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Cobra Padawan
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272 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
As my new wiring harness approaches and I get ready to diet, I'm looking at multimeters. For doing this job, and future installs of a stereo, better ignition system, and general automotive work, what functions are necessary and/or nice to have? Is there anything out there with a cool whistle or bell that will make life easier? I'd rather go with experienced opinions than learn an extra $45 lesson.

Thanks!
 

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section 8
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5,136 Posts
Greetings Captain as a professional technician if I had to get one multimeter it would be a Fluke . Big bucks mind you +-450-500 . If you intend to pursue an automotive type career I definately suggest the Fluke.If that is way out of the buget and it usually is is , raid the snap on truck. You should be able to score a "Blue Point" brand with similar features for less than 1/2. I reccomend : auto ranging , alarm for use when testing continuity .Other than that I think the only options are temp probe and KV. Also useful ,and cheap, logic probes will tell you if any wire you probe is power or ground .For what you mentioned a stereo etc you can probably get by with a cheapie <$100 and a test lite. Bob
 

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Senior Member
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5,559 Posts
I have a really nice digital, auto-ranging multimeter I bought at Radio Shack for around $25. It has a folding cover, and the leads store inside of it, and it is small enough to fit in your shirt pocket. It has all the necessary functions you should ever need, and is quite accurate. I used to work designing and building electronic test fixtures, and used one of these almost exclusively because it was so portable and accurate. I think it's probably the best bargain out there - at least that I've run across...

Brian
 

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Supreme Cobra Commander
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9,692 Posts
You can get a good Fluke for a little over a hundred bucks, I did. I also have a Craftsman $20 meter and find it more than capable for anythig you would be doing on the Cobra or around the house. Spend a few bucks for a capable one, a little more for a more dependable, or several hundred dollars to wow your friends.
 

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Supreme Cobra Commander
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9,692 Posts
Oh yeah, the auto ranging is a great feature. Definitley get that.
 

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Senior Charter Member
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372 Posts
Well,

I've got a Fluke, two actually, a portable and one on my test bench. Great meters, way too accurate for use on the car and too expensive to risk damage. I don't like auto-ranging meters because they get "fooled" in certain situations, and won't give me the display I really want. What I usually use for automotive work (and I will likely get bashed for this) is a cheapie $2.99 Harbor Freight unit that is "disposable" if it gets blown or crunched. At three bucks a pop, I keep one in each of my cars, "just in case".

For the "non-electrical engineer" types, I would likely recommend a slightly more expensive unit, still from HF, which has an audible continuity alarm and a rubber "shock" surround:

http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/Displayitem.taf?itemnumber=37772

At $20 bucks (on sale), it is hard to beat for general automotive chores. And it does temperature as well, not bad for a double sawbuck.

Video
 

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Premium Member
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18,585 Posts
We use Flukes in aircraft but we're looking at microvolts and microamps and transient signals that, in some cases, last only for a fraction of a second. You don't need anything with the kinds of refresh rates we need.
The double sawbuck unit Video's recommending will serve your purposes.
You're going to look mostly for the basics: 12v here, greater than 12v when charging, and continuity there.
For troubleshooting or fine tuning, the HF one will get you close enough to set your TPS. Much more than that and you'll probably be going to an expert with his own equipment anyway.

d



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Senior Member
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2,860 Posts
I also have a Fluke; clamp meter. Sears makes a very good clamp meter, with DC amps, for about $100. A Clamp meter has all the 'needed' features of a Multi-meter plus the ability to just clamp over a wire and check for current. The less expensive clamp meters don't have DC current, however.
 

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Senior Charter Member
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254 Posts
I would agree with the harbor freight recommendation. I am an electronics tech and use Flukes and some really nice Simpsons analog meters as well. For auto work a $10 digital will work fine. I took my cheapie meter to work one day to check it against a calibrated meter and it was dead on.
 

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FFCobra Fanatic
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12,975 Posts
I have a Fluke digital but I also use my snap on analog voltmeter probally more then the digital when doing voltage checks on auto's. Since it has a clamp on amp meter I find it more usefull then the digital. You won't need bells and whistles on a meter used in your build only. Volts and ohm's for most checks with a clamp on amp meter for system draw/load test checks.
Don't forget to pick up a 12 volt test light. Grat for doing fast voltage check when needing to see if voltage is present and having a sharp tip makes proping many wires or terminals a snap.
 

