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What Is a Tail Lift?

By Paul Scott
Updated May 23, 2024
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A tail lift is a mechanical cargo or material lifting aid permanently located at the load area entrance for trucks, ambulances, and vans with elevated load beds. A tail lift typically consists of a load platform that swings down to lie flat for loading and then back up again to stow securely against the vehicle's tail gate or back doors during transit. This platform runs on tracks or linkages which allow it to be lowered to the ground for loading and lifted back up to the level of the load bed where material on it can simply be pushed into the vehicle. Most tail lift mechanisms are electrically, pneumatically, or hydraulically driven, although smaller variants may be manually operated. Tail lifts generally fall into two categories, cantilever and column, depending on the type of lifting mechanism used to raise and lower the load platform.

Loading cargo into vehicles with raised load beds by hand is a time consuming, laborious, and often dangerous task which can add considerably to turnaround times for transport companies and their customers. In many cases, loading from raised platforms allows carts or trolleys to be pushed into the vehicle. Ancillary vehicles such as forklifts also make light work of this type of operation. Where these facilities are not present, however, the task is often close to impossible. In these instances, a tail lift equipped vehicle may be used which makes loading heavy or awkward material into high load beds easier.

The tail lift is basically a flat load platform mounted on a pair of tracks or a cantilever linkage arrangement at the rear of the truck. The platform is secured flat against the back of the truck during transit and then swung down to lie at 90° for loading. The platform moves up and down from a raised position level with the entrance to the vehicle load bed to a lowered position on the ground. This motion is generally controlled via a set of buttons located inside or outside the truck's load area. This allows the lift to be lowered to the ground, loaded with cargo, and then lifted up to the level of the load bed where the cargo is pushed or wheeled into the vehicle.

Most heavy duty tail lift mechanisms are driven electrically, pneumatically, or by a hydraulic pump. Smaller versions may be manually operated with a lead screw arrangement similar to a vertical jack. The tail lift is generally available in one of two types depending on the exact mechanism used to raise and lower the platform. The first is the cantilever type which uses a set of hinged linkages to move and change the angle of the platform. The second is the column lift which utilizes a pair of tracks on which the platform runs vertically at a set, 90° angle.

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