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It may not seem like it, especially as you gun the engine cruising down the highway, but a car is pretty reliant on it’s electrical systems. That is even more true in a modern car, where not just the engine and control systems rely on electric but also a lot of devices in the cabin with you – everything from the car stereo to other gadgets, heck even if you just want to charge your cell phone on the go, that relies on a working and efficient electrical system.
If you want to test the electrics in your own vehicle, you could go out and buy an ammeter, a voltmeter and an ohmmeter. You could then tape them all together to try to create your own electrical testing super tool. Or you could buy an automotive multimeter, which rolls all three of those tools into one easy to use package, with no tape required. Better yet, read on for our guide to the best multimeters on the market, to help you find the right tool for you.
The Best Automotive Multimeter
When selecting a new multimeter, as with any other product, one of the important considerations is the price tag. After all, if we had unlimited money, we wouldn’t even bother to buy a multimeter. We’d just pay a guy to hang around and every now and then lick the car battery terminals – if his hair stood on the end, the voltage is probably ok.
Here in reality we have to test our cars, and we certainly do not suggest you lick you own battery. Instead, we suggest you buy a multimeter, but as we mentioned already, they have a price and that can price can be steep. If you buy a cheap model on the other hand, you may lose some functionality that is found on more premium versions.
That’s not the case here. This digital multimeter from Etekcity is not just staking a claim as perhaps the best automotive mulitmeter to make our list, it could also be the best budget multimeter too. For less than 30 bucks you get an auto ranging model that measures AC Current, AC & DC voltage, resistance and also provides diode and continuity tests. It also has very useful features such as a hold mode (freezes the screen so you can write down results) and an auto sleep that avoids draining the batteries.
Chock full of features, able to test everything you need and a price tag that won’t leave you weak at the knees – no wonder this is one of the most popular automotive digital multimeters on the market.
Comprehensive Testing Range
Excellent Value for Money
- Weight11.2 Ounces
It’s no “Fluke” that this is not the only product from this company to make our list. See what we did there? Clever, huh. Fluke are, terrible puns aside, a world-renowned company when it comes to producing high-end electrical testing equipment, including multimeters.
This is a true premium model that can measure a wide range of electrical impulses. Not only does it do that however, it does it with incredible accuracy, being a True RMS device. Check out the buying guide below to see what that means, but for now just know that True RMS is the keyword for unrivalled accuracy.
But here’s the thing with this model – it may be a bit too accurate. Or rather, it may be a bit too premium for what we’re looking for. It has a price tag of nearly 200 bucks, making it easily the second most expensive model to make our list – oh, and spoiler alert, the most expensive model is the other Fluke multimeter that we’ll get to later!
The fact is it also category III safety cleared also just tells us this may be a little to feature packed for it’s own good. This safety rating means it can be used on devices with up to 600 volts of power. For comparison, your car battery kicks out between 12 and 14 volts. Oh, but you do get a free case, so there’s a bit of value for money there.
Category III Safety Tested
Large White LED Screen
Free Carry Case!
Our next automotive digital multimeter comes from AstraAl and it has a few interesting features on board. First thing to note is that it is designed to measure the full range of AC/DC voltage, DC Current, Resistance and can perform diode and continuity testing.
All of that is controlled with a simple twist grip dial, which makes it very easy to use. The date is also presented to you on a very bright – and also backlit – LCD screen that is clean and uncluttered. It also has a kickstand built in, so you don’t have to hold it in your hand whilst you work. That’s a useful little safety feature to free up your hands and something we’d like to see on more models frankly. It contains very overload protection to help keep you safe.
The big stand out is the fact it is a troubleshooting model too. It can troubleshoot electrical issues which can be handy when you are testing your car, but it can also be used for training too. a lot of well though out features have been crammed into this tool.
Easy to Use
- Weight8.8 ounces
An Innova multimeter is always good to see, as Innova is another company with a well-earned reputation for producing great tools. Unlike Fluke, they also have a rep for producing tools that you don’t have to remortgage the family farm to buy. They’ve kept up that strong tradition here with a model that boasts a lot of useful features for a very low price tag.
