|Best Overall||Nebo Swyvel||Check Price||
Bright compact flashlight with multiple brightness modes, a magnetic base, and swiveling head.
|Best Value||Coast G20 LED Penlight||Check Price||
An inexpensive pen light from a great company that’s small enough to fit in your pocket.
|Honorable Mention||GearLight Tactical Flashlight||Check Price||
A strong-selling flashlight that can be fitted with either a rechargeable or a trio of triple-A batteries.
From the hobbyist to the professional, having a great mechanic flashlight can often mean the difference between frustration and success on a project. Instead of balancing a two-foot-long Maglite on the valve cover, hoping it doesn’t take a tumble, and struggling to see what’s leaking, there are a ton of fancy new LED lights out there. You want something bright enough to see clearly what’s going on, small enough it’s easy to move around, but with enough battery life that you won’t be left holding your smartphone halfway through the project. There’s a process for narrowing down the nearly limitless selection, and I’ve helped you by picking out a few of the best in the buyer’s guide below.
There’s a lot that makes a great mechanic flashlight, and a lot of the lights with thousands, of reviews and 4.5 stars on Amazon didn’t make this list. While looking for the best lights I tried to keep in mind the things that have made my life easier while working on my own projects, and the brands that I know take quality seriously. If you’re going to make a purchase off my recommendation, it’s either got an overwhelming number of great reviews online (a few on this list) or it’s something I’ve purchased myself.
Long before I started writing about this stuff, I spent my own hard-earned money buying the right tool here and there, or I torture-tested them in a heavy-industrial job I worked for the better part of five years. Lots of flashlights came and went, but rest assured, the ones I spent my own money on survived. Other lights are ones I’ve personally experienced, and any light on this list is worth your consideration.
- Best Overall: Nebo Swyvel
- Best Value: Coast G20 LED Penlight
- Honorable Mention: GearLight Tactical Flashlight
- Best Headlamp: Streamlight Twin-Task USB
- Best Rechargeable: Anker Bolder
- Most Versatile: DeWalt Max Work Light
Best Mechanic Flashlight Reviews & Recommendations
From maintenance to car repairs, this light is a reliable companion. I stumbled across the Nebo Swyvel on the display counter of my local Napa parts store. I was impressed with the headline light output of 1,000 lumens for such a tiny, relatively inexpensive, light. I bought one and ended up using it for nearly two years straight in a heavy industrial environment as a backup daily-carry light. The swiveling head allows you to point the light in different directions, which is most effective when paired with the clip and worn like an old-school right-angle light, or when attached to a metal surface with the magnetic base. I actually clipped this to a Leatherman Wave case so it was as available as that multi-tool. The magnetic base isn’t super strong, but I found it strong enough to place on all kinds of surfaces. Vertical spots were a bit of a challenge sometimes, as the light would rotate on its own, but knowing it won’t roll away is a big plus.
Be careful not to lose the charging cable, as there is no alternative to charge the battery otherwise. I worked around a lot of metal shavings and would occasionally find them stuck to the bottom of the light, so use caution if you work in a similar environment.
- Battery life: 6 hours
- Battery type: Rechargeable or 16340
- Lumens: 50-1000
Multiple brightness modes
Light gets hot
Metal shavings attracted to base
The G20 is a no-frills basic light that takes two triple-A batteries and has a single light mode. Coast is one of the most respected names in the flashlight world. I carried one of their more expensive models, the Coast HP3R, for a couple years until the rechargeable battery started to lose capacity. It’s a great light, but it’s about three times the price of the simple Coast G20. The G20 is billed as an inspection light and is helpful for tasks where a larger light might be hard to hold. The pocket clip should keep it in place. The light comes with a lifetime warranty. For those who want something even smaller, the Coast G19 is a single-AAA sized light for roughly the same price.
- Battery life: 11 hours
- Battery type: 2 AAA
- Lumens: 54 lumens
Runs for 11 hours
Water – and dust – resistant
Single light output mode
Rechargeable battery is expensive
It’s versatile and will accept either a trio of AAA batteries or a single 18650 battery. In the search for a cheap versatile flashlight, I came across this GearLight S1000 flashlight. It had more than 60,000 reviews on Amazon and fits the bill for something to keep in the toolbox. It’s versatile and will accept either a trio of AAA batteries or a single 18650 battery. The kit includes two flashlights, adapters for both types of batteries, and holsters so they can be worn on a belt. The lights have three light modes (low, medium, high) and two strobe modes. An aluminum body that includes a telescoping zoom feature means this light can be used in many situations. For certain uses, you want something cheap and adaptable, which fits the bill for these GearLight flashlights.
Less expensive lights often don’t come with batteries. Some reviewers pointed out that light output, which is not rated or listed by the manufacturer, is dependent on what kind of batteries you use. There are reports that light output and quality vary from light to light.
