Harbor Freight has been heavily promoting their Ames digital multimeters, clamp meters, and electrical test equipment across all channels, grabbing my attention once more.
Harbor Freight describes the Ames electrical test equipment as being ruggedly built, certified safe.
With tools like these, safety is important, because users might be working with lethal levels of voltage and current.
Harbor Freight asks the question WHY AMES? and answers it as follows:
[Harbor Freight] Ames delivers quality products with advanced features for various applications.
Wow, that’s so… broad. “Advanced features for various applications.” Although, in their imagery, Harbor Freight does say these tools are designed for the tradesperson or DIYer.”
Each [Harbor Freight] Ames meter is independently lab tested and listed by ETL for both electrical safety and durability to deliver best in class performance.
While UL is perhaps the most recognized Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), Intertek ETL is an OSHA-recognized NRTL as well (more info via OSHA).
Harbor Freight says that their Ames meter are certified by ETL to UL 61010-1 standards, which verifies that the meter is safe to use on high voltage and high current circuits, as well as withstanding high voltage transients.
The Ames line of products includes:
- Infrared thermometers
- Electrical testers
- Digital multimeters
- Clamp meters
- Laser distance meters
- Inspection cameras
- Sound level meter (coming soon)
- Airflow meter (coming soon)
- Light meter (coming soon)
Harbor Freight says that new environmental testers are coming soon, for improving air quality, monitoring noise levels, performing workplace audits, or measuring indoor light levels.
I posted about Harbor Freight Ames multimeter launch 2 years ago, and to be perfectly frank I haven’t given it a second thought since then.
Have any of you used Harbor Freight Ames electrical test equipment since then? Would you buy any of these tools today?
Personally, an ETL safety rating isn’t enough to convince me. HF can’t keep throwing “ruggedly safe, certified safe” around as the main selling point. I try to be open-minded, but the marketing continues to be weak. Harbor Freight isn’t doing enough to show they can stand next to industry big boys, such as Fluke, Ideal, Extech, and Amprobe.
How do you feel about Harbor Freight Ames today? Would you buy any of these tools for DIY, hobbyist, or professional applications?
If I’m to trust a brand other than one of my current go-to’s, I’d look towards Kobalt at Lowe’s sooner than Ames at Harbor Freight.
I have their gfci and non-contact and they are pretty comparable to more expensive brands. I wouldn’t have a problem using any of their other tools. I’m pretty sure Klein, etc. are from China anymore and knowing how production works there it is probably the same place.
As a commercial electrician I’m not risking mine or a coworkers life by going cheap on a meter. You can get a quality fluke meter for not much more than a 100 dollars, your safety is worth the extra money.
Good call ,, save $$ on a paint roller or a plunger,
But dear God I can’t trust nothing from Harbor Freight if I’ve got buddies down the line for me working if I was to show up with something like that on the job they’d laugh me out of that place money well spent on some kind of fluke meters
I would consider one if I needed something beyond my Klien multimeter – but I’m not an electrician. Just a homeowner and farmer than gets into a lot of projects he probably isn’t supposed to. I’d be looking at them as a cheap way to accomplish a task, not as serious competition for the professional tools.
I know Harbour Freight is trying to make a push into higher-end gear, but I’d need an endorsement from a source I trusted (like Toolguyd!) to take them seriously. It just seems different than the Icon hand tools where you can physically see what’s going on.
Harbor Freight is literally the last place I would consider for anything where life safety is concerned. Need a drawer divider, sure HF is fine. An electric meter – please too many other quality choices.
Save money on furniture. Not on tires, brakes or electrical equipment.
I might consider the other meters, like airflow or light, perhaps. However, I’ve never needed them, and haven’t done any research on them, so it’s entirely possible the industry standard for those is not terribly expensive. I’m not sure if I’d trust the electrical meters from Harbor Freight. Paying more for a recognized brand may not be worth it, strictly speaking. The peace of mind, however, would be.
Mike (the other one)
There is no way I would put my life in the hands of a HF tester. It can have all the certifications in the world, but we all know their products have inconsistent quality. I don’t want to find out the hard way that I got a bad one.
Yes, Fluke meters are expensive, but you only get one life.
Many Flukes are built in China, just so ya know!
I will buy a hand tool or limited use non mechanical tool at HF. That’s it. Years ago, on two emergency like cases I have bought some of their cheap powertools, regrettably. The cheapest quality one can imagine. Some not working out of the box, or beyond their first weeks. Maybe they have improved, don’t know, have not looked closely not tested anything of late. Eveybody I know stay away from anything with a motor.
