Best Automotive Multimeters: A Must-Have Tool for Electrical Issues
Properly diagnose electrical problems with our top picks for the best automotive multimeters
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Electrical problems can be one of the toughest issues to troubleshoot, especially if you don’t have the proper tools. With the right automotive multimeter, diagnosing pesky wiring problems is much easier. We’ve gathered all the information you need into an easy-reference buying guide for the best automotive multimeter that can aid in getting your ride out of the garage and back onto the street.
Well known in the industry, Power Probe offers its fourth generation digital multimeter complete with a case, alligator clips, and an owner’s manual.
- The Power Probe IV is an innovative tool with a variety of functions
- The hard case makes it easy to carry around and store without worrying about it getting damaged
- Spending over $100 might be stretching the budget too far, especially if you don’t need all the capabilities this product offers
For an entry-level automotive multimeter, choose this unit from INNOVA. Compact and lightweight, the model is fitted with rubber corner protectors for hard use.
- For all automotive and household applications, the INNOVA multimeter works well
- The product weighs less than 1 pound and includes a temperature probe, along with reverse polarity protection
- The INNOVA digital multimeter isn’t the most sophisticated unit, and the various components may not hold up well to constant use over time
The Klein Tools Digital Multimeter is well-suited to simple automotive and home electrical applications. In fact, you can even drop this product from 6 feet and it should survive.
- It comes with a carrying case, is auto-ranging, and it measures temperature
- Weighing just under 1 pound, this automotive multimeter can measure up to 1,000 volts
- True RMS, which is often desirable for the best automotive multimeters, does not come standard on this product
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Benefits of Automotive Multimeters
- Measure the current, voltage, resistance, and more. Automotive multimeters allow you to measure a variety of electrical characteristics, from voltage and resistance to capacitance. Whether you understand all the numbers or not, an automotive multimeter is a great tool to have on hand.
- Get accurate readings. The automotive industry depends heavily on accuracy and measurements, both of which can be found in an automotive multimeter. DIY mechanics will particularly appreciate the accuracy of an automotive multimeter.
- Troubleshoot electrical problems. Since most automotive multimeters are also rated for home use, you can easily troubleshoot any electrical problems in both areas. Whether your speaker stops working in your vehicle or an outlet won’t give power, you can use your multimeter to diagnose the problems.
- Test your car’s battery. Having a dead battery is a pain, especially when you’re stuck in extreme weather conditions and all you want is to get home safely. You can use an automotive multimeter to check your car’s battery so you won’t be stranded on the side of the road.
- Diagnose issues with your sound system. One of the ways you can upgrade your car is to install upgraded sound system components. However, there’s quite a lot of electrical work involved. Using a multimeter can save a lot of headaches.
- Perform engine diagnostics. Taking your vehicle to the dealer just to have a technician tell you it was an easy fix can feel like a waste of money. Before you spend tons of cash on diagnostic services, see what you can figure out on your own with an automotive multimeter.
Types of Automotive Multimeters
Most modern automotive multimeters are digital. The display is similar to a calculator that is often backlit for ease of use. These digital readouts typically take up the upper half of the multimeter. Along with the actual digits, you’ll be able to see what measurement type is being used. On certain automotive multimeters, you’ll find a hold feature that freezes the screen to record measurements, which helps if you don’t have a pen and paper.
Most automotive multimeters developed within the last few years are auto-ranging. This feature will save you a lot of time as you’re measuring and diagnosing electrical issues. The auto-range function will be able to figure out what range you’re working in and adapt so you don’t have to spend time helping the machine to measure accurately.
If you’re looking for a bit more from an automotive multimeter, then check out the INNOVA product we are featuring in this review, the INNOVA 3340 Automotive Digital Multimeter. INNOVA has been serving the automotive community for more than 15 years and calls California its home.
We understand that the Power Probe IV product we selected as our top pick for the best automotive multimeter may be out of your price range. If you’re looking for a cheaper option from a trusted brand, check out the Power Probe CAT-IV. In the business since 1991, Power Probe is headquartered in Brea, Calif.
Headquartered in Washington, Fluke has been serving the automotive community for quite some time. Don’t like the multimeters we featured above? Check out the Fluke 115 Compact True RMS Digital Multimeter. It’s a bit on the expensive side but could be a dependable sidekick.
Automotive Multimeter Pricing
- $15-$40: Most entry-level automotive multimeters will be priced around $20-$40. These multimeters typically have basic functions, such as measuring AC and DC voltage and ohms and performing a continuity test.
- $50-$100: Look to this price range for a quality automotive multimeter that will perform a variety of tasks. Accurate readings, a large display, and data hold are just some of the features you’ll be able to find at this price point.
- $100 and up: Professionals and DIY mechanics who want to invest in a high-quality multimeter they can use for years to come can expect to spend about $150-$200. Products in this range usually come with everything you’d ever need in an automotive multimeter, from a carrying case and additional attachments to a variety of functions and features.
There’s no correct answer when it comes to how long multimeter cables should be. In some instances you want all the length you can get; in other situations, however, having less cable length to deal with is ideal. You should also find out how replaceable the cables are if they break, kink, or malfunction. You don’t want to be forced into buying a whole new multimeter just for the cables.
