Every mechanic, whether a professional or a hobbyist, should have a good multimeter in their tool collection. While there are many multimeters on the market, not all of them are built equally. Moreover, even some of the good ones are less than optimal when it comes to working on an engine.
You may be aware of some of the more important features you need like auto-ranging capabilities. But what about things like a backlit LCD and a powerful magnet to hold your meter up where you can see it while you’re on your back underneath your vehicle? To make it easier for you, we’ve tested all of the best multimeters on the market, and the following ten reviews are the ones we most highly recommend.
|Fluke 117||3 Years||4.40/5|
|INNOVA 3340||1 Year||4.35/5|
Packed with all of the most important features for performing automotive work and priced affordably for any home mechanic, the AstroAI TRMS 6000 digital multimeter is our pick for best overall automotive multimeter. Featuring double-protection and explosion-proof ceramic fuse tubes, this multimeter is safeguarded against the sort of accidents that could cause you injury. The durable exterior means it can withstand the rigors of life inside a toolbox, but the three-year warranty provides a safety net should anything happen to go wrong. Some of our favorite features were really about convenience though, such as the backlit LCD and hanging magnet, but we wished the magnet had been a bit stronger.
There are some drawbacks to this device that warrant mentioning. Every button and function causes an extremely loud beep and there is no way to turn this off. This became annoying very quickly, but there was nothing that could be done about it. Also, the backlight only stayed on for about ten seconds. This is certainly a battery-saving feature but it’s less than optimal for long working periods.
Offering a durable frame and reliable functionality at a very affordable price, we felt that the INNOVA 3320 digital multimeter was the best automotive multimeter for the money. This auto-ranging meter has a single-setting resistance function for AC and DC voltage, so you don’t have to switch between. The rubber corner guards protect against drops and abuse.
On the downside, the beep for the continuity test is so soft as to be inaudible if there is any other background noise present. This is a pretty minor gripe, but the terrible probes were a bit bigger of an issue. They required far too much pressure to get a good reading and reduced the accuracy of the meter overall. Fixing these issues could make it a contender for our top recommendation.
Fluke is one of the most trusted names in multimeters, so it’s no surprise that one of their meters is our pick for premium choice. It would be our top recommendation if only it fit within the budget of any hobbyist. It’s pretty hard to beat the feature set of the 88V 1000V automotive multimeter. To begin, it’s safety rated for CAT-III to 1000V and CAT-IV to 600V, something only found on premium digital multimeters.
This meter tests everything important from AC and DV voltage and current to resistance, capacitance, frequency, temperature, and even millisecond pulse-width measurements for fuel injectors. It does all this to a DC accuracy of 0.1%. It’s hard to find any faults with this device, except for one glaring drawback that we just can’t overcome. This tool is priced more than eight times higher than our top pick. No matter how great it is, we can’t quite justify such a massive price difference.
The 117 is another reliable and dependable multimeter from Fluke. It offers True RMS capability with a CAT-III 600V safety rating. One of the greatest features of this multimeter is the VoltAlert technology. This is a non-contact voltage detection function that helps speed up your workflow by giving you accurate readings with no leads necessary. While you can expect Fluke dependability from this meter, you can also expect Fluke expense, meaning you’ll be shelling out a premium for the reliability.
Our biggest complaints about this multimeter both involve the display. To start, you can only view it properly while looking straight at it. If you try to view it on an angle the numbers will disappear. When leaning into an engine compartment or positioned on your back with your head crooked to see your meter, you’re going to feel very frustrated that you can’t see the reading on your screen. Compounding this problem is the very poor backlight. It’s very dim and doesn’t illuminate the screen enough for proper viewing in low-light conditions. At this high price, we would hope to see these sorts of basic problems alleviated.
Built specifically for automotive applications, the 3340 digital multimeter from INNOVA has features that every mechanic will find useful. It’s great for testing alternator diodes, breaker points, solenoids, duty cycles, wiring, switches, and anything else you can find. The auto-ranging capability provides convenience while the overload protection keeps user safety at the forefront.
This multimeter is designed to measure RPMs, a function that many mechanics would find attractive. In our experience though, this feature did not work reliably and wasn’t useful. We were dismayed to find that several other readings from this device also turned out to be inaccurate when compared against some of the other ones we were testing. The final blow to this tool was the lack of a backlit screen. When you’re underneath a car inside of a garage, the backlight is often the only thing that allows you to see your measurements.
Just missing our top five, the Klein Tools MM600 digital multimeter is a rugged device that’s built to withstand drops up to 2 meters. It’s also safety rated for CAT-III 1000V and CAT-IV 600V, so it should be applicable for professional work. Well, it would be if it were more accurate. In our testing, the readings weren’t exactly trustworthy. We were also put off by the lack of a backlight for the display. Often when working on vehicles we end up in less than optimal light conditions where a backlit display is a lifesaver. In all, we think there are much better multimeters available for the price.
The Amprobe AM-510 multimeter’s stand out feature is the dual thermocouple ability that allows you to take two separate temperature measurements simultaneously. In HVAC this is a very useful feature, in automotive work, it’s less helpful. Still, this meter is safety rated to 600V for CAT-IV and 1000V for CAT-III. Measurements can be taken of voltage, AC and DC, duty cycle, and microamps. It’s a pretty sufficient meter overall, and we enjoyed some of the extra features such as the built-in flashlight and kickstand. We also liked the relative zero mode which allows you to check a new measurement against a saved one.