The very first thing we have to point out is the fact that this is a digital multimeter with built in auto range and also with a price tag of under 20 bucks. It’s only just under, true, but you get still get change from a twenty which is superb value for any device with auto ranging.
Other than that it is very easy to use with an intuitive color-coded display/built in LEDs that almost walk you through the operation of the device. It is UL safety certified, has a neat little built in stand and a really big display that is nice and easy to read. It’s a pretty basic, entry-level design, but it will still do quite a lot for a relatively small amount of money.
Designed for Vehicle Use
Color Coded LEDs
- Weight11.2 Ounces
This is our second entry from Etekcity, and another strong contender for best budget multimeter. We should point out right from the start that this is a very budget model, and we’re not just talking price. Although with a tag of about 15 bucks, that is certainly worth highlighting as one of the selling points here.
But it’s also a pretty basic model with few of the bells and whistles you would expect to see on other, high-end models. There is no Auto Range feature for example. On the other hand, the sample range of 3 samples per second is actually pretty good, especially for a budget model. It is also easy to use, although the front display is a little crowded.
The screen is not crowded however, and presents information clearly and is backlit for better readability in dark environments – useful for then you are working in the guts of your car. The display is four digits, so it is not as accurate as more premium models.
This is a very simple design with a very attractive price.
Basic, Easy to Use Design
3 Times per Second Sampling Speed
- Weight5.4 ounces
AstroAl are back here with a product that is bursting with useful – and frankly premium level – features. The two stand outs are True RMS and Auto Ranging, two very useful features that you would not expect to find on a model at this price point.
Aside from that you will find the troubleshoot options we saw on the previous AstroAl model. You can also perform continuity tests, temperature and diode tests. You will find a useful multifunction socket on this model too. That allows you to plug components directly into the multimeter, a really useful feature to see.
Safety is also a big concern of this model. It has the usual over load protections that you would expect for example. But AstroAl have gone a little further, and installed ceramic, explosion proof fuse tubes for a little extra protection. Add in the very useful magnetic hanging point and you have a digital multimeter that is very well designed and built.
Explosion Proof Ceramic Fuse Tubes
- Weight1.4 pounds
See the second word up there in the name of this product? It’s pocket, which is an appropriate name really, as this multimeter is nice and small. It’s also orange which is a nice change, not a color you see very often with these devices. The fact we are talking about the color, nice as it is, should give you a good idea of the main issue with this device.
The main issue is that there is nothing special about it. Yes, it’s about 20 bucks so it’s good value. But we’ve seen basic designs that simply pack in that little bit more bang for your (limited) buck.
There are some useful features here, the multi ended test wires are good to see, ending in both banana and alligator style attachments. It has a well designed, backlit screen and as we said it is nice and small. It’s a CE certified design with an easy to use control dial too.
You know what, we are being a little unfair to this one, maybe we haven’t had enough fiber in our diets today and it’s making us cranky. This is a decent, if unspectacular, basic model of multimeter with a pretty good price tag.
Small and Compact
Easy To Use Dial
2x Types of Clips
- Weight6.6 Ounces
Many of the models of multimeter we’ve looked at on this list are not designed with cars and trucks in mind. Don’t worry, they will still do a great job on any vehicle, but it is nice to see that this Innova multimeter is specially designed to be used on vehicle based electrical systems.
That means it specially designed to pinpoint engine problems, whist also being able to protect itself from overloads. It has a temperature measure built in to measure resistance in circuits and it can also be used to test alternator diodes, breaker points and electrical switches – just about every component within the vehicle’s electrical system in fact.
It also has a number of highly practical features. For example, auto-ranging is built right in, which should be a huge time saver. We mentioned the overload protection but it also has built in safe guards against reverse polarity for an added level of protection.
