If you ever wanted to make car maintenance a little easier, you probably considered a car ramp. The good news is that you don’t need to pay a bunch of money or befriend a mechanic if you want your own car ramp. In this ultimate guide, I’ll give you step-by-step instructions to build your own.
For the detailed guide, look at the bottom of this article. The short answer is that you need to build a multi-tiered, chamfered stack of lumber. Each board will be drilled together, and the end result will be a series of boards that have 45-degree angles leading up to the top. Once constructed, you’ll have a sturdy way to elevate your vehicle.
I’ll start by diving into car ramps. I’ll outline what they’re used for, the benefits of a car ramp, some considerations to make, and then finally I’ll get into the 10-step process for making your own from scratch.
What’s a Car Ramp?
A car ramp is a way to elevate your car without the use of a car lift or car jack. If you look at the back of a flatbed tow truck, you’ll see a ramp that leads to the flat part of the truck. This is a real-world example of a car ramp.
In this case, I’m not talking about something that high-tech or serious. I’m talking about a little DIY version of that.
People will have car ramps at their houses to make car maintenance and repairs a lot easier. The idea is that you can just drive your car onto a set of portable ramps, do the repairs while the car is highly elevated, then drive your car off the ramps.
In the version I’m talking about later, you’re adding an extra 6” of ground clearance under your car. This gives you space to crawl under and do your repairs.
The Uses for a Car Ramp
Car ramps are primarily used for maintenance, servicing, and fixing a car. The consumer-grade alternative to this is a car jack with jack stands. In fact, any comparison I’ll be making in this guide will be to a jack and jack stand.
A car ramp is a safe way to elevate your car with a much lower risk of it falling over or crashing down.
It can be used to change your oil or work on brake lines — the complexity of the project doesn’t matter. The ramp is just there to keep your car high off the ground and still while you do your work.
Benefits of a DIY Car Ramp
I’m a huge fan of car ramps. I used them growing up, and it was one of the first things I remember building out of wood when I was younger. A lot of other people are fans of car ramps, and that’s because these ramps have a ton of benefits. Let me tell you some of the biggest ones.
Get Unparalleled Clearance
Above everything else, a ramp will elevate your car above everything else. (Sorry about that). A ramp will give you clearance under your car that can’t be compared to a jack.
In the ramp we’re building later, you’ll get 6” of additional ground clearance. A jack can provide maybe four or five inches if you splurge for a more expensive one. Typically, you’ll safely get two or three inches of clearance.
When you’re DIYing a ramp, you can go higher, as long as you tweak the design. You want to keep a stable base, so your car doesn’t wobble off the ramp.
Since you’ll build four-car ramps, the weight is distributed evenly amongst four assemblies. With a car jack, one jack is responsible for the whole vehicle.
A lot of jacks will top out at 3,000 or 4,000 pounds. With this ramp, you can easily elevate double that weight. A consumer-grade ramp that you buy off the shelf can hold up to 24,000 pounds and beyond.
It’s a Very Safe Way to Elevate Your Car
One of my biggest fears is accidentally kicking a car jack while it’s being used. The truth is that carjacks aren’t that safe. Since they’re on wheels, it’s easy for them to decide to move and dump your car. This is the sole reason why jack stands exist in the first place.
With a DIY ramp and wheel chocks, you don’t have to worry about watching your step as you walk around the car.
With a jack, there’s also a level of finesse when you pick a spot to jack from. Putting the jack on your car’s body will bend the metal and can lead to rusting. It takes some learning before you can safely use a jack.
Easy to Use
After you build the ramp, it’s so easy to use. You just get in the car and slowly drive forward until you can’t anymore. I’m not overexaggerating.
As you know, jacks will take multiple minutes to set up, raise your car, and position the jack stands.
The other ease-of-use component comes from the fact that a ramp will elevate your entire car, not just one quarter or one half of it.
Am I the only one who gets a little scared when I’m on my back under a car that’s only supported by a jack or jack stand? With a ramp, you get wide-open access under your car. You can crawl around in peace as you try to find that wrench you keep misplacing.
