If you are not into DIY or if you are considering buying the first meter you probably saw a multimeter and a clamp meter online and started wondering what’s the difference. And you are not alone. Almost everyone is confused by this when they first start with DIY work.
I was also confused by this and I will now share my experience with you. Hopefully, you will not only know the difference between a clamp meter and a multimeter by the end of this article, but you will be able to make a decision about which one is the best for you and get it.
Advantages and disadvantages of multimeters
Multimeters are excellent for users that need a tool with as many functions as possible. This saves time and effort.
When it comes to size, both large and compact multimeters do exist. However, the compact models usually have fewer functions, and those are almost always just the basic ones.
The advantage of compact multimeters is that you can always place it in your pocket and have a firm grip on it when you are using it.
Large multimeters are also easy to hold and use, but if you have to use them intermittently, the only place to put them is in the holster, and that is very impractical because large multimeters can make your silhouette very protruding and that can limit your mobility in cases where you need to crawl in tight spaces.
The most common disadvantage when it comes to multimeters compared with clamp meters is battery power usage. This is not a significant issue on multimeters with basic functions or functions tailored to a specific field (like HVAC), but when it comes to expensive multimeters that have a lot of features and three backlight levels plus a flashlight on the back, this can be a huge problem. Most of the time you won’t have any problems with the length of time that you will be able to use your multimeter, but with the number of batteries that you will need to buy for your multimeter.
Some multimeters can hold up to four or five batteries and work as long as a multimeter with one battery. A standard multimeter can hold one or two batteries. This means that you will spend two to four times more money on batteries alone and if you are like my friend Dave, you will pay additional money for high-quality batteries that can be up to fifty percent more expensive.
Advantages and disadvantages of clamp meters
The number of functions
Clamp meters are at a disadvantage when it comes to the number of features they can hold. They have all the basic functions multimeters have, and you can use test leads with them, but most models can’t measure temperature and frequency. Generally speaking, clamp meters can have fewer functions when compared to a multimeter.
The level of quality of functions they can possess is excellent, and it can be better than the level of quality of features that a multimeter in the same price level will possess.
Clamp meters are more compact than multimeters, and you will always be able to place one in your pocket or in a small holster. When it comes to battery life, clamp meters will use a lot less juice and deliver the same quality of work just like multimeters would.
Resistance to damage and quality of build
Clamp meters have one more downside. That downside is called damage protection.
You probably know that most multimeters have a rubber shell on the outside that protects them from falls and damage. Nearly half of all clamp meters don’t have this feature. The other half that does have it has it inbuilt in the outer layer of the body.
This not only diminishes the protective effect of the plastic beneath it due to thinness, but it also makes it possible for the front to get damaged because there are no elevations on the edges that would protect the clamp meter’s front side if it would fall down. This is likely because it is challenging to design efficient protection for clamp meters because of their shape.
If one clamp breaks, the user will most likely need to get an entirely new clamp meter since any protection on the clamps can severely inhibit the meter’s functionality.
Comparison of Fluke 115 and Fluke 324
Since people usually get a better feel for things that are described to them on concrete examples, I will now compare features between Fluke 115 – a multimeter and Fluke 324 – a clamp meter.
Level of the safety of clamp meters
Clamp meters have one huge advantage when it comes to practicality and protection when a user needs to measure voltage.
Instead of having to break up the circuit, which could be under high current, the user can simply take his clamp meter and place the clamps around the high powered wires, no contact necessary.
I can’t emphasize just how important this is. It could literally save your life. No risk of multimeter overloading by high current, no risk of explosion and you won’t have to repair the circuit once you finish.
Accuracy and RMS
I suppose that some of you have heard or seen something called ‘True RMS.’ In short, ‘True RMS’ is a feature that is used by some multimeters. This feature will guarantee you that you will get highly accurate results.
Multimeters and clamp meters can have a True RMS feature, although it is more common to see them on multimeters. Both Fluke 115 and Fluke 324 have true RMS features. This way you can be confident that you will always get accurate results.
A number of functions
Fluke 115 can measure volts, millivolts, resistance, continuity, frequency capacitance and amperage.
Fluke 324 can measure volts, amps, resistance, continuity, temperature and capacitance.
As we can see from this example, a clamp meter can have as many functions as a multimeter. There is really no difference when it comes to the number of functions and accuracy.
What about safety?
Fluke 115 is CAT III 600 V rated and fused.
Fluke 324 is CAT IV 300 V and CAT III 600 volts rated and fused.
More about CAT ratings – https://www.tequipment.net/cat-ratings-explained/
Quality of build
Fluke 115 is nicely built, its casing is mostly made of high-quality plastic that can endure falls from one to two meters of height with ease.
Fluke 324 looks a bit more fragile.
I don’t know what it is, but its general appearance gives out an impression of fragility. When you couple that with the fact that we are talking about a clamp meter, you can get a little uneasy. However, as this clamp meter is produced by Fluke, I wouldn’t worry too much, but just note that it doesn’t seem as sturdy as Fluke 115.
Fluke 115 feels a little bit heavier than Fluke 324. This is not a significant difference, but as a rule, clamp meters are always lighter than multimeters. This information can be vital if you need to save every gram of weight.
Clamp meters weigh less because they don’t have an additional thick layer of plastic on the outside as multimeters do.
To summarize, a couple of differences between clamp meters and multimeters exist. Most noticeable differences are in their outer silhouette, clamp meters are more easily damaged because their clamps can break or wear off after some time. Other than this, no more differences exist between clamp meters and multimeters. Their levels of safety are the same, you can use probes with both, and both can measure same settings.
I hope that this article has brought in a bit more clarity for you when it comes to deciding if a multimeter or a clamp meter is better for you.
You can’t go wrong with either one as the most important thing is that you are satisfied with it and that it is functional so that you can do your job well with it.