A simple, sensitive and rapid derivative spectrophotometric method using 2-(5-bromo-2-pyridylazo)-5-diethylaminophenol (5-Br-PADAP) has been developed for simultaneous determination of Co(II), Ni(II) and Fe(II) which have very similar chemical behavior and appear together in many real samples. The complexes of all these metal ions with 5-Br-PADAP were formed immediately at pH 7.0 ammonium acetate buffered solution and were stable for at least 24 h. Second derivative spectra were selected for evaluation, because working wavelength determination was more precise and spectral overlap was less than in the ordinary and first derivative spectra. Three wavelengths at which the complexes exhibit extremum D-2 values for Co(II), Ni(II) and Fe(II) were selected as analytical wavelengths, i.e., 640, 600 and 740 nm, respectively. Calibration curves drawn with zero-to-peak values at mentioned wavelengths were linear between 80 and 2000 ng ml(-1) for each metal ion. Concentrations of Co(II) and Ni(II) were calculated from the total 2 D values and the sum of the linear equations for these three cations at 640 and 600 nm, after Fe(II) assay by making use of the 2 D value at 740 nm. Limits of detection (LOD) for Co(II), Ni(II) and Fe(II) were 2.7, 13.9 and 3.0 ng ml(-1), respectively. The method has been applied to tool steel and heater resistance wire samples successfully. (C) 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.