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How to use a multimeter

According to Wikipedia, "A multimeter is a measuring instrument that can measure multiple electrical properties. A typical multimeter can measure voltage, resistance, and current, in which case it is also known as a volt-ohm-milliammeter (VOM), as the unit is equipped with voltmeter, ammeter, and ohmmeter functionality. Some feature the measurement of additional properties such as temperature and capacitance." "Analog multimeters use a microammeter with a moving pointer to display readings. Digital multimeters (DMM, DVOM) have numeric displays and have made analog multimeters virtually obsolete as they are cheaper, more precise, and more physically robust than analog multimeters."

Multimeter is very useful to check electricity and fix electronics. Here we quote the best way to use a multimeter provided by wikiHow, a wiki that is building the world's largest and highest quality how-to manual. Please edit the articles and find author credits at the original wikiHow articles on How to Use a Multimeter, How to Use a Digital Multimeter. Content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons License.

Section 1: How to Use an Analog Multimeter

Part 1: Getting Familiar With the Device

1. Locate the dial of your multimeter. This has the arc-shaped scales visible through the window and a pointer which will indicate the values read from the scale.

  • The arc-shaped marks on the meter dial face may be different colors that indicate each scale, so they will have different values. These determine the ranges of magnitude.

  • A wider mirror-like surface shaped like the scales might also be present. The mirror is used to help reduce what's called "parallax viewing error," by lining up the pointer with its reflection before reading the value the pointer is indicating. In the image, it appears as a wide gray strip between the red and black scales.

  • Many newer multimeters have digital readouts, rather than the analog scale. The function is basically the same, you'll just get a numerical readout.

2. Find the selector switch, or knob. This allows you to change the function between volts, ohms, and amps, and to change the scale (x1, x10, etc.) of the meter. Many functions have multiple ranges, so it's important to have both set correctly, otherwise serious damage to the meter or harm to the operator may result. Some meters have an "Off" position on this selector switch while others have a separate switch to turn the meter off. The meter should be set to "Off" when stored and not in use.

3. Locate the openings in the case where you'll insert the test leads. Most multimeters have several jacks used for this purpose.

  • One is usually labeled "COM" or (-), which stands for for common. This is where the black test lead will be connected. It will be used for nearly every measurement taken.[3]

  • The other jack or jacks should be labeled "V" (+) and the Omega symbol (an upside down horseshoe) for Volts and Ohms, respectively.

  • The + and symbols represent the polarity of probes when set for and testing DC volts. If the test leads were installed as suggested, the red lead would be positive as compared to the black test lead. This is nice to know when the circuit under test isn't labeled + or, as is usually the case.

  • Many meters have additional jacks that are required for current or high-voltage tests. It is equally important to have the test leads connected to the proper jacks as it is to have the selector switch range and test type (volts, amps, ohms) set. All must be correct. Consult the meter manual if you're unsure which jacks should be used.

4. Locate the test leads. There should be two test leads or probes. Generally, one is black and the other red. These are used to connect to whatever device you're planning on testing and measuring.

5. Find the battery and fuse compartment. This is usually found on the back, but is also sometimes on the side of some models. This holds the fuse (and possibly a spare), and the battery that supplies power to the meter for resistance tests.

  • The meter may have more than one battery and they may be of different sizes. A fuse is provided to help protect the meter movement. Likewise, there is often more than one fuse. A good fuse is required for the meter to function, and fully charged batteries will be required for resistance/continuity tests.

6. Find the Zero Adjustment knob. This is a small knob usually located near the dial that is labeled "Ohms Adjust," "0 Adj," or something similar. This is used only in the ohms or resistance range, while the probes are shorted together (touching each other).

  • Rotate the knob slowly to move the needle as close to the 0 position on the Ohms scale as possible. If new batteries are installed, this should be easy to do a needle that will not go to zero indicates weak batteries that should be replaced.

Part 2: Measuring Resistance

1. Set the multimeter to Ohms or Resistance. Turn the meter on if it has a separate power switch. When multimeter measures resistance in ohms, it can not measure continuity because resistance and continuity are opposites. When there is little resistance, there will be a great deal of continuity, and vice versa. With this in mind, you can make assumptions about continuity based on the resistance values measured.

