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Manufacturer of the pictured meter, Equus — yes, I’m going to spare you the Harry Potter naked with a horse joke — claims it’s “your personal home and auto electrical tester.” And I can’t argue that it looks pretty nice, especially for about $17 on the ‘net. But that got me to thinking: Exactly what makes a good home and auto multimeter?

Off the top of my head, I remember recently using my meter to test auto fuses, to check connectivity in some auto stereo wiring, to test out the leads to an errant videogame controller, and to check a battery I suspected was dead. While I’d totally love to own a sweet Fluke like Sean’s, I’m not sure my measly uses justify the expense.

Or am I out in left field? What do you do with your meter around the house? And how much would you pay for one? Got a favorite? Let us know in comments.

Hands-Free DMM (10 MegOhm) Meter [Equus Products]
Street Pricing [Google Products]
Via Amazon [What’s This?]


28 Responses to Reader Question: What Makes A Good Home Multimeter?

  1. Eli says:

    I’ve found that the inexpensive DMM’s work great for most of my troubleshooting needs “in the field”. I like the cheap ones because I can keep it in my glovebox and forget about it until I need to use it.

    I really only look for two features on an inexpensive multimeter: An easily replaceable fuse (READ: a fuse that is NOT soldered to the PCB) and Audible continuity testing. Data hold is a nice feature, but not a requirement.

    I can live with out auto ranging, cap testing, etc most of the time. I have a fluke 87, but it lives on my test bench most of the time.

  2. Old Coot says:

    Wants: 1) Some method of storing/securing the leads; 2) automatic shutoff so the battery doesn’t run down if I forget to turn the critter off; 3) easily reset protection for when I screw up the setting/connection.

  3. I have a cheap Canadian Tire multimeter that is ok except:

    1. the leads are poor quality, they detached at probe end and I had to re-solder and heat shrink. The leads are not as supple as they could be.
    2. the dc range (at least) becomes less accurate as the internal battery (9 V) wears out. It has fooled me a couple of times. I now compare it to my bench top philips meter and a power source to confirm readings.

    But for what it is it is ok and I wouldn’t feel bad if i lost or stepped on it 🙂 If I have some spare cach someday, I’d buy a fluke.

  4. Cameron says:

    I just by the cheapo meters when they’re on sale at good ol’ Harbor Freight for $3 each. If I fry one (which I haven’t yet), who cares? They work great.

  5. Jeff says:

    I used a few cheapo DMMs for years and finally “splurged” on a $40 one in Singapore with auto-ranging. Its auto-off feature ended up being the big win, though– it has been running off the same 9V battery since I got it. Of course the most used feature is the audible beep continuity test. Would be nice to have a way of securing the leads as Old Coot mentioned, but for the price, it was a big win. Sorry I don’t know the make/model.

  6. Toolhearty says:

    Must haves for any multimeter:

    – plug-in leads with conventional banana jacks
    – auto-off
    – easily replaceable fuse
    – audible continuity tester

    That said, I carry around one of the $3 specials from HF at work (has replaceable leads, but none of the other stuff). It’s a lot smaller and lighter than my Fluke and if anything happens to it, so what?
    I did glue a flat, flexible magnet to the back of it so I can stick it to any convenient piece of steel (usually plenty around). One of these would be fine for the average do-it-yourselfer.

  7. IronHerder says:

    I have an old Radio Shack analog multimeter. I’ll get a digital meter sometime, but probably not until my analog meter dies. Points in the analog’s favor: I haven’t been able to break it or lose it; I have never had to change the battery, assuming that there’s one there for resistance measurements; and, philosophically, I believe that digital meters give a false sense of accuracy (akin to a 9 digit result on a calculator vs. a 2-3 digit result on a slide rule). I minimize lead storage problems by keeping the whole thing in a square tupperware with a nice tight-fitting lid.

  8. steve says:

    I just got a $2.50 one from Harbor Freight. I’ve got an expensive one too from Home Depot, but I wanted something to throw in my tool box and not worry about breaking.

    for that cheap a price, it works great. Just as accurate as my good one, and actually has a wider range of testable numbers (higher voltage and amperage testing).

    I know it’s may not last forever, but for $2.50 it’s cheaper than the battery that it uses. It works, it’s accurate, and I don’t care if it breaks.

  9. Brice says:

    A competent operator. Any meter will do, but the nut really needs to be screwed on right before you hand him/her the meter.

  10. rg says:

    I agree with the other commenters. Nowadays even the least expensive meters are pretty accurate for home use. It’s hard to go wrong if the price is low enough.

    The only thing I’d add, for the sake of safety, is to consider spending a few extra dollars on a meter that has at least a 600V CAT IV rating. Less less expensive meters are available that have this, so why not?

    Here’s an article that explains the importance of this:

  11. John says:

    What they said – plus an easily obtainable battery (AA, AAA or 9 volt) I had one with a unusually sized button battery that always died when I really needed it.

    A built in stand is nice.

  12. ChrisW says:

    Most of the cheap ones are fine for home use. I really need a diode test function, and a very fast response continuity beeper. I often use my 35 year old Lafayette analog multimeter because the continuity tester is a mechanical buzzer. No digital meter responds as fast. I use a nice Protek meter at work.

  13. SCWetherbee says:

    I have my grandfathers Simpson 260 analog, which is great for diodes, continuity, and caps. My old digital Radio Shack has a typically slow response time, and odd pin connectors for the leads. Any new DMM I get probably won’t be a Fluke, but will definitely be able to take their excellent and wide assortment of leads.

  14. Dean in Des Moines says:

    I have an older digital model from Radio Shack. It has the ability to connect via serial port to a computer. It came with a floppy disk with software to grab data over time, plot the data on many different charts, and perform spreadsheet like functions on the data.