Although we liked the features of the Amprobe, it had two glaring downfalls that were insurmountable. First off, we got several readings that just didn’t seem right. After checking against our other meters, we realized that this multimeter was giving inaccurate readouts. After several uses, the numbers started to show incorrectly before the unit stopped working altogether. Save yourself the hassle and get a proven model that won’t leave you high and dry as ours did.
Basic yet durable, the DM-930 multimeter from PDI is an automotive-specific meter that’s built to withstand the rigors of a garage. It’s rated IP-67 waterproof and dustproof. On top of this, it’s also impact resistant so it’s safe if it takes a fall. Whereas most multimeters only measure up to 10 amps, the PDI DM-930 can safely measure up to 20. It also performs millisecond pulse-width measurements and RPM pickup as well as all of the standards tests and measurements that you’d expect from a multimeter.
Though we liked the feature list of the PDI, it didn’t seem to have the robustness we’d hoped for. It feels cheap in your hands, not like a stout tool that’s built to last. The backlit display was also very dim, making it difficult to see when light conditions weren’t perfect. It’s a very usable meter, but we don’t think it’s one of the better values.
With the Mastech MS8268 auto and manual range digital multimeter, we jump straight back into the affordable end of the price pool. This unit features warning lights and alerts to inform you when the jacks are not set correctly. Beginners may find this to be a helpful feature, though experienced mechanics may be more annoyed by it. Function-wise, our other complaint was that the auto-shutoff can’t be deactivated.
The operation of this unit was fine to begin with, but the longevity was very poor. After a few days, we started seeing some readings of 0000 when we knew there was a current. Then, while testing a live circuit, the device started smoking. Following this, we could no longer get a reading from this meter. Though it’s well priced and provides many useful functions, we’d prefer something with better longevity.
For a meter with true TRMS operation, the Tacklife DM01M digital multimeter is quite affordably priced. You also get non-contact voltage detection which can help speed up the process of testing for live circuits. It’s also CAT-IV 600V and CAT-III 1000V rated for safety. Finally, a two-year warranty should provide some peace of mind.
Though it looks good on paper, the DM01M didn’t quite live up to our expectations. We started getting some erratic readings that gave us doubts. After fiddling with it for a while, we figured out that the lead connections did not fit properly which was causing our faulty readings. Unfortunately, there was not much to be done about this. We suggest investing your money in a multimeter that provides reliability and accuracy test after test.
After reading our comparison of the top ten automotive multimeters available, you may be wondering which features you should be looking for when you shop. In this section, we’re going to cover a few basic things to keep in mind when picking out your multimeter that will help make your life more convenient. All of these meters will provide readings that you need for working on vehicles, but it’s the extra features that can make the difference between models.
Whether you’re working in a garage, under the hood, or beneath the chassis, mechanic’s work often takes place in low-light conditions. It can be extremely frustrating to finally wriggle your way into the proper contorted position to reach a difficult part for testing, only to find out that you can no longer see your screen from where you’re at. Whether it’s because your backlight turned off or your meter doesn’t have one, you won’t enjoy it when it happens. For this reason, we think that a backlit LCD is one of the most important features to have on an automotive multimeter.
Let’s go back to the previous scenario. Maybe your backlit LCD was perfectly visible, but right when you got into position you accidentally knocked your meter out of place and are now at the wrong angle to view the screen. Magnets and kickstands are built into some of these devices specifically to mitigate this problem. A powerful magnet will allow you to hang your meter above your head attached to your car’s undercarriage. Kickstands can prop up your meter in a position where it’s easily visible while also providing stability against falling over. We think these are important features to have in any multimeter, but especially when performing automotive work.
It’s no secret that playing with electricity can be dangerous. Unfortunately, multimeters have been known to fail in the past, sometimes even causing explosions that result in injury. Luckily, meters today have come a long way in terms of safety standards and it’s not very likely that you’ll experience an explosion from your multimeter. That said, it’s never a good idea to take unnecessary chances when dealing with live electricity.
Some of the better meters are safety rated for CAT-III 1000V and CAT-IV 600V. These safety ratings can provide peace of mind knowing that your device has many protections built-in. Explosion-proof ceramic fuse tubes are another safety feature we appreciate.
See our reviews for: Multimeters for Electronics Technicians
Garages and workshops aren’t known to be the gentlest of places. Residents tend to have a pretty rough life, often being thrown around and tossed in toolboxes with loads of other hibernating tools. On top of this, automotive multimeters may fall into engines, be dropped on the floor, or experience a whole host of other physical duress. The better meters are built to withstand this sort of repeated abuse. Look for impact-proof cases and rubber corner guards that offer greater protection against drops and contact.
Now that you’ve read through the buyer’s guide and gotten some more information, it’s time for a short recap of our reviews. Overall, we thought the AstroAI was the best choice. Offering true RMS operation, double protection with explosion-proof fuse tubes, and handy features like a hanging magnet and backlit LCD all at an affordable price far below many competing models with similar feature sets. For those who are even more budget-minded, the auto-ranging INNOVA 3320 supplies all of the most necessary functions for a very conservative price. Finally, if you want the absolute best and will spare no expense, the Fluke 88V 1000V automotive multimeter is about as good as it gets. With 0.1% DC accuracy, CAT-III and CAT-IV safety ratings, a battery of available tests, and dependability renowned industry-wide, it’s a premium investment, but we feel confident recommending it.
Featured Image Credit By: INNOVA 3320 Auto-Ranging Digital Multimeter, amazon
Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!