  • Find the Ohm scale on the dial. It is usually the top-most scale and has values that are highest on the left of the dial ("∞" or a sideways "8" for infinity), gradually reducing to 0 on the right. This is opposite of the other scales, which have the lowest values on the left and increase going right.

2. Observe the meter indication. If the test leads are not in contact with anything, the needle or pointer of an analog meter will rest at the left-most position. This represents an infinite amount of resistance, or an "open circuit." It's safe to say there is the no continuity, or path between the black and red probes.

3. Connect the test leads. Connect the black test lead to the jack marked "Common" or "-". Then, connect the red test lead to the jack marked with the Omega (Ohm symbol) or letter "R" near it. Set the range (if provided) to R x 100.

4. Hold the probes at the end of the test leads together. The meter pointer should move fully to the right. Locate the "Zero Adjust" knob and rotate it so that the meter indicates "0" (or as close to "0" as possible).

  • Note that this position is the "short circuit" or "zero ohms" indication for this R x 1 range of this meter.

  • Always remember to "zero" the meter immediately after changing resistance ranges or you'll get a faulty reading.

  • If you're unable to obtain a zero ohm indication, this may mean the batteries are weak and should be replaced. Retry the zeroing step above again with fresh batteries.

5. Measure the resistance of something like a light bulb that you know is good. Locate the two electrical contact points of the bulb. They will be the threaded base and the center of the bottom of the base.

  • Have a helper hold the bulb by the glass only.

  • Press the black probe against the threaded base and the red probe against the center tab on the bottom of the base.

  • Watch the needle move from resting at the left and move quickly to 0 on the right.

6. Try different ranges. Change the range of the meter to R x 1. Zero the meter again for this range and repeat the step above. Observe how the meter did not go as far to the right as before. The scale of resistance has been changed so that each number on the R scale can be read directly.

  • In the previous step, each number represented a value that was 100 times greater. Thus, 150 really was 15,000 before. Now, 150 is just 150. Had the R x 10 scale been selected, 150 would have been 1,500. The scale selected is very important for accurate measurements.

  • With this understanding, study the R scale. It is not linear like the other scales. Values at the left side are harder to accurately read than those on the right. Trying to read 5 ohms on the meter while in the R x 100 range would look like 0. It would be much easier at the R x 1 scale instead. This is why when testing resistance, adjust the range so that the readings may be taken from the middle rather than the extreme left or right sides.

7. Test resistance between hands. Set the meter to the highest R x value possible and zero the meter.

  • Loosely hold a probe in each hand and read the meter. Squeeze both probes tightly. Notice the resistance is reduced.

  • Let go of the probes and wet your hands. Hold the probes again. Notice that the resistance is lower still.

8. Make sure your reading is accurate. It's very important that the probes not touch anything other than the device being tested. A device that has burned out will not show "open" on the meter when testing if your fingers provide an alternate path around the device, like when they are touching the probes.

  • Testing round cartridge type and older style glass automotive fuses will indicate low values of resistance if the fuse is lying on a metal surface when under test. The meter indicates the resistance of the metal surface that the fuse is resting upon (providing an alternate path between the red and black probe around the fuse) instead of trying to determine resistance through the fuse. Every fuse in this case, good or bad, will indicate "good," giving you a faulty analysis.

Part 3: Measuring Voltage

1. Set the meter for the highest range provided for AC Volts. Many times, the voltage to be measured has a value that is unknown. For this reason, the highest range possible is selected so that the meter circuitry and movement will not be damaged by voltage greater than expected.

  • If the meter were set to the 50 volt range and a common U.S. electrical outlet were to be tested, the 120 volts present could irreparably damage the meter. Start high and work downward to the lowest range that can be safely displayed.

2. Insert your test probes. Insert the black probe in the "COM" or "-" jack. Next, insert the red probe in the "V" or "+" jack.

