Don't Trust Your Life To These Jack Stands

Illustration for article titled Don't Trust Your Life To These Jack Stands
Photo: Harbor Freight, Illustration: Andrew P Collins

I love shopping at Harbor Freight, where tools are cheap and plentiful. But you mostly get what you pay for. In fact, there’s a tradesperson’s adage you’d do well to heed: “If your job or your life depends on it, don’t buy it from Harbor Freight.” This recently expanding recall on jack stands really drives that point home.


On March 20, 2020, Harbor Freight recalled six-ton jack stands made between June 2013 and November 2019. “ was determined that product quality had become inconsistent due to aging of the tooling,” states NHTSA recall 20E-016. As the recall describes the safety risk specifically:

“Under load, with a potential shift in weight, on certain units the jack stand pawl may disengage from the extension lifting post, allowing the stand to drop suddenly, with potential to injure people near or under a lifted vehicle.”


Then on May 3, 2020, Harbor Freight recalled three-ton jack stands for essentially the same reason. (See NHTSA recall 20E-027.) So, all up, that’s 1,708,000 jack stands potentially affected.

And frankly, after hearing this, how safe do you feel about using HF’s bigger stands? Thought so. Get rid of them.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Harbor Freight, it’s America’s most-known discount hardware store chain. (I guess if you don’t know HF you might not know what a jack stand is: It’s a safety device that holds a car up so you can climb under it and do mechanical work.)


With a few exceptions, HF sells its own house brands of everything from jacks to saws to ratchet sets to whatever. The hallmark of these products, generally, is that they’re inferior to rivals in build quality but so much cheaper that a lot of people don’t mind or care.

And for a lot of things, it doesn’t really matter. For a weekend tinkerer like myself, it’s fine to run mildly janky screwdrivers and hand saws and such when they’re basically being given away for free. And they often are free! HF loves gimmicks like throwing in free junk with your purchases. My Pittsburgh-brand cordless drill has served me well for years of light-duty work, same goes for plenty of other hand tools I’ve copped from HF.


For some, the logic is that you can burn up a lot of $40 drills before you’ve justified spending $200 on a nicer one. This logic works really well when applied to stuff you don’t use a often.

Of course the real money move of savvy tool shoppers is to get high-quality used tools that will last a long time and not cost you a fortune, but that’s not always convenient or practical.


Moral of the story here though: If you’ve got Harbor Freight jack stands that were recalled, check in on the above-linked cases to figure out what to do. If you have other Harbor Freight jack stands, I’d strongly recommend ditching them or relegating them to non-life-preserving duty. Being crushed by your car because a cheap jack stand failed would be such a deeply awful way to be killed or maimed, why risk it to save a few bucks?

Jalopnik Staffer from 2013 to 2020, now Editor-In-Chief at Car Bibles


Auto Guy

Best practices guide for Harbor Freight stuff:

1. If it spins, wear safety goggles or face shield.

2. If it exerts force, wear goggles and gloves. Guard your knuckles, and be prepared to destroy the tool or whatever it is you’re working on.

3. If it’s electric, take appropriate anti-electrocution precautions.

4. When your tool or workpiece breaks / gets damaged, do not get mad, you will only make things worse. If you broke the tool, take it back to HF, and the bored clerk may give you a new one for free.

5. The quality of HF tools is exactly as high as it needs to be... to convince you to buy.

6. Rule-of-thumb: HF in-house stuff is 70% as good as the top products. You may only need it to be 60% as good, though, so maybe that’s good enough. Some of their products are getting surprisingly good. Read the reviews, often.

7. Never trust your life to one of their jacks. And never trust your life to one of their jack stands.

8. They have decent-ish prices on the name-brand stuff.

9. You can never have too many free flashlights or voltmeters (best used on 12V and under circuits, please).

Other thoughts:

I have no idea how they stay in business from a liability standpoint.

The rest of the hand-tool / shop tool industry is moving en masse to China, so even name brands are suffering. Eventually, China will get better at this. After all, they made your iPhone.

And, yes, I shop there all the time. I try to match the expected quality, price, and need.