Best Digital Calipers: Measure Challenging Automotive Parts
Measure once with these top digital calipers
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PUBLISHED ON June 3, 2019
A good caliper is indispensable in many lines of work, especially when measuring the diameter or thickness of something is crucial. In automotive work, for example, high-quality calipers are common when it comes to designing and making vehicles and the various parts that go into them. For routine maintenance, however, you might not think that a digital measuring tool like calipers can be useful. If you like to replace or upgrade parts consistently, however, it's time to think again. Read on for our handy guide to see why a digital caliper might be right for you and what options you should consider.
- Best OverallVinca Digital Vernier CaliperSummarySummaryOne of the few high-quality 12-inch digital calipers available for measuring larger automotive parts (and other things).ProsProsStylish and durable design. Printed marks are easy to read in case the battery dies. Accurate measurements from the digital readout. Auto-off feature.ConsConsLacks incremental markings on the printed analog readout. Moving the digital caliper is stiff when first using the tool out of the box.
- Best ValueiGaging Electronic CaliperSummarySummaryHigh-quality digital calipers that can resist common and destructive elements like water and oil.ProsProsGood, accurate readout. Comes in several different measurement options. Quality construction and materials (stainless steel).ConsConsThe fractional display is questionable at best since it doesn't use common fractions. No auto on feature.
- Honorable MentionMitutoyo Absolute Advanced Sensor CaliperSummarySummaryThe top choice to consider if you want the highest degree of accuracy available for automotive or other uses.ProsProsComes calibrated from the factory with a certificate of calibration. Offers a high degree of accuracy resolution (.0005 inches).ConsConsPoor design in important areas. The plastic battery compartment tends to come loose or even break at times. Small digital readout.
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Why Buy a Digital Caliper
- Accurately measure thicknesses and diameters. Yes, you can measure pretty much anything with a simple ruler, but tricky areas like the diameter of a cylinder or the thickness of a metal plate are difficult to spot by sight alone. This is the whole point of a caliper. Whether you are measuring the inside or outside diameter of a part or its general thickness, it's important to have an accurate caliper for the best measurements possible.
- Make part replacements and upgrades easier on yourself. If you don't know what part you vehicle needs for a routine replacement or a particular upgrade, a digital caliper can save you some time and headache. While many sizes are standard, it isn't uncommon to find a part with limited compatibility. This is especially true for fasteners and other parts that screw into threaded holes into the frame. If you don't know the size or can't find the information somewhere, the easiest thing to do is get an accurate measurement with a caliper.
- Measure things more quickly. The "digital" part of a digital caliper is where this type of measuring device really shines. Unlike dial calipers with markings on the side and a dial, digital calipers give you the measurement right from the readout as you slide it around back and forth. Not only is this more accurate in those cases, but it can also be more reliable when it comes to reading incremental measurements like decimals and fractions.
Top Brands of Digital Calipers
Starting off as a metrology company in 1934, Mitutoyo has a long history of making sensitive gauges and measuring devices for a higher level of precision than its competitors. As electronic sensors became mainstream, the company quickly moved into a leadership position, with many of its offerings becoming industry standards across the globe. It's Advanced Onsite Sensor Caliper is an example of a high-quality digital caliper that goes a few steps above budget options.
Digital Caliper Pricing
- $50 and under: This is the budget range that most digital calipers occupy. Here, you will find plenty of options that do the most basic tasks: measuring different distances and thicknesses with the simple digital readout. Accuracy and quality can lack in this range, so this is best if you want a simple caliper without a high degree of accuracy in your measurements.
- $50 and above: Above the $50 mark, digital calipers tend to increase in quality and accuracy. Models that come certified for calibration out of the factor are the pinnacle of accuracy in this range. In other words, if the caliper is already calibrated, you are likely to get better results when needed without much work.
More than anything else, size is the thing that influences a caliper's measuring range the most. Common sizes include 6, 12, and 24 inches in length (meaning the distance the caliper can actually measure). Larger calipers are better for larger automotive parts, but something around 6 inches is more than enough for typical repairs and upgrades. A good locking screw on the thumb wheel is also helpful for precise measurements.
The convenience of a digital caliper comes from an extra large LCD screen. Being able to look at the digital display to see the measurement saves time and increases accuracy over trying to measure it with printed markings. Therefore, it's helpful to have a large display with different display options like metric units, and imperial conversions, fraction conversions, and overall accurate readings.
A digital caliper is only good as its battery life. Most use a simple watch battery that provides ample power, as long as it stays inside the caliper. This makes the battery compartment important. Many cheaper calipers take shortcuts on the compartment, particularly the lid. The lid may be more prone to falling out or breaking with casual use. To save some headache and use the digital caliper longer (without needing an extra battery), invest in one with a more durable lid and an automatic shut off if the LCD display is left on.