3. Locate the voltage scales. There may be several Volt scales with different maximum values. The range chosen by the selector knob determines which voltage scale to read.

  • The maximum value scale should coincide with selector knob ranges. The voltage scales, unlike the Ohm scales, are linear. The scale is accurate anywhere along its length. It will of course be much easier accurately reading 24 volts on a 50 volt scale than on a 250 volt scale, where it might look like it is anywhere between 20 and 30 volts.

4. Test a common electrical outlet. In the US, you might expect 120 volts or even 240 volts. In other places, 240 or 380 volts might be expected.

  • Press the black probe into one of the straight slots. It should be possible to let go of the black probe, as the contacts behind the face of the outlet should grip the probe, much like it does when a plug is inserted.

  • Insert the red probe into the other straight slot. The meter should indicate a voltage very close to 120 or 240 volts (depending on type outlet tested).

5. Remove the probes. Rotate the selector knob to the lowest range offered that is greater than the voltage indicated (120 or 240).

6. Reinsert the probes as previously. The meter may indicate between 110 and as much as 125 volts this time. The range of the meter is important to obtain accurate measurements.

  • If the pointer did not move, it is likely that DC was chosen instead of AC. The AC and DC modes are not compatible. The correct mode must be set. If not set correctly, the user would mistakenly believe there was no voltage present, which could be a dangerous mistake.

  • Be sure to try both modes if the pointer does not move. Set meter to AC volts mode, and try again.

7. Try not to hold both. Whenever possible, try to connect at least one probe in such a way that it will not be required to hold both while making tests. Some meters have accessories that include alligator clips or other types of clamps that will assist doing this. Minimizing your contact with electrical circuits drastically reduces that chances of sustaining burns or injury.

Part 4: Measuring Amperes (Current)

1. Make sure you've measured the voltage first. You need to determine whether or not the circuit is AC or DC by measuring the voltage of the circuit as described in previous steps.

2. Set the meter to the highest AC or DC Amp range supported. If the circuit to be tested is AC but the meter will only measure DC amps (or vice versa), stop. The meter must be able to measure the same mode (AC or DC) amps as the voltage in the circuit, otherwise it will indicate 0.

  • Be aware that most multimeters will only measure extremely small amounts of current, in the uA and mA ranges. 1 uA is .000001 amp and 1 mA is .001 amp. These are values of current that flow only in the most delicate electronic circuits, and are literally thousands (and even millions) of times smaller than values seen in the home and automotive circuits that most homeowners would be interested testing.

  • Just for reference, a typical 100W/120V light bulb will draw .833 Amps. This amount of current would likely damage the meter beyond repair.

3. Consider using a "clamp-on" ammeter. Ideal for the homeowner, this meter were to be used to measure current through a 4700 ohm resistor across 9 Volts DC.

  • To do this, insert the black probe into the "COM" or "-" jack and insert the red probe into the "A" jack.

  • Shut off power to the circuit.

  • Open the portion of the circuit that is to be tested (one lead or the other of the resistor). Insert the meter in series with the circuit such that it completes the circuit. An ammeter is placed in series with the circuit to measure current. It cannot be placed "across" the circuit the way a voltmeter is used (otherwise the meter will probably be damaged).

  • Observe the polarity. Current flows from the positive side to the negative side. Set the range of current to the highest value.

  • Apply power and adjust range of meter downward to allow accurate reading of pointer on the dial. Do not exceed the range of the meter, otherwise it may be damaged. reading of about 2 milliamps should be indicated since from Ohm's law I = V/R = (9 volts)/(4700 Ω) = .00191 amps = 1.91 mA.

4. Be wary of any filter capacitors or other elements that require an inrush (surge) current when switched on. Even if the operating current is low and within the range of the meter fuse, the surge can be many times higher than the operating current, because the empty filter capacitors are almost like a short circuit. Blowing the meter fuse is almost certain if the DUT's (device under test) inrush current is many times higher than the fuses rating. In any case, always use the higher range measurement protected by the higher fuse rating and be careful.

