A Hi-Lift jack mount for the JATAC

The Hi-Lift jack is a useful tool, but it’s also a pain to carry securely on a vehicle, especially if you want to keep it reasonably accessible. I’ve seen many mounts that achieved one but not the other—and too often, safety loses out to convenience. Sadly I had neither a camera nor a cell phone with me a few years ago when I spotted a Hi-Lift mounted horizontally on top of a bull bar on a truck, just above hood level—and secured with a pair of tightly wrapped bungee cords. The imagery of what could happen if that truck were smartly rear-ended was . . . colorful, not to mention what could happen to an innocent person if Mr. Thatoughttaholdit rear-ended someone else. For reference, a 30-pound Hi-Lift mounted on a vehicle that comes to an abrupt halt from 30 mph exerts a force of 903 foot-pounds of energy on whatever is holding it to that vehicle.  

I see a lot of Hi-Lifts bolted to roof racks—secure, safe but for the modest impact on CG, and more likely to stay free of road grime, which can quickly foul the Hi-Lift’s mechanism. It’s not a bad spot if you can access it without climbing. Also good are dedicated mounts on rear tire carriers (as opposed to the ones that bolt behind the spare tire, which are a pain). I suppose a properly engineered mount atop a bull bar is okay; it’s certainly handy there. But I’ve never seen one that didn’t impede forward vision and access to the engine compartment. And on a strictly personal note, it looks just a little too, well, Moaby, if I may coin a word. 

Mounting a Hi-Lift on the JATAC presented its own challenges. The roof is out of reach and devoted to solar panels. We’ll be installing a Hi-Lift-compatible winch bumper up front soon, but that was rejected for the reasons stated above. And we’ve also decided not to install a rear bumper with big swingaways, to hold down mass at the back of the vehicle. What did that leave us?

I asked Tom Hanagan at Four Wheel Campers about fabricating a mount that would bolt to the rear wall of the camper, directly through the vertical aluminum frame members, to hold the jack vertically to the right of the door. He thought it could work, but was hesitant to sanction the idea unequivocally. And that location would still hang the mass off the back of the vehicle.

Then, while walking around the truck stroking my chin and pondering, I noticed the area where the camper overhangs the truck’s bed on each side. I held up a Hi-Lift to the spot, and it tucked in as though designed to ride there. The location would be completely out of the way yet quickly accessed, and while the weight would still be toward the back, it was significantly forward of a rear wall mount. I decided to mount it on the passenger side, to compensate for the weight of the truck’s fuel tank and the camper’s water heater, both of which are on the driver’s side.

I used two short lengths of two-inch-square steel tube for the brackets. First I located the spots I’d drill through to hang the brackets—one in the propane tank compartment, one behind the fridge inside the camper. I used two 1/4-inch grade 8 bolts with fender washers to anchor each bracket through the plywood (which fortuitously is double thickness in the propane compartment, where the heaviest part of the jack would be). To secure the jack to the brackets, I used a 3/8ths-inch grade 8 bolt on each one. The bolt was too long to slide into the tube and down through the hole I drilled, so I drilled an adjacent hole and made a slot to get the bolt through. I tack-welded each bolt in place, and welded a short piece of thicker steel under each bolt as reinforcement. On the rear mount I extended the reinforcing strip forward and drilled a hole through it, to secure a padlock through the mount and the standard of the jack.

Positioning the mounts laterally was tricky. I wanted the jack tucked all the way under the camper, but needed clearance to drop it free of the mounting bolts without scraping the sheet metal of the truck’s bed. With a bit of winkling, I got them just about right. One needs to be cautious and not just yank the jack free; it must be twisted slightly to get in or out without hitting the lifting mechanism on the back of the bed, but it’s easy to do single-handed. To secure the jack to the bracket I use a grade 8 nut to hold the weight, and a nylock wingnut to keep it snug.

 The next issue was to ensure the jack’s operating handle stayed secure while driving. I have a stock rubber handle keeper, which slides over the handle and the standard, but it can migrate when subjected to vibration. So I fabricated a modified version from some half-inch-thick polyethylene I had around, and cut two polyethylene pieces that lock the keeper in place via a spring clevis pin. Done.

With the jack’s base plate in place, the right turn signal is just slightly obscured from above and behind the truck. It would only be an issue if someone in a semi was close behind us, but we’ll keep the base plate in our recovery kit anyway, and thus avoid potential legal issues as well. With that gone, one needs to be absolutely certain that the selecting lever of the jack is in the “lift” position, otherwise the entire lifting mechanism could migrate off the back of the standard while driving (or be propelled off it in an accident). Not good. I’ll use some sort of secondary arrangement as backup, likely a short bolt and wing nut. (Note here: A Hi-Lift should always be stored with the lever in the lift position anyway.)

So far the arrangement works perfectly. The jack is totally out of the way, yet easy to retrieve. In terms of safety, the mount should be secure through any but the most catastrophic impact: The force applied by the brackets to the floor of the camper would be in sheer; with four grade 8 bolts securing the assembly I’m sanguine. 

Next task: to mount a front bumper on the JATAC that will properly accept a Hi-Lift jack for recovery purposes.