    That helped me diagnose a power problem with the main supply to my house. It wouldn’t have been necessary if the power company had taken me seriously in the first place and put their own equipment in place to monitor. I think it cost me $20, but that was 15 years ago.

  15. AggieMike says:

    i have an auto ranging one from harbor freight that i got for $30 bucks on sale about six years ago and love it. It still works perfect today. It has a continuity beeper and autorange. I don’t think they sell it anymore so when it goes out i’m gonna go for a fluke.

  16. BadBob says:

    Depends on what you are going to do with it. For most around the house and many automotive tasks the cheapest thing you can get will work. However, the more you pay the better they tend to get. More money gets you better test leads, tougher construction, better accuracy and more specialized functions. I have several ranging from in cost from $2.50 to around $400.00. Harbor Freight to Fluke. The Fluke is very accurate and has functions that don’t even exist in other meters and lots of accessories.

    For some things an old fashioned analog meter is the way to go.

  17. kyle says:

    I have an Ideal 61-360 digital multimeter. It works well and cosy about $65. I wiss i would have looked around more and bought one with a backlight LCD, but I will live without it. It would be nice if this had thermcouple capabilities.

  18. jeff says:

    Why don’t any meters have a rechargeable battery kind of like a cell phone that the whole meter can just be left on the charger until it’s needed. Mine always has a dead battery when I need it.

  19. Toolhearty says:

    jeff Says:
    …Mine always has a dead battery when I need it.

    If it’s not a matter of having left it on (with no auto-off function), then it’s just a matter of adding “meter” to the list of things you have to change batteries in once a year.

    My Ceremonial Changing of the Batteries coincides with the changing of the time in the fall (and batteries usually go on sale in the fall for some reason).

  20. chris says:

    I like the analog meters better – they are still functional even when the battery runs down. I get the cheapies these days, since they are good enough for what I do (voltage, and continuity mostly) and they last just as long as my expensive Simpson did when you run too much current through them (i.e. milliseconds).

    I also have a digital one from HF, but I don’t use it too often.

  21. Simon says:

    I’ve bought a Greenlee PDMM-20 three years ago for 50.00 $CDN. Except for Amps, it has everything ! It’s a single button DMM witch you press for ON/OFF and switching between modes.This is the I recommend for the trained-on-the-job technicians I’m working with.

    Website: http://www.mygreenlee.com/GreenleeDotCom/Products/main.shtml?greenlee_category_id=6&product_category=157&adodb_next_page=1&adodb_next_page=2&adodb_next_page=3&portalProcess_2=showGreenleeProductTemplate&upc_number=11689

  22. Peter says:

    Analog is the way to go — test batteries by checking the “current” — it the needle slams, it’s a good battery; it the needle is pokey, it’s bad. Battery testing is my #1 use for a multimeter, so this one feature is worth it.

    And — my multimeter is the cheapest RS meter from 20 years ago. I was once told, “you can always tell the real EEs — they have the cheapest meters”

  23. Dr Bob says:

    Besides what’s been mentioned previously, I’d want a wide variety of leads – some with probes, some with gator clips, some with tiny pins for inserting in the backside of automative connectors. I’d want a digital since I already have an analog.

  24. David Bryan says:

    Peter, whoever told you that told you a bunch of hooey. The cheapest meters have their place, just like any cheap tool, and I’ve seen them used in some surprising places, but for critical professional applications they just don’t deliver. If you just want to test components for go/no-go, or check continuity, or do some of the other most basic testing/troubleshooting, they can get you by, but if you try to use a meter with undemonstrated accuracy and reliability for something like serious calibration you’re just going to damage your credibility. You might have to provide certification that your meter meets minimum requirements and its own calibration is current. You might need data-logging or other features the cheapest meters won’t provide.
    You’re right about analog meters being the way to go– for you, if they do what you need a meter to do. When I started out using meters all the sparkies still used Simpsons, and some die-hards really clung to them, but there were plenty of reasons that DMM’s caught on. For most people, a high input-impedance digital multimeter is a lot better, safer choice.
    For me, around the house I like a meter I can get away with dropping every so often, that takes cheap batteries and fuses that are both easy to change, that’s simple to operate, that’s easy to pack around, and that’s easy to read (and hear). I like one that puts itself to sleep if I forget to– I just found one of my cheap meters I left on after using it last. I’ve got a little Hioki I really like right now– it takes 2032 batteries, but I’ve had it for a couple of years, and it’s still using the original battery.

  25. SCWetherbee says:

    Dr Bob: That’s precisely why I make sure my next digital will take Fluke test leads. I can’t afford the meters but the leads are great and relatively inexpensive.

  26. Phil says:

    A cheapie is fine for automotive and low-voltage hobbyist work, but if you plan on using one for high voltage use, residential or industrial wiring, a Fluke is what I recommend. The safety features and quality test leads can save your bacon when working around high-energy, high-voltage circuits. Fluke makes a full line from inexpensive DMMs to high-end units with high resolution, capacitance, frequency counter, etc.

  27. phil says:

    After becoming frustrated with my 25 year old Radio Shack’s display missing segments, I just happened to be in Lowe’s one afternoon and they had that small Greenlee kit yellow-tagged for just 21.00, well, needing something at that time for simple tests I got it and it has been an excellent, compact tool bag meter. And it has helped me postpone the purchase of a replacement ‘big guns’ Fluke at least for a while. It was called a TK30 kit – This kit has a DM-20 multimeter, a GT-10 plug-in cube and a GT-11 voltage detector.
    I also have an older Simpson analog (pawn shop special).

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