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Old 21-12-2006, 21:57   #1
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in market for multimeter

Have to do some electrical work on the boat and need a multimeter. Would appreciate a recommendation of a brand/model that is cheap/reasonable/good value that I can get my sister to pick up in Winnipeg before coming over for a visit in January.

Don Casey's "Sailboat Electrics Simplified" says it must be digital and should be auto-ranging, but would appreciate any opinions and recs.

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Old 21-12-2006, 22:20   #2
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Just about any modern digital multimeter will be good for general use about the boat. Radio Shack, Harbor Tool & Freight, Sears, and so on. They all have DVMs in about the $15 to $20 range that will cover most anything you need to do.
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Old 21-12-2006, 22:21   #3
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Actually, both are good to have. A good digtal and a cheap analogue. The digitals are good for accurite readings but the analogue will pick up intermediate currents that the digital won't.

As for which brand, I'll leave that to the Canadians. I prefer Fluke but they may have something in an equivalent.................._/)
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Old 21-12-2006, 22:42   #4
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If ya want cheap, they are a dime a dozen and work well. Or you can buy quality and almost idiot proof which is called "Fluke".
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Old 22-12-2006, 00:20   #5
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I'll third Fluke.

I went through a multimeter per project until I bought a Fluke digital meter back in the late 80's early 90's.

That meter's been bashed around in the back of pickup trucks, been crusing the Pacific ocean in a canvas bag being pounded by tools, had its guts modified and tapped into to be mounted on a test fixture, guts rearanged back to near original and it STILL works perfect! It wasn't cheap, but it has been one of the best values I've ever bought!

This was their basic digital meter. Had one of their scope meters and it was horrid (IMHO) couldn't make it do anything useful. Look for the basic Fluke, whatever that is today.

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Old 22-12-2006, 05:45   #6
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More than brand therre are features that are nice to have. Some will hook into a DC circuit as an amp meter. Many wont. One of the ones that has a clamp feature for hooking around an AC circuit to measure amps is nice, not so much for the AC amp feature as that it makes a great way to hang the unit out of the way when working in tight spaces.

Buy a set of jumpers with small aligator clips to extend your leads.

George
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Old 22-12-2006, 06:35   #7
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Fluke 112, Rtight at $100.00, has a backlight and also does Hz for generator repairs.
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Old 22-12-2006, 07:08   #8
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From FLUKE:

Multi-Meters: Fluke digital multimeters and DMMs, used for HVAC, Automotive, electronic and electrical test.

DMM Application Notes: Fluke test tools, answering your electronic, electrical, predictive maintenance and biomedical needs.)

Technical Papers: Fluke test tools, answering your electronic, electrical, predictive maintenance and biomedical needs.)
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Old 22-12-2006, 07:28   #9
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One more for Fluke. My Fluke 12 has worked great for 25 years. You may spend $100 - 150 for the current model Fluke but it will last you the rest of your life as long as you don't drop it overboard.
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Old 22-12-2006, 08:33   #10
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Jim, you can't go wrong with Fluke but it may be overkill.

Autoranging is nice, but on a boat you'll probably be using 12V systems and it is not hard to select the "20v" scale and just leave it there. Autoranging systems can be problematic as they hunt through scales sometimes. You'll use the 200V scale for AC and the 20V scale for ship's power...unless you need the 200V and 2000V scales to deal with 24V and 220V systems. Not a lot of switching to do in any case.<G>

The Fluke and other top names will be more accurate, yes, but I'd question whether you need that for boat work. DMM accuracy falls into two parts, absolute accuracy, which is stated like "+- 2% for DC", and display accuracy which is stated as "+- 2 least significant digits".

The first one means, literally, that the number on the display may be off by 2% either way from reality. On a Fluke I'd expect to see 1/2% instead. Does that matter? Well, at 14.4VDC, normal alternator output, 14.40 could show up at 14.11 (2% low) to 14.68 on a cheap multimeter. It *usually* will show up as 14.4x even though the meter isn't rated that finely. On the Fluke, if it was rated 1/2%, it might be off by .072V instead of 0.288V, so you would be sure it was 14.4x and only question the last digit.

Does that matter to you? Maybe. If it does, you need to check the specs for whatever meter you buy--many of them are in fact very good on the DC scale.

The other figure, for "least significant digits" is similar. That literally means the rightmost digit in the display may be off by 2 or 3, up or down. So 14.45 could really mean 14.43 to 14.48, as that last digits floats. Again, most meters beat their rating on this and they don't float as much as you'd think. But combine the two error factors...and you can see why folks have more confidence in a Fluke or other high quality meter.

Still, a pair or $20 meters from WalMart or Target can be more versatile, less pain if they are stolen or broken, and handy for dual readings. It's a question of what you will be more comfortable with, and what your budget is.

Whatever meter you get, be aware that they all use internal fuses, especially on the amp ranges. (The cheap ones stop at 10A max, the better ones 20A max, and you'll need something else to measure higher amperages.) Those fuses are almost always a hard to find "instrumentation" fast blow type, so have your sister bring over a box of the obscure fuses at the same time!

If you can get a meter that uses two AA cells instead of a 9V battery for power, that's also a plus. At least, I find I have no other use for 9V cells so they're never around when I need one.<G>
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Old 22-12-2006, 12:38   #11
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I don't like the digital meters. On many settings they generate random readings if there is no input. Often times hard to tell if meter is finding something or making up the numbers. Doesn't seem to matter if it's an expensive or cheap meter. The good old analogue kind aren't very sexy but the needle only moves if there is something happening.

One thing I'd go for is an audio output. Many times you can't be looking at/see the meter when your testing something in the confines of a boat.

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Old 23-12-2006, 08:45   #12
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Another vote for Fluke. I have abused mine quite a bite and it really takes a beating. Never had problems. My only complaint is with the user: leaving the device on causes frequent battery replacements.
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Old 23-12-2006, 09:45   #13
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I have a couple of them. A Radio Shack Cheapy analog for quick and rough measurements, and a Blue Streak (Snap On). The Blue Streak has been great, and has taken all of the abuse I could throw at it. Radio Shack meter was free, as those are always turning up at yard sales, and being tossed out when the batteries die. The Blue Streak was around $100 US if I recall, but I have had it for about 7 years.
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Old 23-12-2006, 10:24   #14
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I have used Flukes since I got out of the service (Simpsons while in). They are GREAT. But seriously .. for around the boat I got a GB Instruments (not a well know brand) that has full scales, 3 1/2 digits (not all that great) and 1% accuracy (not bad at all). It has a continuity checker with sound .. Nice big numbers ( old eyes suck) and even has a place for a temperature probe (thermistor). It has a nice harder rubber casing that is molded around it (removeable). I added a set of universal test leads. Total cost was less than $60 (6 years ago). I just don't see the need to have an expensive DVM / DMM.
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Old 23-12-2006, 13:34   #15
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The GB (Gardiner Bender), Sears (stencil line), and others offer decent meters at lower prices. Not everyone neads (or derserves) a Fluke.
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