Exclusive report: New standards make buying a good flashlight easier

On the shop floor, having the right tools at hand is critical for automotive technicians to diagnose and complete repairs efficiently. Frequently, having just the right flashlight — or set of lights — nearby can make all the difference, speeding...


On the shop floor, having the right tools at hand is critical for automotive technicians to diagnose and complete repairs efficiently. Frequently, having just the right flashlight — or set of lights — nearby can make all the difference, speeding repair time and increasing sales and productivity.

But selecting the right flashlight equipment for automotive repair jobs can be a daunting task.

First, there are performance characteristics to consider, from brightness levels to run times, battery types to safety characteristics, and light sources to casing materials. And, in just the last few years, the pace of technology innovation has quickened, giving rise to new options such as lights with a “power” LED source that matches the light output of incandescent bulbs, as well as a variety of specialized features designed to increase overall efficiency. 

Despite the many choices and technical improvements, no standardized tests or uniform ratings system have existed to guide shop owners or technicians when selecting products. Purchasers sometimes are virtually in the dark about how a light will perform until they buy it and try it for themselves — occasionally resulting in a costly mistake. Some manufacturers even have made false product claims in the absence of a system for checks and balances.

That’s why a group of leading U.S. flashlight manufacturers recently set aside competitive differences to create basic performance standards for flashlight products. The culmination of more than two years of research and testing among the 14 companies, the new guidelines are designed to help users, specifiers and buyers alike rate and compare the most important features of lighting tools, including peak beam intensity, beam distance, impact resistance, run time, light output and water resistance. 

Flashlights made by these manufacturers now display ratings indicating how the light performed in standardized tests, using a series of icons. The ratings are featured on the companies’ websites, in catalogs and other marketing materials, as well as on product packaging.

The standards were developed in association with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and collectively are known as the Flashlight Basic Performance Standard, or ANSI/NEMA FL 1-2009. Each participating manufacturer conducts its own tests, adhering to specific guidelines, although companies may not “pick and choose” which standards they display. 

The features that are covered by the ANSI/NEMA FL1 Standards include:

Peak beam intensity 

The maximum luminous intensity typically along the central axis of a cone of light. This measures the brightest part of the beam. The value is reported in candela. 

Beam distance

The distance from the device at which the light beam is 0.25 lux. Results are reported in meters.

Impact resistance

The degree to which a portable light resists damage when dropped on a solid surface. Dropped samples must not exhibit any cracks or breaks, and must remain fully functional in order to pass.

Run time

The duration of time from the initial light output value (that’s 30 seconds after the light is turned on with fresh batteries) until the light output drops to 10 percent of the initial value.

Light output

A measurement of the total quantity of emitted overall light energy. The value is reported in lumens.

Water resistance

Measured by resistance to temporary immersion, continuous immersion and splashing water.

The participating manufacturers are now in the process of testing their product lines to the standards and providing the results to consumers. While compliance with the standards is voluntary, the coalition hopes that all flashlight companies will adopt them. The standard represents a great step forward for the industry, but more importantly, it will provide more complete and accurate information for flashlight users as they make decisions about their flashlight purchases. 

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