Every HVAC technician needs access to essential tools like HVAC gauges. These helpful tools let you pinpoint which gases and liquids are leaking in an air conditioner or refrigerator unit, allowing you to diagnose issues and make quick repairs for customers. Similar to HVAC software, they make your job much easier.
Each HVAC manifold gauge has unique features, so it's essential for you to familiarize yourself with the different types. Below, we've reviewed our top five picks for the best HVAC gauges. You can read through our selections to find the product that's ideal for your work situation. We’ve also included a buyer's guide on how to shop for them and ensure your purchase checks all the boxes.
Top 5 HVAC Gauges in 2022
1. Fieldpiece SM480V SMAN Digital Manifold Wireless Data Logging
If you're looking for a piece of equipment that eliminates the guesswork from finding faults with refrigeration or AC units, the Fieldpiece SM480V is one of the top options.
Fieldpiece is a respected brand in the industry, and SM480V lives up to it. This digital manifold is the next generation in the SMAN400 series, and it comes with several additional features that'll make your job easier.
For starters, it has data storage capabilities. Think back to a job that was giving you a particularly difficult time and required you to take constant readings. The SM480V HVAC manifold gauges stores all your readouts from the last ten times you used the device. You'll work much more efficiently when you can pull up these past readings at the touch of a button.
Another essential feature of the SM480V is its outer design. The design helps in terms of durability, as it has a drop- and water-resistant casing. One drawback to note is that it doesn't come with any hoses in its kit. You'll have to purchase these separately.
2. Testo 550s Kit
The Testo 550s Kit is an earlier version of the beloved German brand, but it offers excellent value for its price. It can detect over 60 refrigerant profiles and offers precise temperature and pressure measurements. You can hook it up to the different surfaces and air probes to collect accurate measurements easily, even in areas that are challenging to access with other similar products.
The Testo 550s Kit is straightforward to use, as it has a simplified menu structure that won't overwhelm you in a bustling environment. Plus, it has a backlit display that you can read quickly without squinting or moving to a darker setting.
The 2-way valve block comes with three connections that provide real-time condenser and evaporator measurements. And even though this product isn't as new as some other Testo devices, it's still compatible with the Testo app. With it, you can see the pressure readings for gases and liquids in a cooling system.
One thing to note with the Testo 550s Kit is that while it does come with clamps, you'll have to press them firmly to get a good temperature reading. Still it works great with all types of AC units.
3. CPS BlackMax MBH4P5EZ 2V Manifold
Unlike the previous two products, the CPS BlackMax MBH4P5EXZ 2V Manifold is an analog reader. Even though some technicians steer away from this “old-fashioned” device, it’s still a useful tool for any job.
It has a triple-seal valve system that includes three neoprene O-rings. This setup mitigates the release of refrigerants as you connect and disconnect the device with the analog HVAC gauges. Plus, the floating nylon sealing disk further prevents contamination.
The outer shell of the product features a large piece of sight glass, making it easy to read all its Vortech valves. Some of the types of refrigerants it can display include R-134a, 22, 404A, and 410A, making it a great choice for gas detection.
It has a 15-micron vacuum rating, which provides unrestricted refrigerant flow. As a result, if you read a low pressure or high pressure, you can adjust to the correct pressure with ease. For a tool on finding refrigerant leaks, read our guide on the best refrigerant leak detectors.
Though the MBH4P5EZ comes with hoses, the hoses' ends have plastic (instead of metal) valves. This choice is surprising, coming from a high-end brand like BlackMax. You should expect the plastic valves to wear out faster and require premature replacement.
4. Testo 557 Digital Manifold Kit
The Testo 557 Digital Manifold Kit offers convenience in terms of the technology it uses when working with any HVAC unit. You can review all essential measurement data by using the Teston Refrigeration mobile app. Just download the app onto your tablet or smartphone and connect via the Bluetooth gauges. Feel free to use the app as long as the device is within a 65-foot range.
