You Get What You Pay For

At the Maker Faire on Saturday, I pulled out my $2 Harbor Freight DMM to check the continuity of the light bulb in my “visualize RF” demo. Bad news. The “low battery” indicator was on, and apparently it couldn’t supply enough current to make the measurement. On top of that, as I was fooling around with it, the wire came off one of the probes.

Well, yesterday, I tried to fix things. I re-soldered the probe wire and replaced the 9 V battery, but the meter’s still non-functional. The display comes on, but I’m not able to make any measurements.

I guess the moral of the story is that you get what you pay for. I now have another cheap $2 Harbor Freight DMM in my tool chest. We’ll see how long this one lasts.


  1. I love those harbor freight multi-meters. For the cost of a battery I get a multimeter that lasts as long as the battery sometimes longer. I don’t get upset when I drop one or let the magic smoke out of it in a fit of stupidity on my part. You are correct you get what you pay for, but sometimes settling for “good enough” is ok.

  2. At that price, a new DMM is probably cheaper than a new battery anyway!

  3. David Brodbeck N8SRE says:

    After going through a couple of those, and finding disturbing measurement errors (one was off by 10% on the AC volts scale), I finally broke down and bought a used Fluke. It was more than $2, but it’ll probably be the last meter I ever need to buy.

  4. I have about six of those meters .. Never have to look very far to find one. Its almost cheaper than a new battery

  5. It’s been my experience that the Harbor Freight DMM’s are notoriously innacurate on some (if not most) ranges, so I guess you really do get what you pay for. My $29 Radio Shack DMM probably isn’t much better, but it’s been going strong for years…

  6. Mike W2MJZ says:


    I’m shocked, a penny wise and pound foolish. Now if you have purchased a serious top end multimeter like a DT830B ($4.95 & free shipping on eBay) I’m pretty sure your demo would have gone a lot smoother :)

    Forty years ago when I was eighteen, I purchased a brand new Simpson 260, and I think that it must have been around a hundred dollars or so with the accessories and case.

    It is amazing how the technology has progressed in the last four decades, as well as the blatant and unchallenged dumping of products on the American market by our “trading partners” in the east in order to make certain that the very last vestiges of “American Manufacturing” are completely and permanently decapitated.

    Mike W2MJZ

  7. This is when you need to decide if it is worth the extra ~$148 to have a reliable meter.

    I highly recommend Fluke DMMs. Expensive, yes. But very reliable. I have a Fluke 77 and a Fluke 87, and they get used all the time.

    I try to only buy cheap tools if I plan to use it once. Chinese tools are generally not worth the money. (Japanese tools, on the other hand, or even Taiwanese, have come a long way and are generally quite good.)

  8. Dan KB6NU says:

    Interesting comments all.

    I actually do have a Fluke multimeter on my workbench that I use for more “critical” measurements.

    I think what I might do is to go pick up a couple more $2 multimeters, and do some comparison testing. It would be interesting to see how the measurements compare to one another and to the Fluke multimeter.

  9. I have a few Flukes and some el-cheapo’s. I have also found the cheapest ones to be just that, cheap. They have been too inaccurate for me to use for anything other than very basic tests. I have found if you spend 10x the amount ($20), you get a good meter than you can depend on for almost any circumstance. I still like to have a Fluke on hand for anything critical.

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