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Best Work Light for Mechanics in 2022

Do you struggle to see what you're doing when wrenching on your project car or tinkering with a carb on your workbench?

Tim_Stevens.jpg
Tim_Stevens.jpg
Tim Stevens Former editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
Tim Stevens
7 min read

Garages are full of lights, but they're not great for getting into those hard-to-see places and illuminating them. Whether you're reaching into the engine bay of your vehicle or hunched inside the fender liner, a light guiding your way is key to making a miserable experience much easier to complete. 

There are plenty of options out there that address varied needs. From a simple handheld work light to a magnetized light that adheres to a metallic surface, we've got something on this list for all types of mechanics will all types of light output needs. Here are my top picks for the best work light for mechanics. That hard-to-see engine compartment will never know what hit it!

Read more: Best Creeper Seat for 2022

ultra-bright-led-portable-worklight
Harbor Freight

Another win for Harbor Freight here, with the Ultra Bright portable LED work light and flashlight. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if you've ever visited a Harbor Freight, you probably walked out with one of these portable LED flashlight and work light units for free. And, if you're a frequent shopper, you probably have a half-dozen scattered around your house and garage. Even at the full price of $4, it's hard to ignore the value here. Whether you want focused or broad LED light, an underhood light, or a powerful flashlight, this will deliver. My only complaint is that the AAA batteries inside are too difficult to replace and the whole thing has a tendency to fly into pieces when dropped on a concrete floor, as mine have been. Repeatedly.

black-diamond-storm-headlamp
Black Diamond

When I asked for work light suggestions, a number of you indicated you prefer to use headlamps when working on your cars, and I definitely can see why. My choice is the $50 Black Diamond Storm, because it throws out a lot of light for such a small thing, and its multicolor light bulb capability means it has dozens of uses. I used mine to get across Italy in the 2019 Mille Miglia. Headlamps are particularly good when you're working in a tight work area like wheel wells, and when you're moving around a lot. Complex brake job? Get you one of these.

dewalt-max-compact-task-light
Dewalt

If you need extreme brightness, look no further than the usually $92 Dewalt Max Compact Task Light. This bright light comes with a warning about being careful not to look directly into it, and it's not kidding. Three brightnesses are on offer and the maximum is truly sunlike, but despite that the 20-volt rechargeable battery powers it for four and a half hours. Mind you, the cost of the garage work light doesn't include the battery, and the batteries require a proprietary charger, but if you're already in the Dewalt ecosystem that won't be a problem. It's big and heavy, but the chunky handle makes it easy to carry and threaded receivers mean it's even tripod-mountable if you're so inclined.

Comparison of best shop lights


BrandNamePrice
Best portable shop light overall Braun390 Lumen Magnetic Slim Bar Folding LED Work Light$30
Best reconfigurable shop light Braun3-In-1 Quick Connect Light Kit$50
Best cheap/free portable shop light Harbor FreightUltra Bright LED Portable Worklight$3
Best portable shop light for tight spaces Black DiamondStorm Headlamp$50
Best lifestyle portable shop light GoProZeus Mini$70
Best big and portable shop light Dewalt3-In-1 Quick Connect Light Kit$97
Best big and portable shop light runner-up Ryobi18-volt One+ Hybrid LED Color Range Work Light$69
Best portable shop light system EastwoodModular Light Module$35
Best portable shop light for your workbench Ryobi18-Volt One+ Cordless LED Workbench Light$55

Some notes on the best work light for mechanics

  • Battery life matters: Almost all of my picks for the best work light for mechanics are rechargeable, and while I much prefer something with an integrated battery that's easy to juice up again, something with swappable batteries may be better if you have a long, tough job ahead. However, units with integrated batteries tend to do better at maintaining bright illumination and light intensity all the way until their battery is completely dead.
  • Connections matter, too: Being able to recharge is nice, but having to keep track of proprietary chargers is no fun. The options from DeWalt and Ryobi may be no problem if you've already bought into their battery ecosystems, but the Eastwood lights all relied on proprietary plugs usable only for them. Lights that charge over an USB power cord are much more convenient, but only the GoPro Zeus relied on the current USB-C standard!
  • Think mobility and mounting: A big part of getting the most out of these portable work lights is making sure they are where you need them. If you're moving around a lot, like for a full brake job, then the Black Diamond headlamp may be best. If you're instead doing a lot of work on a wide area, something like the DeWalt floor lamp puts out a lot of light from a single location.
  • Flexibility is key: The Harbor Freight lighting options are so inexpensive it can make sense to dedicate them to be used only for specific tasks. But options like the Black Diamond headlamp or GoPro Zeus are easily repurposed for all sorts of jobs. This means you'll get a lot more use out of them -- but also might mean they aren't readily at hand next time you're out in the garage. It's no fun rummaging through the house when you just want to get those brake pads out.

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