Once in a while, when I stop in, I have since still browsed some of the sections like electrical tools, home electrics & electronics, … but they have nothing that inspires confidence.
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to see in YouTube videos why Fluke meters have the reputation they do, and how the safety features are implemented in them and others. Additional videos make it clear why cheap meters are cheap.
If I’m troubleshooting a battery-powered doodad, I can use an old small cheapie meter without concern. But anything with some muscle behind the potential is going to get proper, safe tools & meters. Maybe even add electrical protection gloves, depending.
Cheap meters in hand will usually mean someone’s just getting by, not just financially but in knowledge too. These’d likely be fine when working on vehicle wiring, etc., but might lead someone to start sticking fingers into breaker boxes, too.
We subbed out our electrical work – and seldom worked around voltages higher than 440V – but we used Fluke meters in our Plumbing HVAC business – plus specialized testers from folks like Inficon, UEI and Yellow Jacket. I can’t imagine the guys wanting to troubleshoot a HVAC system wondering if they first had to troubleshoot their meter. Similarly we were pretty sure when an Inficon leak detector gave us an indication of a gas (CO, Natural Gas, Refrigerant) leak – but would not likely trust some cheapie meter should HF decide to market one
I think that’s a much bigger thing than the safety honestly – if you can’t be absolutely sure your measuring tool is working correctly it’s worse than useless.
I recognize the form factor on the largest clamp meter, the one in the middle there.
It’s a dead ringer for the Redfish Instruments iDVM 550.
I’ve got that one: it’s a bluetooth connected single-phase power meter marketed towards HVAC techs.
It’s a decent little meter. A little bulky for my tastes, but it’s got a great feature set for the price point. My only real issue was in using it with a Danfoss VFD reading load-side amp draw. The VFD wasn’t in stable operation-
It was modulating between 58 and 60 hz in an effort to keep current below the programmed maximum. If I used the meter to determine amp draw at this point, it would WIG OUT, and re-boot repeatedly.
So in that extremely specific circumstance, not great. But generally good enough for most folks.
Fluke gets too much of a pass for their pricing if you ask me. Don’t get me wrong, my everyday meter is a 324 and my troubleshooting meter is an 87 V. But I’m all for new competitors putting pressure on ’em.
Danaher acquired both John Fluke and Tektronix a few decades ago. Mostly left them alone (except for actual internal manufacturing capabilities) but neither is as truly customer driven within a conglomerate setting as they once were.
That said they remain almost always better then no name competitors. Or Harbor Freight.
There are other quality brands out there; Agilent is one that leaps to my mind (although I think they’re more oriented towards engineering than trades). Redfish is another.
BTW, I met the guy who started Redfish when he was at his previous company, Ambios (sold to KLA Tencor). Looks like Redfish has been sold, too. to Supco, and moved from its original location in Santa Cruz, CA to Ohio.
Talking about company changes, Agilent test equipment is now Keysight. Keysight is the original HP test equipment business.
Haven’t seen or heard about lawsuits involving defective Harbor Freight tools and there are probably some (or a lot) out there. I also don’t dispute that Fluke and other well-known more expensive brands of equipment have qualities like durability, accuracy and repeatability that justify a higher price. However, I’m sure plenty of good, safe and productive work can be accomplished using test tools like Harbor Freight sells. They’re doing something right (at least for their owners) given the proliferation of their stores.
In 2012/2013 there were several lawsuits over press plates exploding (cast iron not steel). These included mangled fingers, facial wounds, damaged eyes, and other injuries. Yes, I had a plate crack while pressing a bearing, thankfully no injury occurred. Such little pressure was being applied that I subbed in a block of wood, which still survives.
CPSC.GOV has a large list of various dangerous recalls.
Harbor Freight has very good damage control, I could barely find any news articles on the press plates exploding, or the folding knife that let go and sliced a guys hand to the bone.
They’re probably fine for doing your own work, knowing and informed consent sort of. I wouldn’t use them in a professional setting or where life or a warranty service procedure is involved: I wouldn’t risk someone else’s life over them, I might risk my own life. I’d rather go Fluke or Klein.
Same with the Southwire to Kobalt and Ideal changeover at Lowe’s: I don’t know that Ideal makes good test equipment, and I have no fucking clue where those Kobalt meters are coming from, I will not risk my own life with them. I probably would have risked my own life with the SouthWire meters.
I’m just going to say it, and let people call me a hypocrite…
These look like the Chinese Knockoff editions of Fluke products. Practically the same outer body moulds for the plastic, but at bargain-basement “Did they forget to put in the electronics?” pricing. In all the worst ways, these look like the worst kinds of knockoffs. The ones everyone always complains about when talking about globalization.
