Whether you’re looking to test electrical equipment, detect wiring faults, or identify a component that isn’t working, you’ll need an electrical multimeter. These little trick boxes, often also called electrical testers, are an essential part of a handyman’s tool kit, as useful for solving problems around the house as they are for sorting out worries in the car.
In this buyer’s guide, we look at the entry-level market. But as we’ll find out, cheap doesn’t mean nasty. Every multimeter we tested registered accurate readings well within the tolerances given in each instruction manual – which is fundamental for a measuring kit like this.
We’ve looked for the kind of features that make your life easier, including auto-select, clear instructions, backlit displays, stands, hooks, and long cables.
Although multimeters are vital aids when investigating and diagnosing electrical faults, the usual caveats apply: if you are at all unsure of what you are doing, call in the experts, because even the most innocuous gadget can deliver a painful high-voltage signal. surprise.
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Best multimeters: at a glance
How to choose the best multimeter for you
How much should I spend?
You can buy a basic but well-equipped multimeter for under £10, remarkable value considering most come with a PP3 battery – something that could easily cost a quarter of that on its own. So what could persuade you to pay more then? Usually it comes down to extra features, a sturdier case and cables, or a “home” name stamped on the front.
If you’re only testing electrical connections once in a blue moon, a cheap multimeter is perfectly fine. But if you’re a regular user, or are likely to find themselves at the bottom of a tool bag buried under piles of wrenches or screwdrivers, then it’s worth paying more for a sturdier model with preferably a rubberized protective cover.
Where are you going to use it?
Most multimeters will be fine for both home and car use, at least as far as the minimum specs go. Generally speaking, the currents involved in car electrical systems are much lower than in the home, although it is worth checking specific ratings to ensure each unit is capable of measuring what you need. .
The physical dimensions and the length of the supplied cables are key factors here. If you’re testing electrical systems on a workbench, a larger unit with a clear display, along with the all-important stand, will make your life easier. But if you’re working in a confined space in the floor of a car, for example, a smaller multimeter with a backlit display might just be a godsend.
What features do you need?
Along with the unit’s basic ratings, which will invariably be more than adequate for most home and automotive applications, there are a number of features to look for that could make your troubleshooting faster and easier.
A “hold” function, for example, freezes readings taken by a multimeter, making it easy to record any fluctuating measurements. Auto-ranging multimeters, on the other hand, will reduce the number of options you have to cycle through on the main control of the device. Manual ranging units, while traditionally considered to be slightly more accurate, require the user to know the approximate range of voltage, capacitance, or resistance present in the circuit you are testing.
Autoranging units do all of this for you, reducing the risk of user error. Since modern auto-ranging multimeters often have parity with manual models when it comes to accuracy, there is little incentive to opt for the latter these days.
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The best multimeters you can buy in 2022
1. AstroAI DM6000AR Digital Multimeter: The most economical and feature-rich multimeter
Price: £33 | Buy now on Amazon
The AstroAI is by far the most feature-rich multimeter in this test, but despite that, it only costs a little more than the next most expensive model. It certainly looks and feels like a premium product, with long cables that have dust caps and safety guards for the probe tips, and a large, clear display. The only minor blemishes on its notebook are a slightly inconsistent backlight system and awkward support.
Auto-ranging multimeters aren’t particularly common at this price point, but this feature makes the AstroAI very easy to use, as do the color-coded jacks, large readout, and dust covers for cables. Although substantial, the case feels great in the hand and is easy to grip thanks to its rubberized sides, although a separate, removable case would be better able to shrug off knocks and knocks over time.
When tested, the continuity buzzer was pleasantly loud, and it was the most accurate of our resistor test, reading exactly 1kΩ when testing a high stability 1kΩ resistor. It was only a fraction when measuring voltage from a very accurate power supply, although still well within the tolerances specified in the instructions. Temperature probes rated from -40 to 1370˚C and overload protection up to 600V are also very impressive bonuses.
