Light the way. Say goodbye to inadequate under-car lighting

  • Castors and hardware (A), brackets (B), a fixture (C), and bulbs (D) are all that’s required. Grab an electrical cord if needed
  • Be sure to use the recommended drill bit. Too big a hole means the metal screws won’t grab tight
  • Remember lockwashers. Castors without them come loose
  • Make sure the cord is braided wire; it stands up to constant flexing better than solid wire
Date:20 October 2013 Tags:, ,

We invent a great solution to a problem that plagues every gearhead.


Spend any amount of time crawling around and under cars and the challenge of getting enough light to see what you’re working on becomes tiresome.

Workshop lights are fine for inspection and tinkering in easily accessed spots, but in tight spaces or when you need both hands, they get in the way as much as they help. Halogen stand lights are too hot, and torches or headband lights don’t deliver enough lumen oomph.

We have never found a satisfying solution to this problem on store shelves, so with a bit of PM ingenuity, we’re solving it ourselves. The result is our low-pro-file rolling shop light. (Patent pending… no, really!) The name needs work, but the idea is sound. Gather up a few cheap parts at the hardware store, break out some tools, and build an upward-facing, rolling-light bazooka that bathes the car’s under-side in light without getting in the way.

Our version is fairly basic, but you can innovate to meet your specific needs. Maybe add a tool tray, an on/off switch, or a bin to stash loose nuts and bolts. Be as creative as you want; that’s the fun of a good project. Our plans are for a 1,2- metre light, but yours can be any length from 2,4 metres down to a tidy 60 centimetres.

Our shopping list

Here’s what we used for our rolling light (raid your junk pile for free parts).

Castors. We like the ones with rollerblade- style wheels. They glide smoothly and quietly on our concrete garage floor. You’ll also need nuts and lockwashers that fit the threads on the castors.

Mounting bracket. We chose galvanised framing brackets normally used for home construction, which are easily repurposed. Angle iron also works.

Fluorescent light. The length is up to you. A cover is mandatory for protection from dropped spanners and parts or dripping fluids. Find one with a smooth guard surface if you can, just to make cleaning it easier.

Electrical cord. Our light was originally a flush-mounting ceiling fixture, so we needed to wire in a plug-in cord. If you find yourself in the same situation, get a length of good braided cable and a heavy-duty three-prong male plug.

Screws. We used 12 mm self-tapping metal screws to attach the bracket to the light housing. Make sure the threads are long enough to make it through your bracket- and light housing.

Extra parts. Twist-on wire connectors, cable clamps and ground screws. You’ll be visiting the hardware store several times. It’s okay.

The how-to

Cut the brackets: the off-the-shelf pieces of steel we picked to serve as the bracket for the wheels needed a few notches to allow the castors to spin all the way around. Use the cutting tool of your choice to make enough clearance.

Measure and drill: position the brackets at the ends of the fixture and clamp the pieces in place. Mark where to drill holes for the sheet-metal screws that will hold the bracket to the light fixture; follow the same procedure for the castors. Use a centre punch to make a starting point for the drill bit (without this step, the bit will wander and the hole may end up off-target). We took the extra step of drilling a 12-mm hole on the top side of one of the brackets so we could hang the light.

Assemble: once the holes are drilled, drive the screws into place and secure the brackets. Place the castors into position, and drop a lockwasher over the bolt threads before tightening the nuts.

Add wiring: if, like us, you need to add an electrical cord and plug, drill and deburr a hole on the ballast end of the fixture and pass the cord through. Insert a cable clamp in the box, and clamp the electrical cord in place. Splice from the fixture to the cord using twist-on wire connectors, and remember to ground the box with a ground screw, not a sheet-metal screw. Finally, wire the male plug on the other end of the cable, matching the cable’s colour to the correct terminals on the fitting.

Finish up: install the bulbs and cover; give it a test, then put it to use!

All the lights you need

This project solves one problem, but there are lots of great lights already on the market. Here’s a list of what we use, and features to consider.

Workshop light/wand: The classic worklight remains the best all-around under-car helper. Fluorescents offer good bang for the buck, while LEDs are getting better and cheaper every day. Get a cordless light with a flip out hanger.

Halogen floodlight: Great for washing a large, temporary work area with light, especially outside. Keep them at a distance, as they run really hot.

Penlight: A pocket-size flashlight makes peeking into really tight spaces very easy. Choose one with a clip that can attach to your overalls.

Retractable worklight: For battery-free support, a retractable shop light provides more reliable output. Look for one with a power outlet on the end – handy for power tools.

Headlight: They’re only bright enough for spot lighting, but head-mounted lights keep both hands free, and they’re really useful for roadside or off-road repairs. LED types are the only way to go here.

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