a better part of this past weekend to complete. It really turned out nice. Wife was amazed when she returned from Florida and saw her Jeep top hanging in the garage. Thanks again!

  34. April 20th, 2016 at 17:30 | #34

    @Joe… Thanks for the update. You are very welcome and I am happy that you found it useful!

  35. mike
    June 13th, 2016 at 01:39 | #35

    have you had any problems with the pulleys seizing up

  36. June 13th, 2016 at 09:30 | #36

    @mike… no, my pulleys spin perfectly with almost no friction. I’ve heard about this problem with at least one other person. Perhaps you are not using the same brand or type of pulley as me?

  37. Jeff
    August 9th, 2016 at 23:18 | #37

    Awesome system, copying it for the jeep hard top lift like the link above. I just got the harbor freight hoist delivered and it seems like it’s supposed to be mounted with some brackets and a bar. Did you just bolt it directly to the structure you have in the pictures above it looks like? There is treading on the hoist mount, is that all you screwed into or did you also add some nuts inside the housing of the mount? Awesome system and thanks for posting!

  38. August 10th, 2016 at 00:40 | #38

    @Jeff, Thanks… the pictures tell the details pretty well.. you can click on them to get more resolution…
    These 2 images should be sufficient…

    http://www.panofish.net/img/2007-06-03_Trailer_Lift/z2_CRW_2025.jpg
    http://www.panofish.net/img/2007-06-03_Trailer_Lift/z2_c6.jpg

  39. Astro
    August 26th, 2016 at 22:29 | #39

    Alan,
    what size cables did you use for your lift? Is the pull distance from the winch to the S.S. ring the same distance from the floor to the ceiling?

  40. John
    October 17th, 2016 at 23:31 | #40

    Where did you get the stainless steel ring to connect the 4 carbineers? That is the last part I need but I have not been able to find something like that at Home Depot or Lowes yet.

  41. October 18th, 2016 at 00:30 | #41

    @John I got it at a boating supply store called West Marine. It is a stainless steel ring. http://www.westmarine.com/buy/west-marine–stainless-steel-o-rings–P002_060_006_002?recordNum=3

  42. tom peterson
    December 31st, 2016 at 09:08 | #42

    I wonder how well this would work with a heavy snow load on the roof. I live in the upper western U.P. michigan where we get 100 plus inches of snow per year

  43. george
    January 8th, 2017 at 23:25 | #43

    Thanks for sharing Alan
    great design
    going to do it with my pop up trailer.
    Weight s Around 1700 pouns.
    any tips you can think of
    tks again George

  44. Craig
    February 26th, 2017 at 20:25 | #44

    Ok, so I love what you did here. It is beautiful work. I am trying to do something similar, but with an item that will never leave the cables. In other words, they will always be loaded.

    My problem is I need a winch that will start and stop at a specific point. Does anyone make one like that??

  45. February 26th, 2017 at 20:55 | #45

    The harbor freight winch will automatically stop when it reaches the top, but the down stop is manual. But, that has never been a problem.

  46. Tom Eanes
    May 6th, 2017 at 08:47 | #46

    Roof trusses aren’t meant to support additional load…I’d be worried your roof will sag. https://www.familyhandyman.com/diy-advice/garage-storage-how-much-weight-can-trusses-take/amp. Not sure if you install large beam across to help with load. Otherwise pretty cool

  47. May 6th, 2017 at 11:58 | #47

    @Tom Eanes, You are absolutely correct that the trusses are not engineered to carry much load. Fortunately they can easily carry the load of my lightweight aluminum trailer. Any sag that must be there is not visible to the naked eye. I’m sure if I measured it, there would be some sag though, but it is very very small. The trailer has been hanging there for more than a decade now and pulled down for use when needed and stored back up there.

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