Section 2: How to Use a Digital Multimeter

A digital multimeter is a super handy tool for quickly measuring voltage, resistance, continuity, and current in many types of electrical circuits. It’s really easy to use a digital multimeter once you understand what the various symbols on the dial stand for. Soon enough, you’ll be testing all kinds of electronics with your digital multimeter!

Part 1: Measuring Voltage

1. Plug the test leads into the COM and V terminals. Always plug the black test lead into the terminal that’s labeled "COM" for "Common." Always plug the red test lead into the terminal labeled "V" for "Voltage," since this is what you’re testing. Both AC and DC voltage are measured using the test leads in this setting.

2. Move the dial to the voltage setting for AC or DC voltage. Turn the dial to V~, or the V with a wave sign next to it, if you’re measuring AC voltage. Switch the dial to V⎓, or the V with a horizontal line next to it, to measure DC voltage.

  • AC, or alternating current, voltage is used to measure things you might find around the house, like wall sockets, microwaves, and other home electrical appliances.

  • DC, or direct current, voltage is mostly used to measure batteries. DC voltage is also used in cars and many small electronics.

3. Set the voltage range to a higher voltage than what’s expected. If you set the voltage range too low, you won’t get an accurate reading. Look at the numbers on the dial and choose the setting that’s closest to the expected voltage of what you’re measuring, while still being above that voltage.

  • For example, if you’re measuring a 12V battery and there are settings for 2V and 20V on your multimeter, set the dial to 20V.

  • If you don’t know the voltage of what you’re reading, just set the multimeter to its highest voltage rating.

4. Touch the probes to both sides of a load or power source. Put the tip of the black probe on the negative lead of a battery or into the right side of a wall socket, for example. Put the red probe on the positive end of a battery or into the positive side of a wall socket, for instance.

  • If you’re not sure which end is positive and which is negative, try putting a probe on each end and seeing what the multimeter says. If it’s showing a negative number, your positive and negative are switched.

  • To avoid getting shocked, keep your fingers away from the tips of the probes when you’re putting them near a wall socket.

  • Keep the probes from coming into contact with one another or you can generate a short circuit and possibly cause an electrical fire.

  • Always hold the probes by the colored handles, which are insulated to prevent shock.

5. Read the voltage on the multimeter’s screen. Once your probes are connected to the positive and negative leads, you’ll get a reading on the multimeter telling you the voltage of what you’re testing. Look at the digital screen to find the reading and take note of it if desired.

  • Looking at your reading tells you whether or not the voltage you're measuring is average or not. For example, if you measure the wall socket and the multimeter reads 100V, this is below the average of 120V, letting you know this wall socket's voltage is low.

  • If you’re checking the voltage of a new 12V battery, the reading should be right around 12V. If it is lower or there is no reading at all, the battery is low or dead.

Part 2: Testing Current

1. Plug in the test leads into COM and A or mA and turn the dial to Amps. Insert the black plug into the COM terminal. Put the red plug into amps or milliamps, labeled with A or mA, depending on the amperage of what you’re measuring current of. Locate the Amps setting and turn the multimeter's dial to it.

  • Your multimeter likely has two terminals for amps: 1 for currents up to 10 amps (10A) and 1 that measures up to roughly 300 milliamps (300mA). If you’re not sure of the range of amperage you’re measuring, place your red plug in the amps terminal.

  • You can always switch to milliamps for a more precise reading if necessary.

  • Some multimeters have two As, 1 for alternating current (used for residential power and represented by the wave sign) and 1 for direct current (used in batteries and wires and represented by a horizontal line with a dotted line under it). Direct current is the 1 that's most used for this reading.

2. Break a circuit by disconnecting 1 of the wires in it. This allows you to use your multimeter as an ammeter to complete the circuit and measure the current. Unplug or otherwise remove a wire from the terminals it’s connected to on 1 side of the circuit, leaving the other wire connected to its terminals.

  • It doesn’t matter which side of the circuit you disconnect. The point is just to make a space to splice your multimeter into the circuit, so it can act as an ammeter and tell you how much current is flowing through the circuit.

