Driver Knowledge Tests

Tail lifts and tailgates: which type should you choose?

A tail lift or tailgate is a folding platform which can be used to lift and lower goods when loading and unloading a truck, van or ute. They’re useful when goods are at ground level and need to be lifted into the vehicle, and vice versa. They also function as a bridge plate between the vehicle and a dock (subject to restrictions on the weight they can carry).

There are different types of tail lift. On medium rigid and heavy rigid trucks, the most common types are cantilever and folding, whereas on utes and small trucks, column or railgate tail lifts are more common.

Regardless of the type of tail lift, drivers need to get tail lift training due to the risks of crush injuries, falls from heights, issues with load stability, and the potential for overloading the platform.

Cantilever tail lifts

The platform forms part or all of the rear door. It folds up and down using a tilt ram.

The advantages of a cantilever tail lift are:

  • It only takes two actions to open the tail gate: fold open the platform, then lower the platform to the ground. This makes it quicker to deploy than a folding tail lift
  • The driver doesn’t have to walk into the traffic lane as there’s no rear door to open
  • There’s no manual handling of a heavy tail lift, unlike a folding tail lift
  • The tail lift’s capacity as a bridge plate tends to be more than with a folding tail lift
  • There’s more ground clearance at the rear of the truck, meaning less likelihood of the tail lift mechanism hitting the ground when leaving or entering steep driveways.
  • Cantilever tail lifts tend to have larger capacity then folding tail lifts – approaching 10 tonnes for some units

The disadvantages of a cantilever tail lift are:

  • When backing up to chiller docks, the truck cannot form a seal around the dock face because it must leave enough room for the tail lift to retract
  • Heavy forklifts cannot load directly into the back of the truck if they would exceed the platform’s rated capacity

Folding tail lifts

Folding tail lifts come in two varieties: slider (retractable) and tuck-under (tuck-away). In both cases, the driver needs to manually unfold the tail lift at some point.

The advantages of a folding tail lift are:

  • Better for dock loading – reverse to the dock, open the doors, no need to use the tail lift, and it’s not in the way
  • They tend to be lighter than a cantilever tail lift, meaning slightly more load capacity is available in the truck, and there’s less fuel economy penalty

The disadvantages of a folding tail lift are:

  • Takes longer to deploy
  • Requires manual handling
  • Doesn’t have the capacity options of a cantilever tail lift (although, they can be purchased with capacities approaching 3000kg)
  • Can’t be used as a bridge plate unless forklift locks are used
  • The driver has to open the tail lift, and then open the rear doors of the truck, meaning that they have to walk into the traffic lane to secure the driver’s side door
  • Because the folded tail lift sits under the rear of the truck, this can drag on the road when entering or exiting steep driveways

Column and railgate tail lifts

Column tail lifts are light duty tail lifts which are easy to retrofit and don’t weigh much.

The advantages of column tail lifts are:

  • Suitable for smaller vehicles such as small trucks and utes
  • Cheaper than cantilever and folding tail lifts
  • Can (in some configurations) lift higher than the deck, which means they can be used for trailers with mezzanine decks (e.g. race car transporters)
  • Cycle time (time to open) is very quick

The disadvantages of a column tail lift are:

  • The platform cannot be angled down – it opens to 90 degrees
  • Lower capacity – typically no more than 750kg
  • The platform cannot be very deep because of the capacity limitations and the leverage on the vehicle

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

Posted in Advice