Shine a Brighter Light on Repairs

Under the hood can be a dark, dirty place. If a tech has to squint to see what he’s doing, or burns his arm or trips over a cord, it’s not going to be a happy repair. As a distributor, you probably have a special section on your truck dedicated to work lights.

If you ask, repair techs will tell you what they want in terms of power, energy-savings and longevity. And they’re saying, first and foremost, that they like the latest in LED technology.

FLUORESCENT FADE-AWAY

Robert Jordan, assistant manager and fabrication tech at Bob Jordan’s Alignment, works on everything from Honda Civics to over-the-road Kenworths in his Scottsdale, Ariz., shop.

He says that, although they still have some older mobile work lights lying around, and still use an 8” or 10” fluorescent light, right now “everyone kind of buys their own little mobile work lights, and generally speaking, everybody seems to enjoy the newer LED lights quite a bit.”

The story was the same at Reliable Auto Repair in Fort Atkinson, Wis., where owner Mike Steptoe agreed that, for underhood lighting, “we’ve mostly been using fluorescents, but I’m afraid we’re looking at the LEDs coming out pretty soon.

“The flashlight industry’s been working … getting a lot brighter and more intense lighting,” Steptoe said. “I don’t know what the future will bring, but we’re looking more into that because it’s such a low-end draw. Temperatures don’t affect it. If for example the fluorescents get cold, they have a hard time starting sometimes.”

While both shops are looking to purchase LED lights in the near future, they’re curious about what improvements are yet to come.

“With the first [LEDs] I’ve seen, the lights might only be reflecting off, or lighting up a foot away from the light.” said Steptoe. “There are instances where you don’t want the light that close to where you’re working. As soon as they get that perfected, it would probably be a wise move to go in that direction … closer to the two-foot range,” said Steptoe.

AND THE WINNER FOR 'BRIGHTEST' BULB GOES TO…

You can’t talk about any kind of light without addressing energy-savings.

“LED is where it’s at for the energy push more than anything,” said Steptoe. “The less power we can use, the better.”

He points out that fluorescent lights often use a small transformer, “so they get especially warm in the summer.”

Cordless lights are also giving techs new-found freedom.

“All your companies are starting to lean towards making [cordless models] because a mechanic has to be very versatile and go anywhere under a car,” said Bruce Lunsford, a technical instructor in Mooresville, N.C. “The new cordless [lights] are better, because you can take them with you outside or whatever you need to do. The technology is really an asset to the modern-day mechanic.

“It’s just that light bulb technology is getting better and better,” said Lunsford, “and the amount that you can see is absolutely fantastic. There’s no more, ‘I’m going to burn my arm with a bulb on a car.’ ”

Scalding hot bulbs are making themselves scarce, much to the satisfaction of those in the trenches.

“You can go back to the past, but when you go back to the past you end up with a burned arm and a dropped light,” said Lunsford. “And ‘Oops, I dropped it; got to buy another bulb’ … those days are gone.

“The multiple-bulb light is here to stay.”

A HOTTER DROP

When Lunsford got his hands on his first LED, things just seemed, well, a little brighter.

“Back when I started we used drop lights with bulbs – and they were pretty efficient, but when you dropped it, it was automatic suicide; you were in the dark,” said Lunsford.

“So then they came out with the fluorescent drop light. That was a little bit more durable … they held up pretty good, and worked very well, but the bulbs at the time were a little expensive. They’ve come down in price since then, and have been efficient for quite a few years, but it’s been hard to see. They leave shadows when you look under a dash or in a tight space. And now they have the new LED lights.

“LEDs are interesting because you can see better with them, with a multiple light; they use less electricity and they’re more efficient,” said Lunsford.

“People get very diverse in the type of light they order. [But] you can’t beat the plain drop lights you can hold in your hand and take with you,” said Lunsford.

SCRATCHED-UP, KNOCKED-DOWN, KICKED AROUND

All three techs agreed that about every two years they’re usually ready for another light. And not necessarily because of failure — but because they get so beat up.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that customers want to know what kind of warranty the light carries with it.

“That’s probably the biggest thing — how bright it is and what the timeframe of the warranty is,” said Jordan. “You want to have at least a year — or a lifetime on it, ideally.”

“I’ve got a cordless and a corded one, and unfortunately, drop lights are not 100-percent bulletproof,” said Lunsford. “You have that tech that’s going to run over it with a car or get a cord in the way and get the cord cut, so it’s an expendable item that might need to be replaced yearly, depending on how careless the mechanic is.”

THIS AIN'T NO HOME DEPOT

All three techs also agreed that they preferred buying their shop lighting from their mobile distributor.

“There were a couple of guys who worked here in the past that would go to Home Depot or something to get [lights], but most of the guys here get them directly off the truck. That way, if they have a problem, at least to some degree there’s a warranty,” said Jordan.

And quality is a big issue.

“[You can buy] the cheap fluorescent ones for eight bucks, but they don’t last very long…not for our environment at least,” said Steptoe.

“Maybe [they’ll work] for someone in their home garage.”

When distributors sell work lights, they’re selling innovation … and sometimes a much-needed release from some pretty haggard equipment.

“Some guys kind of get used to old ways and don’t change,” said Lunsford. “That’s the guy that doesn’t change his tools, either. He doesn’t go for innovation and he has a problem working on cars … because the guys who go for innovation get the cars repaired quicker, faster, and they’re more efficient.”

Even if your customer doesn’t approach you about lighting, go ahead — take a look around and see what he uses to see.

Then illuminate him on how it gets better.

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