  • "Splicing in the multimeter" means that you're connecting the multimeter to the current going directly through the wires.

3. Touch the multimeter’s leads to the free terminals and read the current. Connect 1 probe to each of the terminals you just disconnected the wire from to splice it into the circuit. Read the screen to determine how much current is flowing through the circuit.

  • It doesn’t matter which probe you touch to which side of the circuit. Your multimeter will give you a reading either way.

  • You can troubleshoot electrical circuits by splicing your multimeter into different sections of them. If 1 section gives you a lower current reading, it might mean there is a bad wire that’s inhibiting electrical flow.

  • If you initially test amps and you get a really low reading, such as 1, switch to testing milliamps to get a more precise reading.

Part 3: Measuring Resistance

1. Insert the black test lead in COM and the red test lead in the Ω terminal. Stick the black test lead’s plug into the COM terminal. The red test lead’s plug goes into the terminal labeled Ω, which is the symbol for ohms, the unit that resistance is measured in. The Ω sign is likely linked with the V sign, meaning the terminal to measure ohms and voltage is the same.

2. Set the dial to a number on the multimeter’s resistance scale. Look for the Ω symbol on your multimeter’s dial area. Twist the dial to a number close to the expected resistance in this section. If you aren’t sure what the expected resistance is, set it to a number at the top of the scale. You can adjust it as you measure until you get a precise reading.

  • Resistance is the opposition to flow of current in an electrical circuit. Conductive materials like metal have low resistance, while non-conductive materials like wood have high resistance.

  • For example, if you’re measuring the resistance of a wire, set the dial to just above 0. You can look up the expected resistance for different electrical components online or in an owner’s manual.

  • The Ω values on your multimeter can range from 200 to 2 million ohms, depending on the specific type of multimeter you have.

3. Place the probes on the resistor and read the resistance. Touch the tips of the probes onto each end of the resistor. Look at the multimeter’s digital screen to see the reading, which tells you the amount of resistance in ohms.

  • If your multimeter is just reading "1," you might need to increase the value of ohms measured by turning the dial so your reading is more specific.

  • Write down the reading if needed, noting the correct unit.

Part 4: Testing Continuity

1. Unplug or remove the batteries from the device you want to test. If the device is still being powered, you can’t test for continuity. Make sure it is disconnected from all power sources before you proceed.

  • The continuity option on your multimeter is for testing whether wires are still working or not. If you’re not sure whether a certain cord or wire still has a good connection, you can test this by measuring its continuity. This tests the connection between two points in a circuit.

  • Continuity is the presence of a complete path of electrical flow. For example, a brand new electrical wire should have full continuity. However, if it is frayed or broken, it doesn’t have continuity because the electricity cannot flow through it.

  • This is a good way to see if cables are broken internally or not.

2. Plug the probe wires into the multimeter and set the dial to continuity. Put the red plug into the terminal labeled as V, Ω, or with the sign for continuity, which looks like a sound wave. Insert the black plug into the COM terminal. Turn the dial to the picture that looks like a sound wave.

  • A sound wave looks like a series of increasingly larger ")" symbols.

  • Instead of having a range of numbers in its area, the continuity option only shows 1 sound wave. Twist the dial until it’s pointing directly at the continuity sound wave to be sure it’s on the right setting.

3. Connect the probes to the ends of the component you’re testing. Place the black probe on 1 end of the component and the red probe on the other. Make sure that the probes are both touching the ends at the same time so the multimeter works properly.

  • The component doesn’t have to be disconnected from a circuit to test for continuity.

  • It doesn’t matter which probe you put on which end of the component.

  • Examples of components you can test the continuity of are wires, switches, fuses, and conductors.

  • You have to be touching two conductive ends to test for continuity. For example, touch the probes to two bare ends of a wire.

4. Listen for a beep to signal that there’s a strong connection. As soon as the two probes are touching the wire's ends, you should hear a beep if the wire is working well. If you don’t hear a beep, this means you have a short in the wire.

  • If you have a cut or burnt wire, your wire might have a short.

  • The beep is telling you that there’s almost no resistance between the two points.

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