Key Specs – Size: 19 x 9 x 4cm (LWD); Cable length: 100cm; Backlit screen: Yes; Features: Temperature probes, resistor and capacitor test capacitance, stand and hanging strap
2. Toolwiz XL830L Digital Multimeter: The Most Accurate Multimeter
Price: £14 | Buy now on Amazon
The Toolwiz XL830L proves that a complete multimeter doesn’t need to cost the earth; indeed, it is cheaper than some much more basicly equipped models in our test. The device isn’t as sturdy as some of the other test meters here, particularly the flimsy stand, but it’s wrapped in a bright yellow rubberized cover that gives it a more expensive feel. It’s easy to hold and the clear screen is well backlit, but it’s a shame that much of the lettering surrounding the control dial is dark green on black, making it harder to read in harsh conditions. low light.
Despite this, it recovered ground by proving to be 100% accurate in our resistance measurement test, with the 13.8V supply output test being only 0.07V. Overall, it proved to be the most accurate device in all of our electrical tests.
The technical specs are clearly laid out, but otherwise the instructions are pretty basic. Although it is not an auto-ranging meter, all functions except hold and backlighting are accessed via the control wheel, making it easy to use. The provision of sockets for testing transistors is also commendable at this price.
Key Specs – Size: 14 x 7 x 4cm (LWD); Cable length: 68cm; Backlit screen: Yes; Features: Stand, sockets for testing transistors, hold function
3. TIS 258 Digital Multimeter: Best All-Round Value Multimeter
Price: £20 | Buy now on Toolsstation
As a multimeter that does it all on a budget, the TIS 258 really takes a beating with solid specs and impressive performance across the board. It’s a solid unit with a bright red rubber cover that feels great in the hand. It’s fairly compact, although slots in the back of the rubber cover (for storing high-grade probes) mean it’s quite thick – the cover may need to be removed if you’re working in tight spaces. The combination of an integrated stand and a slot for hanging it on a hook means it is ergonomic. A temperature range of -20 to 750˚C and overload protection up to 600v are also impressive bang for the buck.
Most controls are accessible via the dial, but having to press a button to switch between AC and DC operation can be confusing. And it’s hard to see why the display light button requires such a long press to activate, compounded by the fact that it turns off too quickly. Still, the backlight is bright and the screen is large and readable, while the instructions – provided in a proper booklet rather than a sheet of paper – are well-written and concise.
It also came in second for accuracy in our tests, so plenty of performance is on offer here then, with an attractive price tag.
Key Specs – Size: 15 x 7 x 5cm (LWD); Cable length: 87cm; Backlit screen: Yes; Features: Built-in probe storage, stand and hook, dust covers, temperature function, hold mode
Buy now on Toolsstation
4. Draper 52320 Digital Multimeter: The best multimeter for a car glove box
Price: £28 | Buy now on Amazon
Measuring a little larger than a deck of playing cards, the Draper Pocket Digital Multimeter lives up to its name. It’s finished in Draper’s signature bright blue, which should make it easy to locate in the depths of a tool bag. Its compact dimensions mean it’s perfect for, say, stowing away in the glove compartment of a classic car to identify faults on the road, and should also keep it to hand in tight spaces.
There’s no denying that these features are a bit lightweight, with no backlit screen or “hold” function, and there’s no auto-range or buzzer either. Another limitation is that it will only measure AC voltage and DC current; fine in an automotive context but not so smart when it comes to using it around the house. It also requires a slightly unusual A23M battery (also called MN21 or V23GA). Although one is supplied with the device, you will need to unscrew it to install it, and there are no positive or negative polarity markers to help you.
Despite these slight annoyances, the Draper diddy got through our stress and strain tests with ease and the fact that it comes from a familiar brand will inspire more confidence. A multimeter that punches, in every way, well above its weight.
Key Specs – Size: 10 x 5 x 3cm (LWD); Cable length: 71cm; Backlit screen: Nope; Features: Rubber case