Makes Oil Changes a Breeze
Later on, I’ll mention that DIYing a ramp isn’t great if you just want to do oil changes. The truth is that ramps are hands-down the best way to change your oil if you compare it to jacking up your car.
If you can overlook the time and sweat you’ll need to put into making a ramp, you’ll really save your back. Since the car is so high up, you have more elbow room to loosen the bolt, set up the oil drain pan, replace the oil, and get back on the road.
It’s actually surprising once you realize how much of the oil-changing hassle simply comes from the fact that space is so constricted under a jacked car.
Ideal for Project Cars
If you have a car that’s going through extensive repairs, replacements, and rebuilding, you need a car ramp. You can keep the car on these ramps for as long as you want.
Jack stands are mechanical pieces, and they still have a risk of failing. That means that you should never use a jack or jack stand as a semi-permanent solution.
It’s a Fun and Low-Stress DIY Project
Building these ramps is almost therapeutic. It’s a very easy DIY project, and it could be a nice introduction to someone who wants to pursue more DIYing in the future.
It’s definitely going to take time and thought to finish, but the project is really hard to mess up. All you need is a few planks of wood, some screws, and a good plan on how to approach it. After that, it’s a matter of following my step-by-step guide at the bottom of this article.
Things to Consider Before Making a Car Ramp
Car ramps need to meet specific criteria before they become usable. There are actually a number of things you need to consider before you decide to make a car ramp. I’m not trying to talk you out of building a ramp, I just want to point some topics out that might change your mind and allow you to pick an easier solution.
Do You Want to Just Buy One?
If you prefer to simply purchase a set of car ramps I would this set from RhinoGear on Amazon. They’re hard to beat simply for the factor of how light they are and have a good weight capacity.
The difference is that buying a ramp is a whole lot quicker than building one from scratch.
The Overall Price
Building a car ramp is typically the less expensive option (as long as lumber prices are back to normal near you). If I shop near me, it costs about $50 for all the materials I need. This is assuming you have access to the tools you’ll need.
If you want to save money, you can make the ramp a little smaller, though I wouldn’t suggest doing so. It might make the ramp too steep, and it ultimately would save maybe $10.
Needs to Support Enough Weight
Building a ramp involves doing some calculations. A Honda Civic can weigh around 3,000 pounds, and that’s definitely not light.
Luckily for you, I did some quick math before putting together the design that I’ll describe later. Not only that, but I’ve personally parked a Jeep 4×4 on it (about 5,000 pounds) and the ramps worked perfectly.
The benefit of a four ramp setup is that each ramp will take a chunk of the total weight. Instead of each ramp supporting 4,000 pounds, they will each support 1,000 pounds.
If you want to pick the right material for this project, you’re looking at either metal or wood. Since the metal will be more expensive, harder to work on, and more difficult to design, I’m sticking with standard 2×4 boards for this project.
The Size Matters
The overall size is critical. I built a ramp that will fit a Jeep Wrangler or any standard compact car. If you have a big truck, SUV, or minivan, I wouldn’t suggest my design. You’ll need to make it beefier and probably taller as well.
The width of the ramp will be determined by the width of your wheels. You want most of the wheel to be resting on the boards. If your wheels are too wide, your car can shift and kick the ramps away.
The length will be determined by your vehicle’s ground clearance. If your car is lowered, then my design might be too steep for you. Instead, you’ll need to opt for a more gradual angle that allows you to go up without scraping your body.
The height will change how easy it is to work on your car. Ideally, you’d have a car lift that can jack your car multiple feet off the ground. We don’t have that luxury here, so I went with a low-profile option that offers 6” in total height. For me, that’s enough space to squeeze under a car and do work without the fear of the car toppling over from being too high off the ground.
Do You Have Space to Store it?
These ramps will ultimately be 46”x11”x1.5” and there will be four of them. Do you have enough space to store them? If you live in a small apartment, it might be a tight squeeze to find space for them.
Maybe that means you’ll need to do some engineering to find a way to make these ramps stackable and easy to store.
How Often Will You Need a Ramp?