This is a really well designed and well-made automotive multimeter. Of course, and here’s the kicker, when we describe things as well made and well designed, that is also code for expensive. This little tool is going to set you back in the region of 70 bucks. Not the most expensive on the list but certainly not the cheapest either. You are getting a very high quality, automotive specific tool for your hard earned cash however.
Specifically Designed for Cars
Wide Range of Testing Options
- Weight1.12 Pounds
This is the cheapest item on the list. Lets get that out the way right at the top. You will get change from 10 bucks and that is crazy good value. Do you know what else? This isn’t a bad multimeter either.
No, you will not be getting all of the bells and whistles that will be present on premium models. You will however get auto-ranging. Yep, auto-ranging, for 10 bucks. You will also get a device with a very simple to use interface, and a nice bright LCD screen. It can measure voltage and current across both AC and DC systems. It can also measure current and resistance.
And that’s about it, we have noting to add! Yes, on the one hand it is a very cheap model and it is very basic and it will probably need to be calibrated and it may not be the most absolutely accurate multimeter on the market.
But it costs 10 bucks! If you want bells and whistles and accuracy dig a little deeper into your wallet. If you want something that will probably get the job done in 9 cases out of 10 and costs the same as a pizza, take a look at this.
Entry Level Product
- Weight11.2 Ounces
We finish up the list with this Fluke automotive multimeter, and we stepped straight from Bargainville with the last product into Big Bucks City with this one. Lets get this out the way first so we don’t waste your time, this is an expensive tool. We’re talking about 400 bucks. Yes. 400. Greenbacks. Go get yourself a glass of water then come back.
Fact is, this is the best automotive multimeter on the planet. But we can tell you right now it won’t be our top pick at the very bottom of this guide, because we know that most people won’t drop that kind of money on a multimeter. And that’s fine, but if you do then you are getting one heck of a tool here.
Obviously, it does everything that you would expect of such a premium tool. It measures volts, it measures resistance, it measures temperature, it measures everything you would expect. But it is the accuracy that’s amazing. When you are measuring on a DC system, your readings will be accurate to a margin of error of 0.1%.
That is incredible! If accuracy is important, if you want the best possible tool you can find then this is the one for you. For most people, we all know it is out of their reach financially. But we also know, if we could afford, this is the one we’d buy.
Seriously. Very, Very Expensive
Safety Rated to Category III (1000 Volts)
Designed for Automotive Use
- Weight2.1 pounds
Best Automotive Multimeter Buying Guide
There you go, 10 of the best automotive multimeters on the market right now. In the next section, we’ll take a good look at the features that help make a good multimeter. We’ll also take a quick peek at the best way to use your new tool, as well as answer some of the most frequently asked questions about these very useful little devices.
What to Consider When Buying an Automotive Multimeter
- Auto Range Auto Range is a very useful feature that essentially means the multimeter will detect the type of current, voltage or other input that you are measuring. It will then adjust itself accordingly, meaning you don’t have to.
- True RMS True RMS is…. Well, it’s important. It’s also very complicated, and takes in mathematics and formulas and oh I need a beer. The simple fact with True RMS is that a multimeter with this feature will deliver the most accurate readings aross certain types of measurements. It will also set you back a bit of money, because it’s generally the premium models that have this feature. It’s probably not completely necessity for you to have if you don’t want to spend the cash either. A regular multimeter will still be accurate enough for use in most cases when you are just working on your car.
- Over Load Protection Call us babies if you like, but we feel that not being electrocuted is, broadly speaking, a good thing. If you agree with us, look for a model that boasts good over load protection. If you disagree then you need to get help, man.
- Rubber Edges / Solid Casing More of a practical feature, but these are quite delicate little instruments. A good solid case and/or rubber edges will provide that little bit of extra protection to your device, and probably prolong its lifespan.
Why should you buy an Automotive Multimeter?
To our mind, there are two reasons to pick up one of these tools.
