Red Eye Garage Tip #8 - Head Lamps January 26 2017

If you wrench at night as we often do, good lighting is one of the things that can really make the job go easier. Having a well-lit garage or several flood lamps is ideal, but situations aren't always ideal and sometimes even great shop lighting can't reach the darkest depths of the engine bay or transmission tunnel.

Headlamps are great for getting light exactly where you are working, but some are better than others. I have tried a few different styles over the years, and this is what I think of them. 

The headband - This consists of just a simple elastic band that goes around your noggin and has a provision for holding a light. Maybe my head is oddly shaped, but these don't seem to fit on my head very well and slide off easily. Maybe your head is more cylindrical and you won't have this problem, but I don't like these.

Headlamp with strap that goes around the head and one that goes over.

The head thong - The head thong is more secure than the headband, since the crotch strap keeps the whole assembly from slipping down your head. I like these a little better than just the headband style units. Some have a headlamp in the front and the battery pack in the back for more even weight distribution - just like a BMW. One big downside is that if you are on your back under the car, the battery pack will scrape and bump into the ground and be both annoying and uncomfortable against the back of your head. The headlamp in the photo above doesn't even have a battery pack in the rear, but the clump in the back where all the seams come together is uncomfortable still. This setup is generally fine except for when you are on your back.

Baseball cap with flashlight clipped to brim.

The hat - You can comfortably clip a small flashlight to the bill of a baseball cap. This is my favorite style of headlamp lighting. It is also versatile, because you can easily unclip the flashlight and switch to hand-held mode. It works equally well standing over the engine bay or lying under the car. Most LED flashlights that use lithium-ion batteries are bright enough, yet light enough to work well with this set up. The drawback is that the relatively long length of the flashlight and the bill can make it impractical in tight spaces.

Foursevens Quark Pro QP2L-X.

The one I currently use is a FourSevens Quark Pro QP2L-X (discontinued), but they have similar, newer offerings. We aren't receiving any benefits, monetary or otherwise for mentioning FourSevens. It has adjustable brightness from 55 to 300 lumens. It is 3.1 ounces (88 grams) with batteries, and 4.5 inches (11.4 cm) long. 

What to look for:

- 150 lumens is barely adequate, and anything over 400 lumens will sear your retinas. Adjustable brightness is nice.

- You want one that has a relatively wide flood, instead of one with a very focused beam.

- Make sure the clip is facing the right way! Some flashlights have the clip in the wrong direction. Note that some flashlights have a reversible clip.

- If you want to use rechargeable batteries, make sure the flashlight is compatible with rechargeable batteries, as not all of them are.

- Go for a flashlight with an LED bulb. Incandescent bulbs are so inefficient and dim.

- Typically, anything that uses alkaline batteries will have a poor power-to-weight ratio. We recommend flashlights that use lithium ion batteries.

- 3.0 ounces (85 grams) is a good weight. I'd personally not consider anything over 6.0 ounces (170 grams).

- Waterproofing is nice, since the flashlight may be exposed to automotive fluids or rain. It makes washing the flashlight easier as well.

 - You get what you pay for. Expect to spend between $50 and $100 for a quality unit.