You should also ask yourself how necessary a ramp really is. It’s certainly convenient, but how often will you need to raise your car? If you’re thinking about building a ramp just for an annual oil change, it might not be worth it.
This project is going to take multiple hours to make, and it could easily eat up a whole weekend.
Personally, I would only build the ramp if I had a need to work on my car multiple times a year. For your oil change, a high-quality jack and set of jack stands will work perfectly and give you plenty of clearance.
Again, not trying to talk you out of building this, I just want to give you the facts.
You Won’t Be Able to Remove the Wheels
On a car ramp, your wheels are supporting your vehicle. This means that you can’t take off the wheels no matter what.
That means you’ll need to ignore any tire rotations, brake work, and suspension work from your to-do list.
These ramps are made specifically for doing work on the undercarriage of your vehicle.
Step-By-Step Guide to Build a Simple DIY Car Ramp
This guide will walk you through making a simple DIY car ramp. It will be strong enough to get the job done and elevate your vehicle about 6” off the ground. If you try to go higher using this design, you run the risk of tipping the ramps over and getting crushed under your car.
What You’ll Need
With this design, the materials you need are pretty minimal and easy to find. You’ll need:
- 48’ of 2×4 lumber, four sections of 12’
- Wood screws
- Wood glue
- Staple gun with staples (heavy-duty)
- Driver drill
- Miter saw
- Shelf liner, four pieces of 42”x2”
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
You should start by getting your materials together. This project is easiest if you have a woodshop you can work in, but you can definitely build it in your garage or driveway.
Step 2: Cut the Boards to Size
It’s easiest if you start with a 12’ board and make the cuts that you’ll need for one assembly. The final product will consist of four independent ramp assemblies.
With your 12’ board, cut five boards:
- One 42” board
- One 36” board
- One 30” board
- One 25” board
- One 11” board
You can repeat this process with the remaining three 12’ boards, but make sure you keep each group of five boards separate. You don’t want to accidentally put the wrong board on another assembly.
Step 3: Chamfer the Edges
All of the boards except for the 11” board need a chamfer. You need to make a 45-degree angle on one edge of every one of these.
The direction of the angle nor the side you put it on will matter at this point. Since the boards are uniform, you can just flip them around to get the correct orientation later.
You should use a miter saw for this, or you can just use a sander with plenty of patience.
These edges will act as a ramp to help you drive to the top of the stack of boards.
Step 4: Drill Pilot Holes
Next, you should drill some pilot holes. These holes will help you drive the screws into each board later. It’s a good idea to stagger these holes since you’ll be screwing two boards together at a time.
2.5” wood screws are the best option for this project. The pilot hole needs to be undersized as compared to the diameter of the screw. For instance, a #10 screw has a 0.19” diameter. Your pilot hole should use a 1/8 straight bit.
The location of the pilot holes is important. You want to place each plank with the chamfer pointing upwards. The pilot holes will be on the opposite side of the chamfered side.
Drill the pilot holes all the way through each board and maintain the same locations for the holes.
With a strong enough drill driver, you don’t necessarily need pilot holes, but they definitely help.
Step 5: Connect the Boards and Sand
Now you can start laying the boards. You’ll start with the largest board on the base then work your way up with each progressively smaller board.
The first step involves stacking the 36” board on top of the 42” board. Align the pilot holes and make sure both chamfers are facing upwards. Use your driver to drive a wood screw until the top face is flush with the 36” board’s top face.
Grab a piece of sandpaper and clean up around the screws. There’s a chance that wood chips will be present. These chips can interfere with how the boards will stack, so it’s wise to knock them off now.
Stack the 30” board on top of the two screwed-together boards. The pilot holes should be staggered so you can drill without hitting the first set of screws. Follow the same process and screw then sand these boards together.
Next, do the same for the 25” board. Do not use the 11” board yet.
Repeat this process three more times and build three more stacks of screwed-together wood. Afterward, you should have four semi-completed ramps comprised of four boards each.
Step 6: Attach a Stopper
The 11” board is going to be your stopper. The ramp has no hard stop. Which means you can easily drive your car too far and fall off the ramp, falling 6” to the ground underneath. This is where the stopper comes in.