With the device's and app's assistance, you can complete various tasks directly at your job site. You can generate tables, lists, and trending graphs and upload new refrigerant measurements directly to the manifold. Remember, that a lack of refrigerant can cause your AC to freeze, so you can use this as a preventative tool when you read low measurements. You can use the 4-way valve block and the accompanying 1/4" and 3/8” ports for accurate readings when servicing units.
If you're looking for something lightweight and easy to handle, the Testo 557 is perfect. It weighs only 2.65 pounds, so it's one of the lightest products on the list. Plus, it has a rugged metal housing unit to protect it from drops and a convenient suspension hook for hands-free work.
One disadvantage is its screen readability. It can be challenging to read the screen display in environments with bright lighting.
5. Elitech PT-500 & PT-800
Like both Testo products, the Elitech PT-500 & PT-800 works with a brand-specific mobile app. You can connect the device to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth and view relevant measurement data. The app automatically performs calculations of sub-cool and super-heat readings and graph your findings in PDF and Excel format.
It also allows for remote unit conversion in cmHg, bar, kPa, Mpa, psi, kg/cm², and inHg to ensure that you always have the numbers you need. It's a high-quality product great for an HVAC technician who doesn't want to break the bank.
One potential drawback of the Elitech PT-500 & PT-800 is its weight. It weighs over six pounds, which is double the weight of most other products on our list. Its clunky build may take up a lot of room in your toolbag, so make sure you have the space to accommodate it.
HVAC Gauge Buying Guide
When you're on the hunt for HVAC gauges, you should keep the following considerations in mind:
Top gauges have metal components (rather than plastic). Metal parts will hold up much better when faced with regular use. Nothing's worse than having a cheaply built O-ring seal that degrades quicker than the actual device, leaving the entire product useless.
If you choose a metal product, keep in mind that it'll be prone to rusting out. It's ideal if your device has some sort of water-resistant protection. While a water-resistant safeguard isn't the same as complete waterproof protection, it's better than nothing, especially with a digital manifold.
Taking note of how many refrigerants a device can detect will help you ensure you can complete each job thoroughly. Some devices support 60-80, which is a generous amount. But other products can detect up to 140 refrigerants or even more. Most modern refrigerators in homes use refrigerants in the R-410a class, so you should ensure that your product can detect these types at the very minimum. Low refrigerant levels can cause an AC to stop working properly, so digital manifolds that can read several types of refrigerants come in handy.
There are two main gauge types: analog and digital. Older technicians who've been working in the industry for years prefer analog gauges. Analog models are much simpler to use and offer an experience that they've grown accustomed to. Even though they're more “old-fashioned,” analog models don't sacrifice accuracy.
But if you're looking for a modern device with more capabilities, you can consider getting a digital gauge. A digital gauge often has many great features, including the ability to store and recall all past readings, including pressure readings.
Some digital gauges even connect to a company-specific app. You can connect your smartphone or tablet to your device via Bluetooth and increase your efficiency at your job site.
The included display is vital to your experience with an HVAC gauge. Try to choose one that's lit well and is easy to see in both dark and light conditions.
It's also worth noting if the screen is plastic or glass. Glass screens are more resistant to scratches, but they can break more easily in the event of a drop. On the other hand, a plastic screen will scratch more easily but won't crack in the event of a tumble.
You'll need to evaluate your preferences to decide which option is best for you.
What good is an HVAC gauge if it can't produce accurate readings? Most products provide accurate measurements within ±0.5%, but some can achieve even more precise readings. For any product you're considering, look for the precision range that the manufacturer describes.
The last consideration when looking for air conditioning manifold gauges is if they come with any extra features. Some important ones are:
- A hook for hands-free use
- A carrying bag for easy transport
- Color-coded readings for easier interpretation
- Ergonomic handles for when you have to hold the device while taking a reading.
You should also learn if the HVAC gauge you're interested in comes with high pressure hoses. It's not a big deal if it doesn't, but you'll have to purchase the hoses separately to use the device. Check out the following article If you're also looking to purchase an AC vacuum pump.