- Car Health
If you look after your car, then you need to look after all the parts. That requires specialist tools for the various components and systems, and a multimeter is the specialist tool you need to give the electrical system a health check. A dying battery is a pain in the backside, but a multimeter can help you spot it early and replace it – or any other electrical component – before it becomes a bigger job. Speaking of which:
- Bank Balance Health
May pro mechanics treat the electrical system like it’s witchcraft of some sort. A multimeter pulls back the veil, allowing you to isolate and repair issues yourself. Many components of the electrical system are actually very cheap and easy to buy, so by being able to highlight the problem and repair it yourself you can stand to save a lot of cash.
How to Use an Automotive Multimeter
It’s actually pretty simple, though it does depend on what you need to measure. The most simple test involves a battery check, in which case you simply attach the multimeter to the battery connectors and read the voltage off the LCD screen.
They can also be used for far more technical work, in which case it can be a good idea to check out some online guides or instructional videos on YouTube before you dive in. Measuring current, for example, requires the multimeter to be placed into the circuit. That’s not as hard a sit sounds but it is something you need to practice!
Useful Tips & Tricks
- Always ensure that the multimeter is rated for the voltage of the system you plan to test. Remember that category III is up to a 1,000 volts, category II is up to 600. A car battery puts out between 12 and 14 volts, so if you’re only working on the car this is much easier than working on home appliances or wall electrical outlets.
- Overload protection. Despite that, always look for a product with good overload protection. You never know with 100% accuracy what can happen with an electrical system, especially ones that is poorly. Protect yourself more than you could possibly need and you’ll be fine.
- Premium models will remain calibrated for a long time, but lower quality ones will need to be recalibrated every now and then to continue to give good readings. Look around online or visit a local hardware or automotive store to find calibration services in your area.
- These are sensitive instruments. Try not to treat them too roughly, and store them safely.
Best Automotive Multimeter FAQ:
It may be shocking* to discover but quite a lot of people have quite a lot of questions about digital multimeters. We’ll try to answer some of the most frequently asked ones in the next section.
(*Shocking. Get it? Because we’re talking about measuring electric? We’re wasted here.)
Q: How to measure current if a meter has different ranges?
A: Measuring current is hard as it requires the electricity to flow through the multimeter. You do need to select the right range therefore, to prevent damage to the device. It takes about 400 amps to start a normal size car and up to a 1000 to start a truck. So set the range well above these levels and work down.
Q: Are the readings accurate and trustworthy?
A: Yes and no. It will never be 100% accurate, as even the Mack Daddy 400 dollar Fluke multimeter had an error range of 0.1%. Generally speaking, they are accurate enough for normal vehicle diagnostics and repair.
Q: Is it safe?
A: Yes and no. Haha, we love these answers, huh? It is not safe because you are playing around with electricity, and that is always hazardous.
It is safe, because a good multimeter will have lots of built in safety features such as protection against overload or reverse polarity. So as long as you use the correct tool in the correct way, it’s pretty safe.
Q: How do I replace fuses?
A: Fuses are another great safety feature, but when they blow it can be a pain in the ass. Replacing them is easy though, and the instruction manual of your product will tell you how – but trust us, it’s really simple.
One tip is to open up your multimeter before your first use. Take a note of the rating on the fuses and order a few replacements online so you have some to hand if you happen to blow them.
Q: How can I check the highest range for measurement of any quality?
A: The device will clearly list the range it can measure too. Don’t expect a 10 volt mulitmeter to measure a 15 volt system. Also, take a look at the measurement output numbers. Lower quality tools have a read out of up 2000. A better quality tool gives read outs up to 6000 places. The latter is going to be much more accurate even at the higher ranges.
Our Top Pick
The top pick on this list simply has to be the Etekcity MSR-C600. As we pointed out in our review, this is not just a great multimeter, it’s also the best budget multimeter out there. It just does everything you could possibly ask for, and it’s all wrapped up in a handy little device that offers phenomenal value for money. Add all that together and it’s easy to see why the Etekcity MSR-C600 is simply the best automotive multimeter on the market today.
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