How to Use a Multimeter

By: Fix-It Club  | 
A digital multimeter
A Volt-Ohm-Milliammeter, often called a multitester, can measure current on more than one scale.

It's natural to see a new device and wonder how it works. Fortunately, most people can learn how to use a multimeter safely and effectively with a few minutes of online research.

It's important to note that doing your own electrical work is never a good idea. The professionals understand the risks, and know how to mitigate those risks by taking the proper precautions. Still, it's never a bad idea to familiarize yourself with the tools of the trade. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at the ins and outs of this indispensable tool.


What is a Multimeter?

A multimeter is a handy device that can be used to test, troubleshoot, and diagnose all manner of electrical components and devices [source: Fitzgerald]. Multimeters are preferred by professionals and amateurs alike for their ability to accurately provide a number of critical electrical measurements, including:

  • DC voltage
  • AC voltage
  • Resistance
  • Current

Multimeters are incredibly versatile instruments widely used in various fields for diverse practical applications. Here are some of the key practical uses of a multimeter:


  1. Home electrical repairs: Multimeters are invaluable for diagnosing and fixing common electrical problems in household appliances, wiring, and outlets [source: Bennett]. They can identify the cause of issues like power outages, short circuits, and faulty appliances.
  2. Automotive troubleshooting: In automotive repair, multimeters are used to diagnose electrical issues in vehicles. They can check battery voltage, alternator function, and the integrity of wiring and fuses.
  3. Electronics testing and repair: Hobbyists and professionals use multimeters to assemble, test, and repair electronic devices like radios, computers, and TVs. They check components like resistors, capacitors, and transistors for functionality.
  4. Industrial maintenance: In industrial settings, multimeters are essential for maintaining and troubleshooting electrical systems and machinery. They help in ensuring that motors, sensors, and control systems are operating correctly.
  5. Educational purposes: In educational environments, multimeters are used to teach students about electricity and electronics. They offer a hands-on way to learn about basic electrical concepts and circuit analysis.
  6. Telecommunication systems: They are used for maintaining and troubleshooting telecommunication equipment, ensuring proper signal transmission and identifying faults in the network.
  7. Solar power systems: Multimeters help in installing and maintaining solar panels and related equipment. They ensure the panels generate the expected voltage and that the connections are secure.
  8. HVAC systems: In heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, multimeters are used to check electrical components like thermostats, heating elements, and motors.
  9. Research and development: Engineers and researchers use multimeters in the development of new electronic devices and systems, for prototyping and testing.
  10. Quality control in manufacturing: In manufacturing, multimeters are employed to ensure products meet electrical specifications and standards.

In all these applications, multimeters provide crucial information about electrical parameters, helping users diagnose problems, ensure safety, and maintain the proper functioning of various systems and devices. The ability to measure voltage, current, and resistance with a single tool makes the multimeter an invaluable asset for anyone working with electricity.


Get to Know Your Multimeter

Not all multimeters are created in the same way, though there are likely more than a few similarities. You're encouraged to familiarize yourself with the manual that came with your multimeter before putting it to use. Generally speaking, these are the components of the modern digital multimeter:

  • Display: This digital or analog display shows the measurement readings. Digital displays are more common in modern multimeters, offering higher precision and readability [source: Truini].
  • Selection knob: Used to select the type of measurement (e.g., voltage, current, resistance) and the range of measurement. It allows users to switch between different functions efficiently.
  • Probes: A red probe and a black probe are used to connect the multimeter to the circuit or device being tested. The red lead is for positive input, and the black lead is for negative or ground.
  • Ports: These are ports where the test leads are connected. A typical multimeter has several jacks for connecting leads, each designated for a specific type of measurement, like 'COM' (common) for all measurements, 'VΩmA' for voltage, resistance, and small current measurements, and '10A' for large current measurements.
  • Buttons and additional functions: Modern digital multimeters often have additional buttons for functions like hold (to freeze the current reading on the display), backlight (to illuminate the display), and others like min/max (to record the minimum and maximum readings over a period).


How to Use a Multimeter

Using a multimeter to test DC voltage, AC voltage, resistance, and current is crucial in various electrical and electronic tasks.

Measuring DC Voltage

Essential for checking batteries, power supplies in electronic circuits, and solar panels. Accurate DC voltage measurements ensure devices operate at safe and efficient levels.


How to measure DC voltage:

  1. Set your multimeter to the DC voltage mode (often denoted as 'V-' or 'DCV').
  2. Choose an appropriate range if the multimeter is not auto-ranging.
  3. Connect the black test lead to the 'COM' jack and the red test lead to the 'VΩmA' jack.
  4. Touch the red probe to the positive side of the component and the black probe to the negative side.
  5. Read the voltage on the display.

Measuring AC Voltage

Vital for household and industrial electrical systems. This test helps in diagnosing issues in home appliances, power tools, and HVAC systems, ensuring they receive the correct voltage.

How to measure AC voltage:

  1. Set your multimeter to the AC voltage mode (often denoted as 'V~' or 'ACV').
  2. Select the correct range if required.
  3. Connect the test leads as before, with black to 'COM' and red to 'VΩmA'.
  4. Place the probes across the component or power source.
  5. The display will show the AC voltage.

Measuring Resistance

Important for verifying the condition of components like resistors, fuses, and wires. It helps in identifying broken circuits and ensuring current flows as intended.

How to measure resistance:

  1. Turn the multimeter to the resistance mode (represented by the symbol 'Ω').
  2. If manual ranging, select the expected resistance range.
  3. Connect the test leads in the same manner as voltage testing.
  4. Place the multimeter probes across the component to measure resistance.
  5. The displayed value indicates the resistance in ohms.

Measuring Current

Crucial for testing the flow of electricity through a component or circuit. This test helps in ensuring devices are not drawing more current than they should, preventing potential damage.

  1. Set the multimeter to the current mode (denoted as 'A', 'mA', or 'μA').
  2. For large currents, use the '10A' jack; for smaller currents, use the 'VΩmA' jack.
  3. Open the circuit and connect the multimeter in series (so that the current flows through the multimeter).
  4. Read the current value from the display.

Always ensure the multimeter is set to the correct mode and range before testing to avoid damage to the multimeter or the circuit being tested. Moreover, always start with a higher range and reduce as necessary when testing voltage or current to prevent overloading the multimeter.


Multimeter 101

A multimeter is an indispensable tool in the realm of electrical testing. Its ability to measure DC and AC voltage, current, and resistance makes it a versatile and essential instrument for troubleshooting and diagnosing issues in various devices and circuits. Understanding how to use a multimeter correctly is not only crucial for obtaining accurate measurements but also for ensuring safety during testing.

Whether you're a professional electrician, an electronics hobbyist, or someone interested in DIY home repairs, mastering the use of a multimeter is a valuable skill. By following the proper procedures and safety precautions outlined in this article, users can effectively utilize their multimeter to analyze and solve electrical problems, ensuring the functionality and safety of their electrical systems and devices.


Remember, the key to effective troubleshooting lies not only in having the right tools but also in knowing how to use them effectively. With a multimeter in hand and the knowledge to use it correctly, the world of electronics and electricity becomes far more accessible and manageable.

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