Best LED work lights and inspection lamps

We test the latest, brightest LED lights to help you work on your car

If you thought cordless LED inspection lamps had peaked with their succession of ever brighter designs, you’d be wrong. Apart from the different LEDs, we’ve also seen mounting options improve massively, with a versatile range of magnets, joints and hinges now available.

Makers are now putting those super bright light-emitting diodes in narrow, ruler-like strips, so even the narrowest gap can be illuminated. But how does this latest line-up of slender light blades match up against more conventional designs? We gathered 12 to see which shone brightest.

How we tested them

Bright, wide and even beams score the most points, with extra output modes a bonus. We gauged stamina by running each lamp on full until output dipped below a pre-determined level, or the unit shut off. We assessed hooks, magnets, twist joints or stands, and checked how easily our products illuminated narrow gaps. 

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If the lamps have to be hung, we considered if pivot and twist joints can still be used for aiming. Value was calculated using prices from the Web.

Verdict

Sealey’s LED180 is the best, and most versatile, of the new breed of blade-style lamps. The Draper 65395 was brighter, but only for a limited time and options such as the NightSearcher Star Blade are a great for those on a tighter budget. 

  • 1. Sealey LED180
  • 2. Draper 65395
  • 3. NightSearcher Star Blade
  • ReviewsSealey LED180

    Price: Around £37
    Max output: 400 lumens
    Rating: 5 stars

    Sealey’s slightly oddball LED180 simply trounces the opposition. Its narrow row of SMD (surface mount device) LEDs gives out an incredibly bright, even and wide beam. It took more than four hours before the light output dropped below our cut-off test limit, despite the neat dimmer control being set to maximum. And getting light exactly where you need it is a doddle. The narrow blade is pivoted against the lower part of the lamp, but also twists laterally. The base features three tough magnets, plus a sturdy hook.

    Buy now from Amazon

    Draper 65395

    Price: Around £44 
    Max output: 450 lumens
    Rating: 4.5 stars

    The incredible output of the Sealey LED180 surprised us, yet Draper’s lamp is even better. Its long COB (chip-on board) LED produces a smooth, wide beam that’s brighter than the LED180’s. Used close up, it’s arguably a bit much, so we’re glad the lamp includes a more frugal and less intense mode, which Draper claims gives up to four hours of light. That’s more usable than the two hours 10 minutes our test achieved at full power. We like the mains and USB charging options, but positioning is compromised by the fact there’s no hook and only one magnet.

    Buy now from Draper

    NightSearcher Star Blade

    Price: Around £30 
    Max output: 300 lumens
    Rating: 4.5 stars

    The cheapest of the three-bladed lamps here and, in some ways, the most impressive. Unlike most other LED lamps, NightSearcher puts its retina-scorching diodes behind a diffuser to prevent accidental dazzling, and this gives a really wide, even beam pattern. Despite this great performance, it managed just over three hours between charges. You can charge from your car’s USB or 12-volt sockets, and the mains. The flat base, tough magnet and hooks give reasonable positioning options, but this isn’t the lamp’s strong point.

    Buy now from Machine Mart

    Ring MAGflex Slim

    Price: Around £40
    Rating: 4.5 stars

    Ring’s first entry in the world of slim inspection lamps is a cracker. The MAGflex’s slender LED strip is 6cm longer than the winner’s, enabling it to penetrate deeper into tight gaps, although it’s not quite as slim. 

    It’s also one of the lightest in the test, making manoeuvring easier. The 250-lumen beam isn’t as bright as the Sealey’s 400-lumen output. However, it’s whiter, reducing the difference. The beam is also a little narrower, but it’s still wide. 

    There’s a 125-lumen power-saving mode, plus a tightly-focused 20-lumen torch in the tip, too. The winner had a slight edge on beam and mounting options, with just a hook, base magnet and hinge on the Ring. But the MAGFlex has an advantage with charging; there are mains and 12V adaptors for the USB lead. 

    Buy now from Halfords

    Ring MAGflex Pivot RIL3900HP

    Price: Around £25 
    Rating: 4.5 stars

    It may not be the best here in terms of beam power, but the Pivot is no slouch; its 400-lumen output is ideal for close-up work.

    It scores particularly well where space is limited, because that blade of LEDs works open and closed, and can be slotted into the narrowest spaces. The lamp can move 180 degrees vertically and swing in a semi-circle; it was also a bit easier to get light where we wanted thanks to a magnet in the back as well as the base plus the usual hook.

    Even on max power, it was good for three hours. The torch is pretty feeble compared with some of its rivals here, but a four-LED display shows the battery’s charge. This is where the Ring has an advantage, with a mains adaptor for the USB lead. A great package that’s easy to use and store.

    Buy now from eBay

    Philips RCH25 LED Work Light

    Price: Around £120
    Rating: 4 stars

    This 25cm-long Philips work light has a pleasing weight, with a high-quality feel to its switch and hinge. As you’d expect, light output is great, with a useful 300-lumen torch and bright 500-lumen main light. The spread is narrower than our test winner’s, but intensity is a step ahead. Mounting is via the five-position hinged magnetic base and hook, plus there are two more powerful magnets along the back.

    The RCH25’s party trick is a dimming function, which is important with such a bright beam. Hold the power switch and the beam dims to any level down to 50 lumen; it reverts to that setting when next switched on. There’s a handy USB charging dock and the light is well protected against water ingress and being dropped. But while this Philips is well worth a look, at the price, the specification and 3.5-hour battery life aren’t quite enough to land it higher up our list.

    Buy now from Amazon

    Sealey LED Twist LED1001

    Price: Around £31
    Rating: 4 stars

    The LED Twist delivers a bright, white 1,000-lumen beam which was greater than some rivals plus it was a fair bit wider too. The powerful magnet on the base is the main mounting option and the base moves through 90 degrees. Plus it spins full circle, a system that works well.

