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Best multimeter 2023: Test meters ideal for ensuring electrical equipment and circuits are safe

Jun 13, 2023

Whether you're looking to test electrical equipment, detect wiring faults or identify a non-functioning component, you will need an electrical multimeter. These little boxes of tricks, often also called electrical test meters, are a vital part of a DIYer’s tool kit, as useful for fixing problems in the house as they are for sorting niggles in the car.

In this buyer’s guide, we’re looking at the entry-level end of the market. But as we will find out, cheap doesn’t mean nasty. Every multimeter we tested registered accurate readings well within the stated tolerances outlined in each instruction manual – which is fundamental for measurement kit like this.

We’ve looked for the kind of features that make your life easier, including autoranging, clear instructions, backlit screens, stands, hooks and long cables.

While multimeters are vital aids when investigating and diagnosing electrical faults, the usual caveats apply: if you're at all unsure about what you're doing, call in the experts, because even the most innocuous gadget can deliver a painful, high-voltage surprise.

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You can buy a basic yet well-equipped multimeter for less than £10, remarkable value when you consider that most come with a PP3 battery - something which could easily cost a quarter of that on its own. So what might persuade you to pay more, then? Usually it boils down to additional features, a more robust case and cables, or a 'household' name stamped on the front.

If you're only going to test electrical connections once in a blue moon, then a cheap multimeter is perfectly acceptable. But if you're a regular user, or it's likely to end up at the bottom of a tool bag buried under piles of spanners or screwdrivers, then it's worth paying more for a more robust model, preferably featuring a rubberised protective cover.

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Most multimeters will be as suitable for in-home use as well as in the car, at least when it comes to bare specifications. Generally speaking, the currents involved in car electrical systems are much lower than in the home, although it's worth checking the specific ratings to ensure each unit is capable of measuring what you need.

Physical dimensions and the length of the supplied cables are key factors here. If you're testing electrical systems on a workbench, then a larger unit with a clear display, plus the all-important stand, will make your life much easier. But if you're working in a confined space in the footwell of a car, for example, a smaller multimeter with a backlit screen may well be a boon.

Apart from the unit’s basic range ratings, which will invariably be more than adequate for most home and automotive applications, there are a number of features to look out for which could make your fault finding quicker and simpler.

A ‘hold’ function, for instance, freezes the readings a multimeter takes, making it easier to record any measurements that are fluctuating. Autoranging multimeters, meanwhile, will cut down on the sheer number of options you will need to cycle through on the unit's main control. Manual ranging units, although traditionally regarded as being fractionally more accurate, require the user to know the approximate range of voltage, capacitance or resistance that's present in the circuit you're testing.

Autoranging units do all this for you, reducing the likelihood of user error. Given that modern autoranging multimeters often have parity with manual models when it comes to accuracy, there's little incentive to opt for the latter these days.

Key to the safe measurement of electrical voltages, resistance and currents is accuracy. We test each multimeter’s ability to test continuity and confirm it with a buzzer before testing resistance using a 1kΩ resistor. Finally, using a calibrated power supply, we test whether voltage readings are accurate. We take into account the degrees of acceptable variance outlined in the documentation, although all models here proved far more precise than the worst-case scenarios suggested. We test both auto-ranging and manual-ranging units, and although we generally prefer the former because they reduce the chances of user error, this didn’t play a part in our judging since some advanced users favour the added flexibility.

Multimeters are often thrown into tool bags, so we also evaluate general quality and construction, and in particular whether a rubber casing is fitted – either fixed or removable. We then look at the size and crispness of the screen and the quality and robustness of probes and wires, and measure the latter. In terms of additional features, we look for items such as a stand, backlighting, non-contact voltage detection functions and a case.

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Price when reviewed: £33 | Check price at Amazon

Autoranging multimeters aren't especially common at this price, but the feature makes the AstroAI very easy to use, as do the colour-coded sockets, large read-out and dust covers for the leads. While substantial, the casing feels good in the hand and is easy to grip thanks to its rubberised sides, although a separate, removable case would be better at shrugging off bangs and knocks over time.

On test, the continuity buzzer was pleasingly loud, and it was the most accurate in our resistance test, reading exactly 1kΩ when testing a 1kΩ high-stability resistor. It was only a fraction out when measuring the voltage from a highly-accurate power supply, too, though still well within the tolerances specified in the instructions. Temperature probes rated between -40 and 1,370˚C, and overload protection up to 600V are also mightily impressive bonuses.

Key specs – Size: 19 x 9 x 4cm (LWD); Cable length: 100cm; Backlit screen: Yes; Features: Temperature probes, resistor and capacitor testing ability, stand and hanging strap

Price when reviewed: £20 | Check price at Toolstation

Most of the controls are accessed via the dial, but having to push a button to toggle between AC and DC operation could cause some confusion. And it's hard to see why the screen light button needs quite so long a press to activate, compounded by the fact that it switches itself off again rather too quickly. Still, the backlight is bright and the screen is large and legible, while the instructions - supplied in a proper booklet rather than a sheet of paper - are well-written and concise.

It came second place for accuracy in our tests, too, so plenty of performance on offer here then, along with an appealing price tag.

Key specs – Size: 15 x 7 x 5cm (LWD); Cable length: 87cm; Backlit screen: Yes; Features: Integral probe storage, stand and hook, dust covers, temperature function, hold mode

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Price when reviewed: £17 | Check price at Amazon

There's no denying it's a little light on features, though, with no backlit screen or 'hold' function, and there's no autoranging or a buzzer, either. Another limitation is it will only measure AC voltage and DC current; fine in an automotive context but not so clever when it comes to using it around the house. It also requires a slightly unusual A23M battery (also referred to as a MN21 or V23GA). While one comes supplied with the unit, you will need to unscrew it to install it, and there are no positive or negative polarity markers to aid you.

Despite these slight niggles, the diddy Draper sailed through our resistance and voltage tests with ease and the fact that it comes from a familiar brand will instill further confidence. A multimeter that punches, in every sense, well above its weight.

Key specs – Size: 10 x 5 x 3cm (LWD); Cable length: 71cm; Backlit screen: No; Features: Rubber case

Price when reviewed: £8.50 | Check price at Halfords

The instructions are clear, but it's a shame they're printed on such thin paper. Its ability to test transistors is a pleasant surprise given the purchase price, while the screen is crisp, and the clear white-on-black lettering means it's easy to comprehend. And those compact dimensions mean it's a cinch to work with in tight spaces, which is just as well given there's no built-in stand or hook.

But for most operations, only leads which are fiddly to plug into the unit count against it. It was the least accurate in our test, but even then only by a tiny margin and still well within the tolerances outlined in the instructions. It's our top choice if you're on a very strict budget.

Key specs – Size: 13 x 7 x 2.5cm (LWD); Cable length: 75cm; Backlit screen: No; Key features: NPN and PNP transistor testing

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