The best multimeters will be rated as high as they can go so you can easily work with circuits that are incredibly violent when it comes to voltage levels. However, most high-end capacity multimeters top out somewhere around 6,000 volts. You may think you’re only working with 12 and 24 volts on your vehicle, but really there’s quite a lot more power there than you think.
Besides functions and features, the LCD display is one of the biggest selling points of an automotive multimeter. The best automotive multimeters have displays that are large, clear, easy to read, and backlit. A select number of multimeters can actually freeze the screen to record data. The display size can often tell you how accurate the product is, depending on how many decimal places are represented.
We mentioned this above in the types of automotive multimeters, but you should be aware of the value of this feature. Most of the time when you’re working with electrical components you want to know what’s going on with a circuit in order to diagnose it or manipulate it. Having the auto-ranging feature to get you in the ballpark before you even begin can be a game-changer for many DIY and professional electricians.
- Frequency Of Use: Think about how much you’re going to use the product. The more often you are going to use it, the more money you should invest. Over time, the multimeter will experience wear and tear, but if you can purchase a long-lasting unit, you won’t be spending hundreds of dollars on replacements every few years.
- Mounting Device: Automotive multimeters are great because their square shapes allow you to store them easily. But when you’re on the job site and need to know what your readout is, it’s always nice to have an extra hand to hold the screen up. If you’re worried about where to put your automotive multimeter, invest in products that feature straps, stands, magnets, or other mounting devices.
- Portability: Many of the products we’ve mentioned include a carrying case of some kind. If you are investing in an automotive multimeter and don’t have a place in the garage picked out for it yet, consider where you’ll be using it. If you need something lightweight and able to transport well, prioritize portability.
- Extra Features And Attachments: Most automotive multimeters are going to do the same thing: measure. However, manufacturers set themselves apart by offering extra features and abilities when it comes to what their multimeters can do. For example, some multimeters are able to power up certain components. Check into what extra features there are and which ones you prefer.
Best Automotive Multimeter Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Storing your automotive multimeter in a case will help it last much longer. Hard cases are more desirable since they will protect the multimeter from impacts and falls. However, soft cases can be easier to store in the trunk of your car or in a tool bag.
- Make sure to keep your automotive multimeter clean. That means keeping it away from fluids, aerosols, and any other contaminants that could potentially damage the screen and components. Dirty hands could be cause for problems, too.
- Be aware of your multimeter when you’re working on a job. Make sure not to drop any tools onto the meter if you carry it in your tool bag. Tools dropped on the unit could damage the screen and cause a variety of malfunctions.
- When storing cable probes, be sure to wind them loosely. Avoid kinking the cables as this could cause them to malfunction during use. Inspect the cables every so often to make sure the protective coating hasn’t split to leave the wires within exposed.
- Be aware of the voltage you’re measuring. Most meters are designed to pop a fuse before they allow the massive current to fry internal components, but that’s not to say they’ll always protect you if you’re holding onto the leads. Respect the electricity you’re working with.
- Instead of looking at brand names only, search out a multimeter that fits your needs. For example, if you’re going to use your automotive multimeter for household projects as well you won’t necessarily need something a professional electrician would require. Prioritize desired features for best results.
- Besides searching for a multimeter that fits your needs, you should also find one that will support how much you intend to use it. That translates to investing more money into a unit if you plan on using it often. If you just want a multimeter to have on hand, you won’t have to spend much to get what you need.
Q: What exactly can I measure with an automotive multimeter?
A: With an automotive multimeter you can measure and/or test AC/DC current, duty cycles, your car battery, temperature readings, and electrical systems. Each model will have a different range of functions, depending on the price and capabilities.
Q: Can I use an automotive multimeter on an electric car?
A: We recommend you don’t use an automotive multimeter anywhere near an electric car. Since most electric vehicles have strong and powerful batteries on board, many mechanics have to be safety certified to work on them.
Q: Do all automotive multimeters have overload protection?
A: Depending on the price and voltage range of the specific multimeter, there could be a few different overload protection devices in place. For example, some multimeters are equipped with fuses that will pop before allowing the unit to take the full blast of voltage.
Q: What’s the difference between a voltmeter and a multimeter?
A: Voltmeters typically have clamps that allow the meter itself to measure voltage. Multimeters measure much more than that and conduct measurements via test leads rather than clamps.
Q: What does it mean when a multimeter is UL certified?
A: UL certification comes from Underwriter Laboratories (UL) and carries with it the recognition that a product has been through rigorous testing. You can read more about UL certification at the link above, but think of it as a third-party testing and approval process.
Q: Which automotive multimeter is right for me?
A: There are a lot of factors to consider when purchasing an automotive multimeter. Some helpful features include hands-free usage, an audible tone for some measurements, a magnetic hanger, and auto shut off. For automotive use, seek out a multimeter that gives accurate measurements and comes with a five-year warranty.
Our top pick for the best automotive multimeter is the Power Probe IV. This product is popular with professionals for its various uses and reliability.
If you’re looking for a more affordable option, check out the INNOVA 3320 Auto-Ranging Digital Multimeter. For the most basic jobs, it works well.