Choosing the right flashlight

Flashlights are essential tools for auto technicians. But because flashlights are so commonplace today, many automotive repair shop owners and technicians may believe that one model is much the same as another.

The truth is that flashlight technology has evolved to a point where choosing the right tool for a specific task can make all the difference in pinpointing hard-to-spot problems, speeding repairs and increasing overall efficiency.

With continuing advances in lighting technology, auto technicians today have a range of high-performance flashlights available — from lightweight, hand-held rechargeable lights that deliver bright light wherever it’s needed, to specialized lights, such as headlamps, when technicians need both hands for a task. Most technicians need several flashlights on their belts or nearby in their toolboxes to handle a range of tasks — from close-up work in tight spots to sustained lighting for a time-consuming job.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

One of the first choices in selecting a light is between rechargeable vs. battery-powered lights.

Rechargeable flashlights using nickel-cadmium or lithium-ion batteries tend to burn brighter than those that use disposable batteries. The rechargeable lights store in custom charger holders that can be conveniently located in the shop. Rechargeables also save money in the long run by eliminating the need to buy replacement batteries. Studies have shown that rechargeables can save at least $300 over a four-year period. Rechargeable batteries also can be recycled easily at many national retail outlets such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. For more information visit www.rbrc.org.

Battery-powered lights, on the other hand, offer generally longer runtimes for a given bulb power, making them a good choice for all-purpose work, particularly on long jobs. Under frequent usage, disposable batteries, such as alkaline or lithium, will only last for about two weeks, although they have excellent storage life — seven to 10 years, respectively. They are typically lower in initial purchase price and easier to keep spares on hand.

HOW BRIGHT?

Flashlights come with several kinds of bulbs; the biggest differences are the amount of brightness, longevity of the bulb and the cost.
• Incandescent, filament-based bulbs, such as xenon and halogen lamps, are easily focused, deliver bright light and good performance and are the best choice for long distances.
• LEDs are virtually unbreakable and can last up to 100,000 hours with a soft focus and short range.
• Lights featuring super high-flux LEDs provide an even longer-reaching, brighter beam that is 10 times brighter than a standard high-intensity LED.
• A variety of flashlights offer a combination of LED and incandescent bulbs, permitting technicians to switch light sources according to the task at hand.

A recent development in flashlight technology is “power” LED-chip technology, representing a major advance in LED bulbs which have lagged behind incandescent light sources in terms of overall power and brightness.

Power LED technology has both the light output and efficacy to rival traditional light sources, enabling manufacturers to replace incandescent, halogen and fluorescent bulbs with LED bulbs that are not only long-lasting and energy-efficient, but also double — and in some cases, even triple — the brightness of flashlight products. The result is a bright, intense beam that pierces the darkness while delivering the long run times and indestructibility that characterizes LEDs. Power LEDs are revolutionizing the flashlight industry.

LIGHTS THAT GO THE DISTANCE

Durability is important. It’s not unusual for flashlights to be knocked around or dropped to the shop floor, resulting perhaps in a broken bulb or damaged casing. While this once meant consigning the flashlight to the dumpster and lost time for the technician who had to stop what he was doing to get a replacement, that’s no longer the case. Professional-grade flashlights with features like non-conductive polymer housings or machined aluminum casings, LED bulbs or lenses made of shock-resistant borosilicate or polycarbonate are tough enough to withstand typical shop abuse.

THE RIGHT LIGHT FOR EACH TASK

When the technician needs both hands and illumination to get the job done, a hands-free headlamp fits the bill. Professional-grade headlamps can be worn on the head, giving the technician hands-free operation. Some lights feature a handy laser pointer for precisely targeting the source of a problem for a co-worker. Some models of the traditional penlight have been redesigned to include a bendable, extendable cable that enables the technician to see in even the tightest spots. Other penlights feature ultraviolet light for use in leak detection for A/C systems.

Spending a bit of time to select the right mix of lights for the range of tasks technicians perform daily makes their job easier and helps the overall bottom line in time savings.

Eric Mills is the national director of sales, automotive division, for Streamlight Inc. www.streamlight.com.

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