- Intended Use: Mechanics, designers, and other automotive professionals who use calipers daily tend to have several sizes close by for different things. Since the right size of a caliper depends on the things you measure, it helps to plan ahead in terms of what you need. For typical automotive parts, for example, a 6-inch caliper is usually enough. Larger parts will obviously need larger calipers, but there is a tradeoff in the caliper's usefulness in tight spaces. If weather or liquids are a concern and you need something that is water-resistant, look for a caliper with IP54 protection as well. A sturdy plastic case can also help with protection.
- Printed Markings: Most people buy a digital caliper for the readout, but if you want the best of the digital and analog worlds, find something with printed markings on the size. It's helpful to have both metric and SAE markings divided up into useful increments for the most accurate results.
- Accuracy: Virtually all calipers are accurate within a 1/4 or 1/8 inch. This can be good enough for most applications, but if you really need precision, you'll need a higher accuracy resolution. This drives the cost up. In addition to this, calibration is a must. For the best results, find something that is certified calibrated from the manufacturer.
Best Digital Calipers Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Overall: Vinca Electronic Digital Vernier Caliper
While most automotive parts are under 6 inches in length or diameter, it can be handy to have a high-quality digital caliper that doubles the measurable length to a whole foot. This gives you more room to use when measuring larger parts while needing the same level of accuracy as smaller professional-grade calipers.
The polished stainless steel body measures an entire 12 inches or 300 millimeters. In addition to the calibrated digital readout, the analog readout on the side is easy to read with the black-and-red color scheme. Unlike some basic digital calipers, this one also works with a dedicated data cable to transfer measurement information onto a laptop for advanced users.
You should expect a slight break-in period with this caliper. It's a bit stiff right out the box when moving the digital readout, and some adjustments may be required to get everything working smoothly. This is partly due to the anti-corrosion coating it ships with. The analog readout lacks incremental marks between the inches on the imperial side.
Best Value: iGaging Digital Electronic Caliper
A good digital caliper that is truly resistant to water, oil, and dust can be hard to find when you're wanting to save some money at the same time. The iGaging Electronic Digital Caliper is about as good as it gets as an IP54 digital caliper. With a stainless steel body and robust readout, this is the kind of caliper you'll want when working on a vehicle.
Beyond the polished finish and solid design, the caliper's quality construction extends to a few areas others tend to forget about. For example, the battery compartment keeps the battery firmly in place and resists popping the lid off if it's accidentally knocked. The display is easy to read, and the accuracy of the calipers is above average for other calipers of this price.
On the con side, the fractional display is difficult to read and use at times. The fractions are restricted to "normal" fractions instead of more commonly used fractions, so its usefulness may be questionable when measuring automotive diameters. The device also lacks an auto on when moved.
Honorable Mention: Mitutoyo Absolute Advanced Sensor Caliper
Sometimes, investing a good chunk of change into a simple tool like a digital caliper is a smart investment; at least, this is the working theory Mitutoyo has with its AOS digital caliper. Coming in at 6 inches, this digital caliper looks pretty standard until you take a deeper look at the accuracy and calibration level if offers right out of the box.
Unlike many budget digital calipers, this one comes calibrated right from the manufacturer with a certificate of calibration. This gives it an accuracy resolution of .0005 inches or .01 millimeters. This level of accuracy is what really drives the cost of the caliper up the most when compared to other options. So, if you want the best in accuracy, be prepared to pay the premium.
Beyond the price, the construction quality doesn't match the cost in some areas of the design. For example, the plastic battery cover has a tendency to come loose or even break when using a digital caliper. The display is also small, lacks a backlit, and doesn't have a physical scale as a backup when the battery runs low or comes out of the compartment due to the faulty lid.
- If you buy a budget digital caliper, be ready to zero it every now and then to make sure it's accurate as much as possible. Most calipers have a simple button you press when the jaws are in the fully closed position to reset the digital readout.
- You don't actually need a certificate of calibration if you want a greater level of accuracy. Some calipers actually make it easy to calibrate it yourself following instructions in the manual or online. If you don't mind some extra work, this can be a good way to save money without sacrificing too much on quality.
- Make sure the digital calipers you consider have the ability to measure outside and inside diameters. This is usually done with separate jaws on either side of the main shaft. This setup will make it easier to measure different areas of round automotive parts like tailpipes.
Q. Should I buy a digital caliper that is more than 6 inches?
A. Unless you are going to measure larger automotive parts, probably not. While the extra length of 12 or 24 inches comes in handy for larger things, it is difficult a larger caliper in small spaces like the engine bay.
Q. Is there a way to charge a digital caliper?
A. Typically, most calipers just use a watch battery. These batteries don't typically recharge, but they are cheap enough to replace.
Q. How do I know if a digital caliper is accurate or not?
A. The easiest way to tell is to measure something where you already have the thickness or diameter. Take a metal plate with a known thickness, for example, and use the digital calipers. The difference between the caliper's readout and the actual thickness will tell you how much the tool is off.
For a good digital caliper that is easy to use, the Vinca Digital Vernier Caliper is hard to beat in terms of sheer simplicity.
The iGaging Electronic Caliper offers a lot of the same functionality at a more affordable price point.