A voltage tester and a continuity tester are adequate for many diagnostic jobs, and they are relatively inexpensive. But for more serious electrical and appliance troubleshooting and repairs, invest in a volt-ohm-milliammeter, or volt-ohm meter (VOM). A VOM is battery powered and is used with the current turned off. It's used to check continuity in a wire or component and to measure the electrical current -- from 0 to 250 volts, AC (alternating current, as in houses) or DC (direct current, as in batteries) -- flowing through the wire or component.
A multitester is used with plug-in test leads, which may have probes at both ends or a probe at one end and an alligator clip at the other. An adjustment knob or switch is set to measure current on the scale desired, usually ohms. The dial indicates the current flowing through the item being tested.
Caution: Do not use a VOM unless the appliance you want to test is unplugged or the power to the circuit is turned off.
A VOM is useful for testing appliances because it is used while the power is turned off, so there's no danger of electric shock. It provides more precise information than the continuity tester and, therefore, is preferable for testing many components. Learning to read a VOM is very easy, and manufacturers provide complete operating instructions with the meters.
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