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Banned
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I bought a cheap Craftsman digital voltmeter for $20. Did everything I needed when doing my wiring. Nice part is the continuity setting which chimes when you have continuity.
 

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Premium Member
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11,853 Posts
I am with Brian on this one. The 25 dollar Radio Shack one has always done everything it should and is very convenient. I would also recommend a test light instant confirmation without having to wait for or find a voltage. HTH, Cheers Richard.
 

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Blue Oval Scribe
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9,177 Posts
I have a Fluke from my dealer tech days. Awesome meter, but it was close to three bills off of the MAC truck. I still have it and use it to this day (going on 20 years).

I bought a Cal-Term digital multi-meter at the auto parts store for around $75 and it has everything my Fluke has and more, including a temperature probe, tachometer, and higher amp testing.

The autoranging is nice, and most meters it can be turned off (both my Fluke and Cal-Term allow you to set the range manually if you prefer).

Both have a diode tester with audible alarm (great for checking continuity as well).

I gave the $35 Radio Shack one as a gift for our Mustang club's gift exchange one year. I thought it was a nice meter for the price and feel it will do the job well also.

I agree with Richard too, can't beat a simple test light for quick voltage tests. A self powered test light might come on handy too. Just don't use the test light to check your PLUG WIRES!!!! :D

HTH...
Mark
 

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Senior Charter Member
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6,104 Posts
I did my own wire diet and all I needed were two functions. The first is to check for coninuity between two locations which is accomplished with the "R" ranges of a meter. The second was to check for voltage yes or no. (I would imagine in some cases you might actually care about the actual level but that was never an issue for me.) So anyway if all you are doing is wiring a car that should be all you need and I have seen meters at my local electronics store for as little as $10 that accomplish that.

Now, if you are actually going to start diagnosing whether O2 sensors or other sensors are operating correctly then you need something a lot more expensive and I will leave that discussion to the experts above.

You might want to go with the $10 cheapo for building the car and hold off buying an expensive one until you actually need it.
 

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Senior Member
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I worked for Fluke for many years before moving on to Tektronix. You simply can't buy a better quality meter. I sold meters to companies like Xerox, IBM and Kodak by the truck loads. I would take the buyer out to the parking lot and run over the meter with my car then check the car battery with it. We would routinely throw them against the wall at customer demonstrations and they never failed. Go snatch up a Fluke 77 on Ebay for cheap here
 

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FFCobra Fanatic
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4,257 Posts
Using just a cheapo meter would be fine for building the Cobra and general work. I'm a EE and use the expensive meters at work, but for home projects rely on a 20 year old analog radio shack meter or a freebie DVM that I got for one of my Harbor Freight orders. In general, if you are doing car work, you're looking at known voltage ranges, known resistance ranges or just looking for continuity. While it might be nice to have a better meter, I can't say that I "need" one. It's also nice to not worry about it if I happen to destroy the thing while working on something heavy that drops on it. Not that that would ever happen, right? :D
 

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I was an electrician for 20 yrs and an electronics engineer for the last fifteen yrs. My ad vice is to just get one that you can afford. Lets face it. You are not doing high level electronics testing in wiring your cobra. For the most part, you will be checking voltage, continuity and perhaps occasionally amperage. Even the cheapest analog meters do these things, so pretty much anyting will do the job for you. I tend to like having an audible continuity test as it lets you keep your eyes on the wiring instead of the meter, but that is a personal choice. Don't stress on finding the best or badest, fir your use, it would just be a waste of money.
 

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Over Engineerer
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2,921 Posts
Videodude, Jack ffr1846 and Mike in CA - You guys are a breath of fresh air! Usually the pros (in whatever field is being discussed) recommend "the best you can afford". Painters say you need a $400 gun and a $5000 compressor just to squirt primer. Welders say you need a nuclear powered MIG with kryptonite gas just to weld a simple switch bracket in place. It's nice to see you guys being honest about what's really required for a hobbiest's (sp?) toolbox.
 

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Charter Member
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345 Posts
What Mike in CA said. We have had similar careers, and he is bang on. If you spend more than $100 Cdn ($80 US :D ) you've spent way too much. The Radio Shack stuff mentioned above will do just fine.

Cheers, John
 
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