If AMES was made BY FLUKE? I’d laugh at you for suggesting it. They may turn on, they may function… but I am thankful Harbour Freight isn’t in Canada.
Yea but you guys have Princess Auto which is the same thing correct?
Lots of comments about safety, or lack of… how often are people harmed by a meter VS how often people are harmed by their own stupidity?
For me it’s not necessarily that the meter is going to be dangerous, it’s that if something happened: you’re an electrician and the house burns down or someone gets shocked/electrocuted; you’re an A/C tech and their unit catches fire or breaks a couple days after you get done; you’re an auto-tech and the car craps out a week or a month after it gets out of the shop. If a lawyer or concern customer comes back at you, you want to be able to point to your tools and be able to say you used industry standard, UL certified tools that are guaranteed to adhere to somewhat known and reproduceable quality and standards. You want to be able to say, “I used a Fluke 87V/117/116/88V to test and got these results, and did these repairs based on the results.” You do not want to have to testify that you went cheap, and used an uncertified budget meter from Harbor Freight, especially if it doesn’t have the UL/DIN/ISO/VDE certs. Just like with a torque wrench you have to be able to produce the most recent calibration certificate for your torque wrench, and able to say “on this date my torque wrench was recertified to produce torque values within +/-X% of desired torque values”.
David J. Brock
hopefully they come out with a FLIR camera
Personally I would not consider any test equipment from Harbor Freight if safety or precision are a primary concern.
That being said I may get the light meter when it is available just for comparison of known spaces.
The certification holds very little water in my glass. AVE on Youtube often remarks that the Intertek ETL certification is essentially a cop out vs UL certification.
I’ve got the nicer of their IR thermometers and it does a good job of reading steel temps when heat treating. No complaints. Multimeter safety specs are pretty specific. I wouldn’t worry about using a cheap meter at household voltages after the breaker. I get a little more picky when I’m talking about more that 250v or mains readings before the breaker. No way would I trust one for big VFD readings. Just to much stored energy there to play around with cheap meters.
I’m not a fan of much of anything from harbor freight (except shop towels), but I gotta wonder what all you guys with “your life on the line” are doing with your meters. Whatever it is, stop it. It’s obviously incorrect. That said, I won’t buy anything from HF if I need to use it more than once. I don’t even fully expect it to make it through the first use.
If you need to ring out some wires or need rough – but probably not terribly accurate- readings, these are likely fine. I’d rather buy garbage on Amazon though. They’ll at least give my money back instead of offering a replacement piece of garbage
Using instruments to verify a zero energy state even after taking lock out tag out, procedures is not even remotely crazy ensuring the right things are off bettor you can safely work on things is the kind of thing you rely on good equipment for.
Just like long time mechanics would trust their bodies in certain tools untrustworthy equipment it like cheap sockets but potentially with your life in place of a busted hand, when that cheap socket or ratchet snaps and you get hurt.
Still not recommending the thing and Ive some experience with the zaps and the sparks and the booms, but the harbor freight meter would be able to verify zero energy. That’s an easy measurement, although a noncontact hotstick is probably the better tools for the task. I’m not seeing lives on the line. Leads are insulated – don’t touch the metal bits. It’s not the tools fault if you put yourself in a dangerous situation. There’s nothing inherently unsafe about low quality meters.
What’s more likely with low budget meters than it damaging the user is that the magic smoke may not stay on the inside if it’s misused. I doubt you can drop it from very high or look at it funny too many times. They may get you “close enough” results for diagnostic purposes.
Some of us work with live circuits as part of our day-to-day jobs. There is obviously an risk involved with that kind of work, but using correct tools in the manner they were designed nullifies most of these hazards. The HF meter is probably fine, but I like the peace of mind that comes with my tried and tested Fluke equipment.
Harbor Freight is good for certain hand tools. Beyond that their products are largely subpar, especially anything electronic. They seem to need 3 different brands to differentiate between shoddiness levels. They simply don’t put the effort into development and testing that better tools do. The warranty and return policy is usually a clear tell. 3 month warranty vs 3 year, 5 year, or lifetime on better brands. I can’t trust their electric tools last very long under normal use and I certainly wouldn’t trust their meters for accuracy or safety.
For a tradesperson that uses a meter daily? We know the answer to that and it’s “no”. But if a value meter keeps a homeowner or DIYer from getting hurt on a live circuit or saves them some money being able to self-diagnose something…it’s hard to hate on that. Personally, after a few cheap-o meters I bought a Fluke 117 and was done with it.
