How to Use a Multimeter

Time Needed: 10 minutes, Difficulty: None existent, Cost: $10-$50 Your dashboard’s lights have gone out. There’s a weird buzz coming … Continued

Time Needed: 10 minutes, Difficulty: None existent, Cost: $10-$50

Your dashboard’s lights have gone out. There’s a weird buzz coming from your radio. Your automatic wipers have gone on the fritz. Or, just maybe, every electrical component in your car refuses to start. Where do you start diagnosing the issue? With a multimeter, of course!

A multimeter is a small electrical device that measures a host of electrical variables such as volts, current, and resistance, and can help diagnose exactly what’s wrong with a certain electrical component. To use one, however, can seem complicated and potentially dangerous for the novice. It doesn’t have to be. Follow along and let Car Bibles’ crack editors walk you through exactly how to use a multimeter. 

The Safety Brief

We want for you to exit the garage with all the fingers you went in with. There’s no need for safety to come third, make it first. To ensure your skin stays unblemished and your bones intact, you’ll want to use a good, non-conductive mechanics glove. You definitely don’t want to get shocked. 

The Tools & Parts You Need

A trip to the auto parts store or waiting on your porch for Amazon can be a time-suck. Don’t spend the day twiddling your thumbs waiting for a package or driving to and from the store. 

Prepare for your jobs by researching what you need and buying the proper tools ahead of time. To follow along today, you’ll need the following: 

A yellow multimeter sits on a metal table.
Multimeters are garage essentials.

The How-To

Here’s how to use a multimeter to diagnose what’s wrong with your vehicle’s electrical components. 

1. Grab Your Multimeter

There will be multiple settings on the multimeter; volts, resistance, and current are the most common settings you can test for. These settings are meant to help determine exactly what’s the issue with your vehicle’s electrical components, such as a relay, a battery, or other electrical component. Here’s what they mean.

  • Volt

Measures how much electricity is getting pushed into a circuit from the battery.

  • Resistance

Resistance is how difficult it is for electricity to flow through a circuit. 

  • Current

Current is how much electricity is flowing through the circuit from the battery.

You’ll also see symbols denoting Alternating Current and Direct Current, which you’ll use depending on the type of current used in each part’s particular circuit. And lastly, there’s a Continuity Check symbol, which looks like the WiFi symbol, denoting whether or not a circuit is connected.

Lastly, there are two wires connected to probes. They are:

  • Red Probe/Lead

The red probe/lead is meant for the positive electrical output.

  • Black Probe/Lead

The black probe/lead is meant for the negative electrical output or ground. 

2. Using the Probes

Your settings will depend on what you’re testing for, but the process remains the same. Attach the multimeter’s leads to their corresponding electrical connections. Adjust the multimeter to the predetermined settings of either volt, current, or resistance. 

Adjust the multimeter’s specific volt, current, and resistance settings to the specific setting to what you’re testing, i.e. 20v, 200v, or 1000v. Let the multimeter do its job and see what’s what! And there you have it, how to use a multimeter.

A mechanic holds a multimeter in his hand.
Every mechanic needs a multimeter.

Your Questions, Our Answers on Multimeters

Car Bibles’ answers all your burning questions.

Q: What Should You Not Do With a Multimeter?

A: If the leads are broken, damaged, or corroded, don’t use them. 

Q: Can a Multimeter Kill You?

A: Are you planning on sticking one of the probes into your ear socket and the other directly to the car’s battery? Because that’s really the only way. 

Q: Can a Multimeter Explode?

A: If you use a meter or probe/lead that isn’t rated for your specified use, then yes, it can. It is, however, extremely uncommon. 

Video Tutorial on Multimeters

Car Bibles’ editors understand that not everyone is a text-based learner. For those kinesthetic people out there, we have your back with a video showing you exactly how to use a multimeter. We pulled it from one of our most trusted sources and it’s a great additional resource.

Our Favored Multimeter Products

You can buy electrical tools at almost every auto parts and home improvement store. As well as online stores like Amazon. You have a sea of options to select from. Our choice to help us get through weird electrical glitches, however, remains the humble OBD2 scanner. Here are a few of our favorite options

Disclosure: Carbibles.com is also a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associate Programs, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Pages on this site may include affiliate links to Amazon and its affiliate sites on which the owner of this website will make a referral commission.

Jonathon Klein

Jonathon KleinJonathon has jumped Aston Martins for Automobile Magazine, clocked 200 mph in a McLaren 720S for Playboy, and sampled his best life behind the wheel of a Ferrari Dino Evo for Road & Track. He’s hopelessly addicted to the strongest coffee he can brew. Please send him more. Contact the author here.