If there is one thing that every single mechanic out there has experienced, whether working in a professional shop or a home shop, it’s being unable to see what you’re doing very well. Even with the hood raised, it’s pretty darn dark in the engine bay. It’s just as dark underneath a vehicle, even when raised on a lift.
The solution to this challenge is to have the right work lights. However, there are quite literally dozens of different styles and designs out there, all vying for your money. Which are the best choices? We’ll run through some of the better options and help you understand how each fits into your workday.
Types of Work Lights
In this section, we will detail a few of the most commonly used types of work lights, how they work, and how they benefit you.
Hooked Utility Lights
You’ll find hooked utility lights in both battery power and direct connection types (plug-in). They all do one thing very well, though – they hook onto a part of the car and hang there, providing you with ample illumination while leaving your hands free for work. They’re great for working under the hood, on suspension components, exhaust, and more.
Stand Flood Lights
Stand flood lights offer excellent illumination for a very wide area. You’ll find single, double, and quadruple light models on the market, and they are all freestanding. They are not that great for under-hood work, but they can be good options for any work with the vehicle in the air (transmission removal, etc.).
Retractable Cord Lights
Retractable cord lights are similar to hooked utility lights, except that the power cord is contained in a metal or plastic housing. This allows you to play out just as much as you need, and avoid trip hazards from having extension cords running through your work area.
Rechargeable Light Sticks
The light stick format is used with a wide range of work light types, including hooked utility lights and more. However, the rechargeable format offers cord-free operation, allowing you a bit more freedom and flexibility. Most are LED lights to reduce power consumption and increase light emission.
Magnetic lights come in a wide range of styles and designs, but they all have one thing in common – they use a magnet to allow you to mount the light to the vehicle or to the body of your lift for hands-free operation. You’ll find both rechargeable and corded options available.
Every mechanic needs a good flashlight. We recommend the type with rechargeable batteries. Most big-name tool companies offer some worthy options, including Makita, Milwaukee, Snap-On, and the rest. Look for one with a quick charging system to minimize downtime, though.
Sometimes, a flashlight is just too big for the job. Peering under hoses and around cables, or through tiny gaps between components requires the right tool. A penlight is a must-have for pretty much any mechanic as they allow you to reach into tight areas and get a better idea of what’s what.
Clamp on lights are available in both old-school corded varieties and rechargeable formats. Rather than a hook or a magnet, they use a rubber-covered metal or plastic clamp to attach to your desired mounting location. Many of these offer more adjustability than hook or magnet lights.
If you want true hands-free capabilities and the best in terms of versatility, then a headlamp might be the right option for your needs. These are similar to the lights worn by spelunkers, and fit over the head with straps. They are all battery powered, and most available today are LEDs rather than incandescent bulbs.
Folding lights can be incandescent or LED, but they are all battery powered. They fold up for easy storage and portability, but the folding bottom also works as a base to stabilize them while in use. Some of them incorporate not just a folding segment, but also a hook or clamp to deliver even better usability.
What to Look for in a Work Light
As you can see from the information above, there are many different types of lights out there, and many of them are suitable for specific uses. In addition to knowing the types of lights available, you also need to know a few key areas to consider when making a purchase.
Lumens: The lumen is a measure of light emission. Generally, the higher the number of lumens, the brighter the light will be. However, some lights have their output measured in watts, instead. A standard 100-watt incandescent bulb produces around 1,600 lumens. A standard 75-watt LED produces around 1,100 lumens.
Runtime: Runtime will only be important if you choose a battery-powered light, such as a flashlight, penlight, or rechargeable light. Runtime is a measure of how long a light will operate at full power on a full charge. If the runtime is less than desired, find out if additional battery packs are available so you can keep one on the charger and one in the light (not possible with all light types).
Stability Method: Stability method refers to how you secure the light for hands-free use. Some lights do not support this – barrel-shaped flashlights and penlights, for instance. However, hook lights, magnetic lights, freestanding lights, and folding lights can all be used without having to be held in your hand.
Bulb Type: The type of bulb is important for a number of factors, including lifespan. Incandescent bulbs are short lived, but are very affordable and widely available. LED bulbs are very long lasting, but can be difficult to locate if you need a replacement. Halogen bulbs are widely available, but can cost more than LEDs or incandescent bulbs.
Ergonomics: This refers to how easy the light is to use for various applications. A stick light is the least ergonomic shapes, but remains quite versatile. However, this really only applies to handheld lights, not to freestanding work lights.
Ultimately, there is a type of light out there for virtually any need, whether you need to light up an entire service bay, or peer between radiator hoses. Click here to browse our lights.