Turn the 11” board so that it’s perpendicular to the four-board stack. In other words, the 11” part of the board is going up and down against the horizontally-build ramp.
Hold the board against the flat end of the ramp you just made. Indicate the centerline of each of the four boards with a horizontal mark along the 11” board. Now you have four lines that you’ll drill on.
Remove the board and cover the face that will be touching the ramp with wood glue. Use your finger to evenly spread the glue across the board.
The glue won’t be the only thing holding this board together, but it will help keep the board in position and add a little bit of strength.
You should drill two screws through each of these lines, which will fasten each horizontal board to this vertical board two times. In total, you’ll have eight screws going through each 11” board.
Go through and drive each screw, being mindful of where the existing screws already are. You don’t want to run into any of those.
Repeat this process for the remaining three ramps.
Now, you have four ramps with stoppers at the end.
Optional: Add Another, Smaller Stopper
If you want to be extra safe, you can throw in an extra stopper. You can cut four small 1.5”x1.5” blocks to act as these stoppers.
The stoppers will go on the top face of the 25” board, pushed all the back so they’re touching the upright 11” board. With these little blocks supporting the corners, you can drive a pair of screws down from the top face and the front face. This will connect the mini stopper to the 11” stopper as well as the 25” top board.
Again, repeat this for the remaining three ramps.
Step 7: Attach the Shelf Liner Base
You have a fully constructed ramp, but there’s still the issue of friction. If you try to drive on the ramps as-is, there’s a good chance you’ll just push the ramps and you won’t drive up them. That’s because the bottom surface of these ramps doesn’t have enough friction.
It’s time to attach the shelf liner. This liner works like the top face of a skateboard — it will keep the ramps still while you drive up them.
Personally, I’d use a staple gun to affix the shelf liner. Start by flipping all the ramps over so you expose the flat bottom. Wrap the shelf liner so that the edges are along the sides of the 46” board (you don’t want the edges on the bottom of the board).
Use your staple gun to add a staple every few inches, all the way around the perimeter of the board.
Repeat for the remaining three ramps.
Step 8: Drive Up the Ramp
Your ramps are ready to use. Line them up either right in front of or right behind your car. Personally, I would always drive forward onto the ramps. It’s a little easier to control the throttle, and it’s also safer. If you back into the ramps, your car is pointing towards the open section of each ramp. It means your car can roll down into you as you work on the front end of the car.
Make sure all four ramps are positioned, and your wheels are aligned near the center point of each ramp.
If possible, put your car into low gear mode. Be very gentle on the throttle, you don’t want to overdo it. If possible, have a buddy stand outside of your car and guide you up. Have them check on alignment and make sure you’re all the way up to the stoppers before you throw it in Park.
I would suggest applying the parking brake once you’re at the top of the ramp.
Step 9: Don’t Forget the Chocks
You should never start working on a car that’s on your ramp unless you have wheel chocks behind the rear wheels. Wheel Chocks are made of grippy rubber, and they’re used to wedge your wheels.
This prevents your car from rolling back and falling off the ramp.
Even in Park with your parking brake engaged, your car can theoretically roll off the ramp. It’s always the best practice to keep all your wheels chocked.
Step 10: See How You Like it
Before signing off on the design, you should see how you like it. Is 6” enough clearance, or is it too much? It’s a lot easier to remake the ramp now that you have all the tools laid out and the process fresh in your mind.
If you have massive tires, a 1.5” wide ramp might not be enough. This means you’ll need to double-up and screw two ramps together to make one for each wheel (meaning you’ll need eight ramps in total).
If your car’s suspension is lowered, then this ramp might be too high and steep. You can remake a ramp with a 30-degree angle instead, and use two or three boards instead of four.
There you have it. I just went in-depth and taught you all about car ramps. At this point, you have my step-by-step guide, and I hope you decide to build your own ramp in the future and follow along. If you want more ultimate guides like this one, check out the rest of my site. I also have a list of car products I recommend that can make maintenance even easier in the future.