    There are two power modes, and on max power, it was good for just over two hours. Not so good was the lack of a mains adaptor for the USB charge lead, but a display showed the battery level. Ideal if you need big power, although the other rivals offer a more complete package.

    Buy now from Prime Tools

    Nightsearcher i-Spector 1000

    Price: Around £64
    Rating: 4 stars

    This has a top-quality feel. It weighs around 500g, so smaller units are easier to hold for long periods. NightSearcher claims a 1,000-lumen output and it outshone our test winner, giving a wide, bright light with no patches. That wide light can also hold the i-Spector back; it’s always visible, making it tough on the eyes at times. Still, it scores when hooked to a roof spar, for example, and used to light the workshop rather than small spaces.

    Like other rivals such as the Sealey LED180, it has a rotary dimmer switch to prolong the li-ion battery’s life or match its output to the job. At max output it lasts just under two hours with no dimming. Mounting options are limited to a hook and magnet on the base, although it has a USB to charge phones. Top performance, at a price.

    Buy now from Machine Mart

    Ring RIL3600HP MAGflex Twist

    Price: Around £40 
    Max output: 250 lumens
    Rating: 4 stars

    A previous Best Buy and still a favourite. Although the Ring boasts an incredibly impressive beam, it isn’t quite as bright or wide as those of its newer narrow-bladed competitors. While the run time of just under three hours is reasonable enough, newer models last for longer. But easily the MAGFlex’s best feature is its array of magnets and a twist joint that let you put the beam exactly where you need it. Yet Sealey’s LED180 does all that, too. Mains-only charging (12V used to be included), the lack of a battery-stretching eco mode and a slightly increased price have blunted its competitive edge.

    Buy now from Halfords

    Sealey LED3606G

    Price: Around £102
    Max ouput: 1000 lumens
    Rating: 3.5 stars

    Tipping the scales at over half a kilo, this is a real heavyweight. It’s definitely one to fix to a panel rather than hold, and that’s easy to do with two powerful magnets on the rear, plus another on that trademark Sealey base. 

    This pulls out to reveal a ball and socket mount that makes getting light where you want it easy; there are also two swivelling hooks. Positioning is crucial because you don’t want to look into that 1,000-lumen, 24-LED beam, which is uncomfortably bright. 

    The beam is wide and even, and a big step ahead of some of its rival’s. The two power levels help make the twin 3.7V batteries last; at maximum illumination, you get just over 150 minutes. But for the £101.94 list price, we’d want a charger and not just a lead.

    Buy now from Seale

    Osram LEDinspect Slimline 280

    Price: Around £42  
    Max output: 280 lumens
    Rating: 3.5 stars

    Although it’s a little too portly to be a true narrow blade lamp, Osram’s Slimline 280 is long and slender enough to get into places that conventional chunky lamps simply can’t. The brand has played a similarly successful trade-off with light output. The beam isn’t as wide as some here, but it’s certainly not restrictive or narrow. Reducing the spread means brightness is only a tiny step behind the three award winners; impressive considering the near-four-hour run time. A handy charging pod is supplied, and this can be hooked up to the mains or a USB power source.

    Buy now from Auto Bulbs Direct

    Clarke RWL36Li

    Price: Around £35  
    Max output: Not stated
    Rating: 3 stars

    Thanks to the dated appearance and frankly bizarre front and rear-facing light clusters, we didn’t hold high hopes for this lamp. We certainly didn’t expect the Clarke to outlast every other product here in the stamina test. It was still going strong after four hours and, in reality, you probably wouldn’t have both sides running at once, as we did for test conditions. Initially, output intensity was more like most of the other product’s economy modes, but the beam is impressively wide and even. Positioning is this product’s main flaw, with the single tough magnet heavily recessed beneath one of the clusters.

    Buy now from Machine Mart

    NightSearcher i-SPECTOR 700

    Price: Around £48
    Max output: 700 lumens
    Rating: 3 stars

    It comes to something when the light reflecting off the dark murk of a car engine or wheelarch makes you squint. But that’s exactly what the i-SPECTOR 700 achieves. Press once for the torch, twice for eco mode, three times for an impressive output, and four times for, well, pass the shades! Yes, max output is staggering, but is probably of limited use. It’s simply too bright and the run time only just limps past 90 minutes. Stamina is dramatically improved on the lower settings, squeezing up to eight hours’ run time out of the minimum output, which is still very respectable.

    Buy now from Right-Light

    Philips RCH21S

    Price: Around £65  
    Max output: 300 lumens
    Rating: 3 stars

    In a heavily used trade setting, we suspect this lamp would keep going long after others were binned. Quality and durability are in a different league. You pay for it, but it’s worth the outlay. Light output is respectable, as is the run time of just under three hours at max output. But what we really like is the way the LED strip can swivel out up to 90 degrees from the body. This gives plenty of beam aiming options if you have to use the hook, or simply laying the lamp on its back, instead of the integral magnet. 

    Buy now from Philips

    Philips RCH5S

    Price: Around £65
    Rating: 3 stars

    This is another top-spec Philips with the same dock, dimmer and four-stage charging and battery state indicator as the RCH25. Protection ratings are the same, too. At around half the thickness and height, it’s ideal for a pocket.

    While it may outperform our winner and has a similar, if narrower, main beam, its price and shorter two-hour life at max power mean it ends up at the bottom of our list. It may be last but it is still a fine buy and worth a place in a busy workshop.

    Buy now from Philips

    Now you can see what you are doing, why not see which is the best socket set on sale to get the job done?

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