I’m part of the IBEW as an inside wireman. The entire trade is mostly new construction, so installs. As such, we do not use meters until the very very end of installation.
A large difference in cost will be how highly rated the fuse will be in the meter. There’s different classifications based on the voltages. For anyone who doesn’t work on anything higher than 600V, these should be fine.
Some of us electricians don’t even get the chance to install any motors.
HF made their living providing one time tools that are cheaper to buy than rent. They have been changing over the last few years to increase quality and prices are going up. They have too many of their own brands that are frequently discontinued at diff price points to compete with well know brands. If they are serious they need to keep a brand and develop it as high quality. But when it comes to precision or safety tools/meters i would go with brand name as the HF prices are close in price anyway, so why take chance on HF if for a few dollars more you get a big brand that has been around for years with good reputation. . For Electrical test and trouble shooting you develop faith and trust in your meter and dont even like to borrow a co-workers meters so i cant imagine electricians and service techs buying these. It will be DIY that dont know any better.
I think few people mentioned it but just to state. UL stamp or go away.
Anything that I’m going to put between me and more than 12 volts or worse more than 1 amp better have a UL label. I use a UEI meter at home and Fluke or Amprobe at work. all have a UL stamp.
I wouldn’t use these HF but I also don’t discount other brands. Take the Ideal brand at lowes now. There are for one the same Ideal that owns and runs SK. They are also the same Ideal that makes industral and residential electrical componets. Just like I had some faith in Southwire for similar reason I would have some faith in Ideal brand testers and tools.
HF – my biggest issue with HF is the few times I’ve bought things from there to use that are regimented measurement – they often did not. Example I bought an Oxygen Socket there because they were open and I needed one. It didn’t fit right and nicked the wires. I should have, and of course ended up going to Advance auto and buying the gearwrench branded oxygen socket because it one fit right and 2 had a wider recess.
Throwaway wire brushes, or other crap – hell even a rolling cart I’ll consider HF other stuff pass.
Certification is one thing…. Quality control is another. Didn’t Harbor Freight have a jack stand recall where the replacements for the defective jack stands also had to be recalled? With their reputation for hit-or-miss quality, I’m not ready to trust Harbor Freight with products that could cause significant harm to life or limb. Call me skeptical, but good enough isn’t good enough in this case.
As an industrial electrician, there is no way I’d trade my Fluke for for an Ames multimeter. Reliability is a critical attribute for electrical test equipment and when I think reliable I don’t think Harbor Freight. If I was forced to use an Ames multimeter, you’d be seeing a pair of test leads snaking out of a brown paper bag. The last thing I need is for colleagues to know that I cheaped out on the most critical tool of my trade.
I fail to understand how UL is considered superior to anybody or anything. UL is so pervasive because of their self serving policies. “UL” is two companies. There is a not-for-profit “UL.org” which writes the standards, and then the for profit “UL.com” which does the testing. UL.com will only test to UL.org standards with products built with UL.com Listed components. Talk about the fox watching the hen house! It is so bad that one particularly infamous manufacturer that built electrical circuit breakers and panels for YEARS, being tested year in and year out by UL, became such an embarrassment that they had to be Delisted. I don’t recall that happening to ETL.
If you want to look for “gold plated” standards, look to FM which tests and certifies safety shutoff valves for gas and oil systems, as well as offering business loss insurance where they pay companies if/when a disaster happens where the plant goes down. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is! Or TuV which certifies various components used in building protective safety systems for major chemical plants to prevent plant explosions and other major disasters that land them on CNN.
Intertek is very simple. You pay money, you submit equipment to test. They deliver results promptly and without a whole lot of politics and back-and-forth like UL. It either passes or not. They will test and List to any recognized standard, not just the short list UL maintains.
Not to say that UL is necessarily bad. But saying that they are superior to everyone else is like saying that you bought something at Walmart and since they are the biggest bricks-and-mortar retailer in the US, that makes their products superior to everyone else, a statement that flies in the face of logic.
So I’d invite discussion about the “quality” of an ETL certification based on comparison between UL and ETL. Can anyone point to Delisting from ETL, especially something as spectacularly bad as Federal Pacific? That sort of thing is what a “fox watching the hen house” captive market in the NRTL business gets you in the end. UL should be held to the same standards as every other NRTL.
For that matter, CSA group has been acceptable as a NRTL in the US since the early 90s. UL has only been accepted by Canada for less than a decade. Whatever the stamp, it ‘should’ be the same standard. I also don’t understand the higher emphasis placed on the UL stamping.
