troubleshooter: what to look for in a rechargeable emergency light

When smartphones debuted their tiny flashlight features, most drivers thought they could finally clean out the car glove-box of those long-forgotten swag-bag or Christmas-stocking gift lights from Grandpa — at least that is until they tried to use their phone light to help change a tire on the side of the road at night. If you’re a driver, you need some type of battery-operated safety or work light in your vehicle.

There are two types of light you should consider for your vehicle: work-lights to help you repair or find something, and emergency lights to provide a road-side visual warning to other drivers for safety. Yes there are plenty of battery lights available that combine both functions, but if you’re broken down on the road at night, it’s impossible to use one light to serve both purposes at once.

Remember: nothing on the market is truly maintenance-free. Whether solar rechargeable, plug-in lithium, or disposable-battery-powered, these handy units are not buy-and-forget products. Rechargeables need to be kept in a state of charge and regardless of how much you pay for one; they should be checked annually to ensure there’s no leakage of corrosive materials.

For roadside emergency flashers, stick with the LED beacons either in stick or triangle configuration. They’re readily available through Canadian Tire starting at around $20. Getting them with a magnetic base is handy in case the best placement for traffic visibility is on a metal surface.

For hand-held working lights, you don’t have to buy the latest ultra-military gear that will withstand crushing beneath a tank track. Still, some features are worth looking for. If they have a solar recharge panel, keeping them charged can be as easy as placing them on top of the dash once a month or so when your ride is parked in the sun. Having a plug-in charge port in addition to the solar cells can be handy if you forgot the previous step.

A magnetic base is great to free up both of your hands, but make sure the magnet is covered by a soft surface that won’t damage body paint. These magnets are also useful to keep the lamp in an easy-to-reach area of the car such as the seat base. Stay away from extremely powerful magnets that take a lot of force to remove, however: there are a lot of electronics inside a vehicle that don’t react well to strong magnets.

Another feature to look for is a two-way charging port that will let you recharge a phone or tablet from the lamp’s battery in a pinch. Finally, a beam that has an adjustable focus is perfect for getting bright light in small spaces, as well as pitching a wide beam to find where you put the hubcap.

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