LAST UPDATED: June 3, 2019
Best Digital Calipers: Measure Challenging Automotive Parts
Measure once with these top digital calipers
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON June 3, 2019
A good caliper is indispensable in many lines of work, particularly when measuring the diameter or thickness of something is crucial. In the automotive industry, for example, high-quality calipers are common when it comes to designing and making vehicles and the various parts that go into them. You might not think that this digital measuring tool can be useful for routine maintenance. If you like to replace or upgrade parts consistently, however, it's time to think again. Check out our handy guide below to see why a digital caliper might be right for you and what options you should consider.
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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 your 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 2021
While most automotive parts are under six inches in length or diameter, it can be handy to have a high-quality digital caliper that measures up to 12 inches. This digital caliper from Vinca gives you more leeway when measuring larger parts and provides the same level of accuracy as smaller, professional-grade calipers. The polished stainless steel body measures 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 out of the box when moving the digital readout, and some adjustments may be required to get everything working smoothly. This is partly due to its anti-corrosion coating. The analog readout also lacks incremental marks between the inches on the imperial side.
A good digital caliper that is truly resistant to water, oil, and dust can be hard to find when you want to save some money. 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 need 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. However, 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 function.
Sometimes, spending money on 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 six 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 when it comes to accuracy, be prepared to pay a premium price. Beyond the price, the 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. The display is also small, isn't 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.
Whether you need to measure a diameter of car wheels or fasteners and screws, this model will help you out. It's a tool that offers a perfect combination of low price and excellent quality. Therefore, we find it ideal for regular DIY projects around the house, especially for woodworking, carpentry, arts and crafts, and more. The tool offers a measurement range from zero to six inches. It has three modes you can switch between: inches, fractions, millimeters. When it comes to the overall construction, the caliper features a polished stainless steel frame, a knurled thumb roller, and a locking screw. That allows not only for more precision but easy use, as the tool slides smoothly during the application. Overall, the tool is pretty straightforward and can be used for measuring inside and outside diameters as well as the depth of objects. The results come out on the large and highly visible LCD screen. The issue you might have with the caliper is the frequent battery drain. It seems that the batteries are not the best quality. Also, keep in mind that this tool doesn't provide the accuracy and durability you need for heavy-duty professional projects. If you need a high-end tool, you might have to spend some extra cash on other models.
With a measurement range of zero to 24 inches and accuracy that goes around 0.001 inches, this caliper is ideal for those who need ultimate precision for their projects. The tool is designed to provide accurate measurements on the intuitive LCD screen, so you can tackle both small and large projects with ease. For the extra cash you spend on this tool, there are many benefits. The first and the main one is the two-year warranty that covers all possible issues. Others involve outstanding accuracy and construction. The caliper offers precision most professionals need for their projects and construction that can withstand quite some abuse. There are even some extras such as a USB data output that allows you to connect the tool to your smart devices. Along with a high price, there are a couple of other things to keep in mind before making a purchase. For example, the USB cable is not included in the package, and you'll have to pay a few more bucks to get it. The caliper is also rugged and might be unsuitable for daily use when you need a light and portable tool to carry around.
All DIYers and hobbyists know how important it is to have compact and lightweight digital calipers for home purposes. It's all about owning an item that is easy to carry around and precise enough to get the job done. Clockwise Tools offers just the model to suit the needs of regular home applications. The caliper offers a measurement range of zero to eight inches and proves to be quite accurate. The body is made from stainless steel that allows for the jaws to slide smoothly. It's also IP54 rated, which means it's protected from water and dirt. Overall, the tool is super handy and easy to use. With it, you can measure both the inner and outer diameters of objects as well as depth and steps. The main drawback to this caliper might be its frequent tendency to slip. You might need to re-zero it now and then, especially if you want to get the most accurate result. Although fairly precise, this tool is not on the same level as some other high-end digital calipers.
Thanks to the measurement resolution of 0.0005 inches and the accuracy of 0.001 inches, the General Tools caliper is convenient for both professional and DIY purposes. Although not quite in the range of professional digital calipers, the tool still offers excellent precision and some other extra features. Therefore, it's one of the favorite options on the market, especially among hobbyists. The digital caliper easily switches between inches, millimeters, and fractions - all you need to do is to push the button. You can use it to measure internal and external diameters, depth, and step. The housing is made from stainless steel and can withstand rough use and outside conditions. That makes the tool ideal for home use and daily projects. There are only a couple of small inconveniences the tool might cause along the way. The first one is the effort required for changing batteries. The battery compartment is awkwardly designed and challenging to open. Another inconvenience regards the screen. It’s sometimes difficult to read, especially under direct sunlight and in dark environments.
Those who are always on the go prefer their tools to be light and portable, which is exactly why this digital caliper is an excellent option. Although made of quality stainless steel, the tool is quite lightweight and easy to carry. It's even IP54 rated for water resistance, so you don't have to worry about using it outdoors. You can use the caliper to take internal and external dimensions, diameters, depth, and steps. The tool easily switches between inches and millimeters and offers excellent accuracy. The jaws slide effortlessly, and the screen is easy to read. It's overall a simple tool for everyday purposes. The package includes an extra battery. The fact that you won't pay a fortune to get this model does mean you'll have to make some compromises. You won't have an option to lock the caliper in a particular position or to use a wheel to fine-tune delicate measurements. On top of that, the caliper is not intended for rugged use. The plastic tips are especially prone to damage, so you'll have to handle them carefully.
- 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.