As long as it’s been tested to a reliable standard by a reliable organization that’s all I care about. Being able to know it’s not just written on the device and that it’s actually been tested is important too. I’ve never gotten hung up on UL vs ETL vs others. Certification by some lab is better than just winging it in the wind.
More to this post I like Harbor Freight. They used to be the place you’d buy tools you knew were sacrificial or you’d give to the friend, family member, or neighbor that doesn’t have any respect for tools. They also were a place you knew you could get something oddball for cheap that probably will do an ok job. Nowadays they’ve certainly moved past this with a lot of good quality stuff while keeping those old attributes in my mind.
When it comes to electrical meters is where I draw the line. A this point it’s Fluke first Amprobe second or no deal. I deal with all kind of different scenarios where these just wouldn’t keep their muster, along with blowing up a few Flukes where I didn’t suffer too much injury. I just don’t feel good about testing that Harbor Freight safety rating but that’s me. You can have all the safety procedures in the world and things still happen, so you want to know you can rely on your equipment.
Outside of that if you’re home gamer, automotive guy, etc these would be fine I’m sure.
The EEVBlog folks have torn down a few units, and they’re rebadged Mastech. Even have the MS-whatever part numbers on the PCB. For further info about safety (clearance/creepage distances, use of appropriate type fuses, etc), see the corresponding teardown threads about the Mastech equivalents.
Performance sounds unimpressive, with laggy latching on the continuity beep, poor quality vinyl test leads, and no gold plating on the mode setting dial traces. So even for those of us working on low voltage who aren’t so worried about Cat-IV safety ratings or whatever, it’s still a bad deal.
I’ll be skipping these, thanks.
For cheap stuff, I have Aneng and Uni-T, who are both a step ahead of Mastech in quality and usually similar priced or cheaper. For quality stuff, I’ve got AEMC, whose fit and finish makes Fluke look like a cheap toy. There’s no market niche for more mediocre-quality products at above-mediocre prices, but I’m sure people will buy them anyway.
I also thought highly of AEMC meters when I used them with a previous employer. The quality was top tier, and small features like the screen changing color when the leads are in near proximity to voltage was a nice touch.
For general household testing, I am more concerned about my test leads than the meter. For anything else, the meter becomes very important
Not a prayer.
I too, am a homeowner but on an island where help is expensive and tough to find.
I’ll stick w Klein + Fluke. Playing w electrical current is NOT the place to cheap out.
Depends on the meter and the intended end use. For home use and testing small electrical items, probably fine, but can be done with much better meters with similar or cheaper pricing, so not a good buy there.
For pros, like me, that use a meter every day, no thanks. I’m not a meter snob, but these are missing quite a few features, along with questionable protection, I’ll definitely not be using them. Let’s face it, a meter is to an electrician or HVAC guy, what a stethoscope is to a doctor. A good one is essential to diagnosing problems. So, let’s say the difference in price between these meters and a good Fluke or Fieldpeice is $100. That’s not a any kind of deal at three times the price difference. In cases like this, professional tools are not an option, they’re a necessity. If a doctor can’t tell your heartbeat or respiration, then it doesn’t matter how much a good stethoscope costs, you have to have it to diagnose. Same with meters, they either work or not and are safe or not, no discount on these items is worth it. I constantly can’t understand why, if you’re going to get into the meter business, then make a good one, or stay out of the business altogether. This is one place you can’t just dip your toe in the water. I understand the upstart costs involved, and the component cost, but it’s just not a business to get into on a whim. You have to be interested in getting in and staying in long term to have any chance of success.
We purchased an AMES TRMS Clampmeter for our QC Dept on the production floor. As the Tool Calibration person, I set this new tool up in our system and looked for the accompanying paperwork and initial calibration certificate to lock us in for the first year. I could not find one. So I looked online. Nothing. The manual reminder the user to have it calibrated regularly to maintain it’s integrity. But no statements about it actually being calibrated from the factory. I asked product support. They said the in fact do calibrate the tools at the factory, but do not provide any support documentation to verify that specifically. SO, with that said, I now have to have my brand new AMES TRMS Clampmeter sent out to an independent Test/Calibration Lab to certify this tool is working within allowable standards, apply a decal, and support documentation that we can produce when our regulatory auditors come through periodically to assess our product production, procedures, and traceability. It seems so odd that they would NOT want to say they are calibrated and document it unless….
Like they say, fool me once, my mistake. You won’t fool me twice Harbor Freight…