- Battery life: Depends on battery
- Battery type: 3 AAA or 18650
- Lumens: up to 1,000
Comes with two lights
Common rechargeable size
AAA adapter included
Batteries not included
The lamp is rechargeable and has two modes, each with several different brightness modes. Streamlight puts out quality, but it sure isn’t cheap. I weighed a lot of the options and landed on the Streamlight Twin-Task USB for best headlamp. The versatile headlamp is a mechanic’s best friend on the job and is similar in use to the LED safety glasses I recommended, but with lots more light output. The lamp is rechargeable and has two modes, each with several different brightness modes.
For more than $50, buying the quality associated with the Streamlight name isn’t cheap. There are cheaper headlamps, even from Streamlight, but the Twin-Task strikes the best balance between brightness, battery life, and ergonomics. With the battery pack on the back of the headband, these headlamps feel more balanced and not front heavy.
- Battery life: up to 20 hours
- Battery type: Rechargeable via
- USB Lumens: 50-375
Spotlight and flood mode
Charges in 4.5 hours
Charges with USB cable
Battery balances unit
Not the cheapest headlamp
The Anker Bolder is a simple light that puts out a maximum of 400 lumens and recharges via a Micro USB cable. I have used several other Anker battery packs and been impressed. The Anker Bolder is a simple light that puts out a maximum of 400 lumens and recharges via a Micro USB cable. The basic light lacks all the frills of tactical lights, and it only puts out 400 lumens. I see that as an advantage. When you combine cheap construction with an LED module that puts out 1,000 lumens, even the most reputable manufacturers struggle with heat management. Some of the cheapest high-output LED lights I’ve used become uncomfortably hot to hold with your bare hands. When left on the highest setting, some reviewers noted that it gets warm.
If you just want a simple, rechargeable light to keep in your toolbox then the Bolder LC40 is a solid contender. But, if you want something with all the bells and whistles, look at another light on this list.
- Battery life: up to 50 hours
- Battery type: Rechargeable via USB
- Lumens: 20-400
Reliable Cree LED
Heroic battery life
Water – and dust – resistant
Charges via micro USB
Having a light that uses the same battery you use to power your other cordless tools can be a huge time saver. I used and abused DeWalt stuff for a few years, so I’m sold on them. We all have our favorites, and all the major players make a worklight that’s compatible with their tools. DeWalt makes two lights for their 20v Max products: the Work Light and the Spot Light. The Spot Light is about double the price but puts out 500 and 1,500 lumens. Having a light that uses the same battery you use to power your other cordless tools can be a huge time saver. I’ve used these for maintenance projects, and they’re durable.
- Battery life: 11-24 hours
- Battery type: Rechargeable
- Lumens: 110
Same battery as power tools
Battery not included
Low light output
The Nebo Swyvel is hard to beat for most hobbyists. The price is just right, the battery life is solid, and it’s durable. If you’re looking for something to use to light up dark spots under the hood, then the Coast G20 Penlight is a great way to go. Let us know in the comments what your favorite mechanic’s flashlight is.
What to Consider When Buying a Mechanic Flashlight
There’s a wide range of flashlights out there, but not all of them would make a great mechanic flashlight. That being said, there are a number of features to look for that are common across solid lights.
Modern LED flashlights come in a variety of sizes and shapes, but a good mechanic flashlight is portable and versatile. The Nebo Swyvel has a magnetic base and a swiveling head. The DeWalt Work Light has a pivoting head and a hook for hanging; many of these fit easily in your hand, or a pocket in-between uses.
Durability definitely applies to many of these lights, with their aluminum construction, and differing levels of weather-resistant and dust-resistant certification. The IPX4 standard means the light resists splashing from any direction, while IPX5, the next step, resists a sustained low-pressure water jet without failure. It’s nice to have these features, and any help against the intrusion of dust and moisture is a boon to long-term durability.
If you’re a hobbyist working in the garage, you’ll probably do fine with a rechargeable light and a permanently installed battery. If you want to take this thing to work, like I did, or you know you’ll need to use it on the highest mode throughout the day, something with replaceable batteries or swappable rechargeable ones is a better bet.
Although you can get a $20 flashlight that has a 2,000-lumen output, you’re not likely to buy something that will last. For this list, I stuck with lights for less than $100, and most are less than $50. If it’s something you’re going to depend on to not let you down while working in the garage, then it’s best to pay for quality.
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.
Q: Why does my flashlight get so hot?
A: Even though LEDs are far more efficient than xenon or incandescent bulbs, they still generate heat. On models with more than 200 lumens, when used on the highest mode, the metal body near the LED can become quite hot.
Q: How can I keep the batteries from dying?
A: Two things usually take a battery down: constant charging and constant use at the highest setting. For some uses, it’s an anticipated cost. Get decent batteries, make sure you fully charge them before first use, and make the most of it. For those occasional users, use the highest settings when you need to but drop down to medium when possible.
Q: Can I just buy some of those cheap batteries on Amazon?
A: It depends. Many of those cheap rechargeable batteries lack a safety circuit to prevent overcharging, so there’s a possibility of fire and explosion. Often, some of the off-brand batteries are not standard dimensions either, being too fat or too long to fit properly in a flashlight. Stick to brands you’ve heard of.
- Mechanically Powered Flashlight – Wikipedia