Best Automotive Multimeter: A Must-Have Tool for Electrical Issues
Diagnose your car’s electrical problems with ease.
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BY Patrick George / LAST UPDATED ON October 12, 2021
Electrical problems can be one of the hardest issues to troubleshoot, especially if you don’t have the proper tools. With the right automotive multimeter, diagnosing those pesky wiring problems is much simpler, and that’s why it’s a must-have tool for any amateur mechanic.
A multimeter is a small, usually handheld device that uses a set of leads to measure electrical voltage (the difference in electricity between two points), current (rate of electrical flow), and resistance (how much the material tested resists electrical flow.) With one, you can gauge the strength of a battery, find electrical “leaks,” and diagnose problems with circuits, headlights, fuel injection systems, and much more.
Multimeters come in analog and digital models, and more advanced (and expensive) ones have more sophisticated features. Since modern cars rely heavily on electricity for various functions, a multimeter is a vital tool for figuring out if something isn’t working right so you can fix it yourself — or go to a mechanic.
Want to sort out some electrical problems and get your car out of the garage and back onto the street? Keep reading, because we rounded up the best automotive multimeters on the market.
An inexpensive, robust choice with plenty of features.
- Great for automotive and household applications
- Easy to use
- Large display
- Not as rugged as it looks
- Temperature accuracy not great
- HOLD feature not as good as other options
An excellent entry-level multimeter.
- Great basic option
- Extremely affordable
- Clear LCD screen
- Fewer functions than more expensive models
- 9V battery is difficult to remove
- Not as accurate as other options
An accurate, feature-heavy option for professionals.
- Packed with features
- Measures up to 1,000 volts for AC and DC
- Includes a built-in thermometer
- Very expensive
- Owner’s manual is online only
- Leads feel stiff and cheap
Why Trust Us
Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Best Automotive Multimeter Reviews & Recommendations
How We Selected Auto Multimeters
Our product selections, rankings, and awards for this story are based on research. While we haven’t conducted real-world testing on all of these products yet, we’ve looked at consumer testimonials and data, tutorials, and general discussions on social media and in forums. We also consider price and specification in the context of the segment. And, of course, we rely on our institutional knowledge of the automotive landscape to weed out weak products.
For this buyer’s guide, we examined overall costs, features, and devices for amateur mechanics performing basic tasks vs. seasoned professionals and assessments from actual owners. We also looked for top brands known for quality, build construction and customer service. And as avid mechanics ourselves, we did not recommend anything we wouldn’t use ourselves.
Buying Guide/What to Look For
Still need a little more advice on what you need from an automotive multimeter or why you even need one in the first place? We’ve got you covered. Check out the buying guide and FAQ below to learn everything you need to know about these ultra-useful devices.
What to Consider When Buying Automotive Multimeters
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. Some on our list have bigger screens than others.
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.
Automotive Multimeter Key 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 are rated as high as they can go so you can easily work with circuits that are incredibly powerful 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 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. 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.
Benefits of Automotive Multimeters
- Measure current, voltage, resistance, and more. Automotive multimeters allow you to measure a variety of electrical characteristics, from voltage and resistance to capacitance. Even if you don’t use all of these functions, it’s a great tool to diagnose problems.
- 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.
- Perform engine diagnostics. Taking your vehicle to the dealer just to have it 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.
Automotive Multimeter Tips and Tricks
But wait, there’s more! Here are some useful things you need to know after you’ve actually selected the automotive multimeter that’s right for you. Read on for some of our favorite tips and tricks.
- Storing your automotive multimeter in a case will help it last 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.
- 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 cause 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. This could damage the screen and cause a variety of malfunctions.
- When storing cable probes, 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.
- 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.
- Find one that will support its intended use. That translates to investing more money into a unit if you plan on using it often. If you just want a multimeter for occasional projects, you don’t have to spend much to get what you need.
Q: What exactly can I measure with an automotive multimeter?
With an automotive multimeter, you can measure and/or test AC/DC current, duty cycles, the strength of your car battery, temperature, and electrical systems as a whole. 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?
An automotive multimeter can be used to test many conventional components that come on electric cars, like fuses, 12-volt batteries, and other systems. Just keep in mind that most electric vehicles have strong and powerful batteries on board, so many mechanics have to be safety certified to work on them. Exercise caution around electricity but more so when dealing with components on EVs. When in doubt, consult a professional.
Q: Do all automotive multimeters have overload protection?
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 does it mean when a multimeter is UL certified?
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?
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 shutoff. For automotive use, seek out a multimeter that gives accurate measurements and comes with a five-year warranty.
An automotive multimeter is a must-have tool for any mechanic at any skill level, but a decent one doesn’t have to break the bank. That’s why we recommend the Klein Tools Digital Multimeter as our best overall pick. You can’t go wrong with anything on our list, so invest wisely and be careful around electricity.