What to Look For When Buying a Multimeter

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A multimeter is a compact electronic device that measures various types of electrical currents. You can use it for various purposes, ranging from testing wall outlets to checking the strength of batteries. Be sure to learn about these features and specifications before buying a multimeter:


Most new meters have digital displays, but a few units still use analog technology. Digital equipment provides more accurate measurements that you can read very quickly. On the other hand, analog multimeters usually cost less, test diodes more precisely, and draw less battery power.

Some models offer backlighting. You can read a lighted display much more easily when you use a meter in a dark or dimly lit location. However, backlighting may add to the device’s cost and increase its power consumption.


A few models offer built-in flashlights. This handy feature allows owners to complete electrical tasks while carrying and handling fewer tools. These units only cost slightly more than equivalent multimeters without lights, but be prepared to change the batteries regularly.


Most multimeters run on AA, AAA, or 9-volt batteries. Manufacturers usually include at least one battery with this product. When you select a model, be sure to consider the longevity and replacement expense of the batteries. Nine-volt units cost the most, and AAA cells run out of energy more quickly.


Many meters come with long-lasting warranties; they usually remain in effect for one, two, or three years. A guarantee may expire sooner for commercial users. If you purchase a multimeter with a credit card, the issuer might provide extended warranty coverage at no extra cost.

Top Voltage

The majority of these devices measure voltage levels as high as 500V. Numerous models cap readings at 600V, and a few can accept up to 1,000 or 1,500 volts. Most people won’t have to check voltage levels in excess of 240V, so this cap doesn’t represent a major consideration unless you need the meter for certain specialized purposes.

NCV Detector

Some multimeters can perform non-contact voltage testing. They will detect electrical energy in a wire without direct contact, but you’ll still need to use the test leads when you want to determine the specific number of volts. This feature provides a safer way to confirm that you’ve successfully disconnected power from a circuit.


A meter’s settings let you choose the type of electrical energy you want to measure, such as AC, DC, ohms, volts or amps. The device will give you more precise readings if you select the appropriate voltage range for a certain task. Most models require you to make this choice manually, but a more costly auto-ranging meter will automatically pick the best option.


Remember to check the length of the included test leads; they often range from two to five feet. Expensive multimeters tend to come with longer wires. Long cables may become tangled, but they otherwise improve convenience and ease of use. If you buy leads separately, don’t forget to check their maximum voltage.

To sum it up, you’ll benefit from a meter with an easy-to-read display, decent warranty coverage, and a voltage limit that accommodates your needs. You can save money on batteries by choosing a unit that runs on “AA” cells. Extra features like auto-ranging, a flashlight, or NCV detection could make your job a little easier and safer.

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