Ramps versus pits: up or down?01 September 2017

Euro Municipal has taken a set of Stertil Koni ST1075FSA electro-hydraulic lifts

“Subjective” seems to be the best term to describe the decision whether to plough cash into installing a vehicle inspection pit, or buy or lease some column lifts. Peter Shakespeare opens the debate

Gather together a group of workshop managers and commercial vehicle technicians to debate the pros and cons of inspection pits versus column lifts or ramps, and it is probable it will go the same way as discussing Marmite.

Despite the popularity of lifts, over the last ten years or so there has been a renewed understanding that vehicle testing pits have a lot to offer, according to Premier Pits managing director Mel Burrell. He says that potential customers of pits should keep in mind factors such as economies, efficiency, working conditions and safety. And when weighing up the benefits, they should also think about costs: the price of a pit depends on length, installation conditions and accessories.

He says: “In our experience, in terms of running costs, vehicle pits win hands down. Once installed, a pit can last forever. Lights and safety covers may need to be replaced from time to time, but other than a re-spray, the new steel prefabricated pits have very few other running costs. Lifts need constant maintenance and replacement parts. On top of this, they have a finite life. Lifts can also lead to cracked floors. The strength of the floor has to be considered.” However, one architectural consideration is head height; pits are suitable for buildings with low ceilings.

Mike Selby, marketing manager of workshop jacking equipment manufacturer Majorlift, agrees that pits do have their place in a modern workshop. He says: “Pits are generally accepted as the safest and easiest method of accessing a truck or bus for inspection, maintenance or major repairs. But early pits used to have a big problem with water ingress; typically in flat areas of the country such as East Anglia. This however was overcome when the steel bath-style pit came on the market, with the advantage of having all the services incorporated. The early pits were considered dangerous: a big hole in the workshop floor, waiting for someone or something to fall down it. Now most modern pits have a sliding cover, a fact that pleases health and safety officers,” adds Selby.

Whatever facility is chosen needs to be efficient within the operations of a busy commercial vehicle workshop. An example of one of those is Volvo Truck & Bus Centre London’s (VT&BCL) Basingstoke facility, which takes care of local Volvo customers, and local bus and coach fleets, and another big local customer (see below).

The garage’s service controller Brian Bellwood points out that it has had two pitted lanes for many years. One is about to be replaced with a new prefabricated steel pit from Premier Pits for use as an ATF lane.

He says: “We have a drive-through workshop and can get four tractor units at a time over the pits. We are a 24-hour depot and have the service contract for the Sainsbury’s fleet next door [70 Volvo tractors, 30 Mercedes rigids and at least 200 trailers] so there is a high throughput of units and semi-trailers. And you can’t easily inspect and service trailers using column lifts.”

So far, so positive; pits provide a quick and efficient option. But what Bellwood doesn’t like are the working conditions that the pits require. He explains: “They are the wrong depth for some operations, and are uncomfortable to work from if the mechanic is working on things like steering joint kingpins or anything towards the outside of the vehicle.”

He adds that they are prone to flooding in heavy rain; they also require additional lighting and jacking equipment; and they can fill up with fumes. “Compared with our column lifts, the pits are a health and safety headache,” he complains.

Bellwood’s workshop also services many multi-axle rigids, coaches and buses, for which he prefers column lifts. He continues: “When it comes to working on coaches and buses, where there is limited access to the chassis, drive train and suspension from the side of the vehicle [as the bodywork extends down to wheel level], lifts make access much easier.” From the confines of the pit, reaching some body assemblies can be a stretch.

Column lifts and jacks also provide more space to work. He says: “For replacing major assemblies, such as engines, axles and transmissions, using lifts to access the underside of the vehicle is by far the best solution.”

VT&BCL’s Basingstoke workshop is equipped with mobile, battery-operated column lifts from Totalkare. They are purchased outright, but covered by a maintenance contract that is said to be low cost. Another brand is Stertil Koni; Euro Municipal has taken a set of its ST1075FSA electro-hydraulic lifts.

Premier Pits’ Burrell admits that initial set-up costs for lifts are generally lower than pits, though he adds that lift costs vary by type and quality. Some types of underground lifts are more expensive than pits, for example.

Bellwood argues that although column lifts take longer to set up, they have the benefit of being able to be adapted to multiple configurations. He says: “Our latest lifts are controlled wirelessly and give us complete flexibility. Each one has a 7.5-tonne capacity and we can use up to eight at a time, so can lift a fully loaded 8x4 tipper with ease.” Not having cables removes the trip hazard, he points out, and are only plugged in when recharging, which can be done away from the shop floor.

They also have done away with ramps, he judges; although they may still be a regular feature of car and van workshops, Bellwood only knows of one across the VT&BCL network of eight depots. That holdout, at a depot near Heathrow, still uses a ramp because of the quantity of buses that it services.

According to Bellwood, the lifts’ only shortcoming is the distance between the lift lanes and the lube feeds, which are installed by the pits.

The garage service controller concludes: “Because we have drive-through [operations], the pits are the default option for routine servicing and inspection. But without this, I don’t think there would be much in it, time wise.”


Richard Sullivan is director, industrial & logistics, at commercial property agent Savills. He says the value of a VMU (vehicle maintenance unit) is totally dependent on the user’s business model.

Sullivan explains: “Should the user or its transport provider require on-site vehicle maintenance, then the existence of a VMU makes the site more attractive. But with the monies involved in large logistics sites running into millions, the additional cost of putting up a relatively small building to house a VMU is not great in the wider scheme of things.

“If the property is leased and the agreement’s fixtures and fittings clause requires the property to be returned to its original condition at the end of the lease period, then any investment would not be realised.

“My gut feeling is that a solution such as mobile lifts – which can be easily installed and removed – is best, as it offers the broadest options to a prospective buyer, and, if leased, doesn’t expose the user to issues at termination.”


‘Expensive business?’ – https://is.gd/osiquz

‘Lane discipline’ – https://is.gd/joxute

‘Safety first’ – https://is.gd/xajesu

Peter Shakespeare

Related Downloads

Related Companies
Majorlift Hydraulic Equipment Ltd
Premier Pits
Stertil UK Ltd
Volvo Truck and Bus Centre London

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