Professional electricians need professional tools like the Fluke 117. This multimeter has all of the features one would expect from a high-quality unit. This includes a large white LED backlight that allows the electrician to work in low-light conditions, True RMS for accurate measurements, even on non-linear loads and an operating temperature from -10 degrees Celsius up to over 50 degrees Celsius, so it can be used in virtually all conditions. Since it also has low input impedance, this product also isn’t susceptible to ghost voltages or false readings like some other cheaper models. All things taken into consideration, this device has the features professionals want but is easy enough to be used by amateur DIY enthusiasts.
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What to Look For in a Multimeter
Although multi-meters are often marketed as tools for electricians and other professionals, in reality, they are tools which can be used by just about anyone. They’re not only useful for checking AC and DC electrical circuits but can be used for finding shorts in automobiles or in electronics and can be used to check the integrity of batteries. And that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. These tools can be used for all kinds of different projects – no matter how simple or how complex the project.
Before you can buy a multi-meter that suits your needs, however, you have to know what features you should look for when shopping for one of these tools. Fortunately for you, we’ve assembled some of the features that any respectable meter should have below. Compare these features against the meters you are thinking about purchasing, and you’ll have a better chance of buying a tool that will serve you well.
AC & DC Voltage
If you are going to use the multi-meter for both home and automotive use, then you are going to need a tool that can measure both AC and DC voltage. Electrical systems in your household are AC systems and the system in your vehicle is based on a 12-Volt DC system, so having a multi-meter that can be used for both types of voltages are used for all kinds of home and automotive projects.
Your meter should also be able to measure continuity. This is extremely useful for finding if there’s a short in a particular system or if a fuse is still good. For example, suppose that you want to check for an open circuit in your vehicle’s electrical system. You could check continuity by checking the circuit when there is no power running through it.
You’ll also want your meter to be able to measure Amps. Fortunately, just about every meter does. You can select 300 mA for measuring low electrical flows or 10-Amp for dealing with larger amounts of current.
Backlit LCD Screen
When searching for a multi-meter for amateur or professional use, you’ll probably want to get a model that has a nice large LCD screen. This will allow you to more easily see the readings that you are testing to receiving. Getting a unit with a back-lit display will ensure that you can see this reading, even if you are testing in conditions with less than ideal lighting conditions.
Anyone who’s tested electrical circuits knows that it seems like you need three hands to get a good reading, especially if you have to use a flashlight or hold back a wiring harness while you’re testing. Fortunately, manufacturers have come up with special features which make it easier to take the reading.
One of the first things some meters have is a kick-stand. Just like a kick-stand on a bike, this feature allows the device to sit upright while you run your tests. This enables you to see the screen while the unit is being used.
Another great feature that’s often found on meters is a probe holder. This feature holds the probe in place while it’s being used, which frees up your hand for other purposes. While there are some meters which have both of these features, others may have just one of them, so it’s important that you do your homework.
A built-in flashlight is an enormously helpful tool that I feel every meter should have. Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of them that do. So, if this is a feature that’s important to you, then be sure to get a model that has one.
I often use my multimeter for working on my PC and having a meter with a built-in thermometer is almost a necessity for that application. It will allow me to get a temperature reading of the component while I’m running tests on it.
Ideally, you’ll want to get a unit with the highest safety rating possible for the application you are going to use the meter on. Many multimeters have an Overvoltage Installation Category that tells the consumer the likely uses for the meter. This category is expressed in CAT numbers. Generally speaking, the higher the number refers to the electrical environment and energy variables. A meter with a higher CAT number is usually more resistant to higher energy transients than a model with a lower CAT number. Below are some of the more common CAT safety ratings for multimeters:
- CAT I – Electronic Components & High-Voltage low energy sources found on consumer electronics Equipment connected to low-level source components
- CAT II – Single Phase receptacles, outlets that are at least 30-feet from a CAT III source or 60-feet from a CAT IV source.
- CAT III – Three-phase distribution, single-phase commercial lighting, large building lighting systems.
- CAT IV – Three-phase utility connections and electrical meters.
As a general rule of thumb, the closer you are testing to the power source, or the higher the short circuit voltage is at a particular point, the higher the CAT number needs to be for safety purposes. Which is why the industrial and professional meters all have high CAT ratings.
Please note that the above-listed categories have been listed just for general knowledge purposes. It’s not intended to replace the safety recommendations listed in your meter’s manual or as a guide for the suggested use of your meter. Always read all of the safety information that comes with your meter and follow all of its recommendations. You should also make sure that the unit you are considering on buying conforms to UL safety standards as well.
Finding a multimeter doesn’t have to be a complicated or difficult process. It also doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. If you spend some time looking over our top ten list and checking out some of the features you should look for when choosing a meter, then you’ll end up with a meter that will get the job done and get it done accurately.