The market is flooded with cheap multimeters. While very low budget meters can be downright dangerous and we urge you to get the best quality model you can afford, there is still a place for decent cheap multimeters. Read on for insight into what we think are among the best cheap multimeter contenders.
Prices and What to Avoid
First of all, the $5 or $10 no name ‘specials’ should be avoided. If all you intend to do is test batteries, low power car wiring and electronics, then it won’t matter so much. Just bear in mind you will likely have to replace the thing frequently if used a lot. It’ll be tough to get anything good under $20.
Any testing involving mains power – including in the home and especially at the distribution board level – then you’ll need to go up a notch. Surges from faulty equipment and lightning strikes can leave a user open to potential injury through a multimeter that doesn’t include the right level of input protection.
Ranges and Functions
Most people tinkering around only really need a few test measurement ranges. AC/DC voltage, resistance and continuity are the most important criteria. Frequency and temperature are useful, though capacitance, diode and transistor checkers are less pressing unless perhaps you’re into electronics. Testing for current is also less important for general work.
Of the functions, auto-ranging is best for beginners as it is more user-friendly, but having a meter with a manual override button might appeal to seasoned users. Auto power-off is often not included on the cheaper models, but is a nice function to have and will save the battery. Backlit displays and Min/Max mode are typically found on more expensive devices.
Examples of some good, cheap multimeters:
This little meter is a big seller from a fairly well known lower budget brand. It has most of the important test ranges and even includes a backlit display, but is manual ranging only and lacks AC amperage. Best for lighter duties.
This auto-ranging multimeter is tailored to the auto industry and has ranges to include DC amps and dedicated battery tester. It has a nice, large screen, albeit one that is not backlit, and appeals to DIYers as well as vehicle repair.
This is a full size meter that is touted to measure voltage up to 1000V and amperage to 10A, both AC and DC. It can also do micro-amps, milliamps, capacitance, frequency, diodes and transistors. Mastech is one of the better Chinese-made brands, though is not equipped to testing high energy circuits due to a lack of input protection.
You tend to get better safety with Klein Tools meters, an American brand with a large inventory of test equipment and tools. This one has a DC amps range and battery tester, but is manual ranging only.
Another manual ranging meter, the MN35 has a good feature-set for a cheap multimeter, including a temperature input and amperage. It is also quite fast, though its screen has no backlight and it is un-fused.
Uni-Trend, from China, is a prominent multimeter manufacturer that churns out dozens of models and also OEMs with several other brands. Some electricians swear by them, others denigrate the often inconsistent build quality and input protection. They certainly have a niche and the UT139C has decent features, to include voltage detection, micro-amps and capacitance. Good for electrics and electronics.
Although not exactly in the el cheapo bracket, the EX330 is a good quality, lower to mid-range meter nonetheless and up there for the best ‘cheap’ multimeter crown. It is feature-packed, with auto and manual ranging plus several modes. These include non-contact voltage detection and a relative mode for comparing readings and zeroing the display. It is solidly built, but its display lacks a backlight.
In our opinion, it is best to spend a bit more on something like the Extech EX330 or Fluke 101, but as far as best cheap multimeters go the Etekcity MSR-R500 is a pretty good choice. There are many more cheap meters that are worth a look and we have detailed some of these in the Reviews section. As a pointer, stick with the main brands, such as Klein and Extech, who tend to employ better protection than some others that also produce cheaper models.