A smartphone-enabled inspection camera is affordable brilliance

In my years of shade tree wrenching I’ve found tricks and tools that are too good not to share with others. Without question, the smartphone-enabled inspection camera ($15 and up) is on the top of that list.

You will spend much more for a standalone endoscope (a.k.a Digital Inspection Camera) but you already have a wonderful screen on your phone: It just needs a camera for those impossible-to-reach places.

I found myself changing a blown exhaust manifold gasket: normally a simple task, but everything’s tougher when the vehicle in question is a 1988 Mercury Cougar XR-7 with aftermarket long tube headers from its Fox-body Mustang cousin. The gasket swap was easy, but the header’s bulk in a cramped location and 200,000 miles of crud accumulation ensured that reinstallation of the oil dipstick tube was not so simple. Mostly because shining a light on the problem was impossible.

iphone app displays endoscope view inside of engine
Sajeev Mehta

That’s where the endoscope, which connects via WiFi and a dedicated app, comes into play. Place the phone in an easily viewable place, activate the ring of LED lights around the camera and look for the problem. Since these cheaper endoscope cables will not necessarily stay where you keep them (cables with muscle memory are likely why the professional tools are so pricey), try to get a second set of hands. If you can’t, be patient while you stage the camera correctly.

With the target in full view on your phone’s screen, the problem solves itself in seconds.

endoscope light on
Sajeev Mehta

Make sure your endoscope has LEDs with adjustable brightness; otherwise, you might find a reflective surface that washes out the view from your phone.

The sky’s the limit with this in your toolbox: I found dashboard gremlins (so to speak), routed aftermarket stereo cables, plugged leaks in my walls at home, and even found the wrench I dropped after torquing down the last header bolt on the Cougar! (It was wedged between header tubes at the collector, because of course that would happen.)

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