Picking Up A Quality Multimeter
Multimeters can be useful, especially in this day and age in which nearly everything we do depends upon some kind of energy source, predominantly electricity. It is potentially very useful to know what the voltage is at any given point in time, as well as its continuity and resistance. If you have an electric car, for example, a good multimeter will help you to charge it up at the most economically viable point in time, saving you money over time.
1. Multimeter? Why?
Multimeters can help with a range of tasks. You can test batteries in order to see if there’s any juice left in any of them; you can check extension cords in order to know if they are still working consistently and efficiently. You can sift through a drawer-full of light bulbs, determining exactly which ones work and which don’t. You can check to see if a light switch is faulty or fine. There are many more uses, but how about knowing something of the difference between cheap multimeters with limited features and more premium models? Are more expensive versions are more reliable? Let’s find out.
2. Which One?
The cost of multimeters is baffling. Why is it that they can vary from just $20 or $30 to several hundreds of dollars? The answer is, it depends on how much you need it, and how robust and accurate you need it to be. If you’re just someone who wants to check a few light bulbs or batteries at home, or even wants to check out how your home’s voltage is faring over time, then a cheaper one might do. However, if you work with electrics for a living then a premium model might be what you require, in terms of its accuracy, safety, and life expectancy.
Cheaper multimeters are generally not going to be as robust or long-lasting as their more expensive cousins. They are not built with a view to you dropping it in a workshop or using it constantly, week after week. More expensive models tend to have rounded corners; ideal for the rough and tumble that comes with constant use in a hardworking, busy environment. They will tend to have some form of rubberized lining around the perimeter and a professional-grade ultra-strong plastic casing that can survive a range of different environments. If they don’t have this and still cost a lot, you might want to re-consider.
Cheaper multimeters will tend to have readable and functional displays that will not have a backlight; this can be a problem when the light is obscured. The font, also, will tend to be clunky and not always easy to read. High-end multimeters, on the other hand, will have screens that have a clear, crisp resolution, not dependent on the quality of the light around it. They will usually have other helpful data readily displayed, such as the dc, ac, volts, amps, ohms, etc.
5. Battery Access
Pricier multimeters permit easy access to their batteries, often via a handy flap or latch. Less expensive models annoyingly may require you to take apart the whole device, deteriorating the plastic screw grooves over time and potentially allowing bits of dust into the innards of the device, which may affect its performance. If you’re spending big, make sure you won’t be needing to do this.
6. Losing Your Fuse!
Less expensive models will tend to have but one fuse; while this might be okay a lot of the time, if there is a sudden flash or short it could in theory wreck your device. More expensive models, however, will have back up components to prevent such a scenario. Do your homework and ensure that they do.
More expensive models will have ‘True RMS technology’ which rids you of unhelpful interference whilst taking measurements. This is vital in order to get the best out of your multimeter when it is working with computers. Cheaper models simply won’t be able to be quite as ruthlessly precise. Double-check that your more expensive model does indeed come with this.
It might be that you can trial a cheaper model and then go for a more premium version if it turns out not to be giving you exactly what you need. As you get more practiced and advanced at using it, it may be that you will want to upgrade to a costlier model.
Some budget models, these days, are giving their costlier rivals a run for their money. They are claiming to be able to be more robust, have extras like a built-in stand and much more sophisticated screens and graphics. Some will claim they can determine the voltage range for you, others that they can take multiple readings by utilizing the positive probe. Whatever you end up choosing, be careful to seek expert advice from a local electrician and don’t take unnecessary risks.