Measuring DC voltage with a multimeter

How To Use a Multimeter to Measure Voltage, Current and More

If you’ve ever wondered how to use the multimeter to check electronic devices or troubleshoot electrical problems, you’re in the right place. This essential tool can measure voltage, current, and resistance – but mastering its use can be tricky. Whether you’re new to the world of electronics or seeking a quick refresher, our guide will walk you through the process step-by-step, from setting up correctly to analyzing your readings. Let’s plug in and demystify how to effectively use a multimeter.

Key Takeaways

  • A multimeter is an essential tool for measuring electrical values including voltage, current, and resistance; it integrates the functions of a voltmeter, ohmmeter, and ammeter.
  • Proper use of a multimeter involves understanding its display, safely handling probes, selecting correct measurement modes, and troubleshooting issues such as voltage drops and continuity.
  • Regular maintenance and calibration are crucial for the accuracy and longevity of a multimeter, including careful handling, proper storage, and cleaning, with typical calibration intervals being annual.

Deciphering the Multimeter: An Overview

Multimeter with probes testing voltage

A multimeter, as the name suggests, is a multi-talented instrument, a jack of all trades in the realm of electronics. This versatile gadget integrates the key testing capabilities of a voltmeter, ohmmeter, and ammeter, thereby becoming an essential tool in any electronics toolbox. The primary function of a multimeter is to measure various electrical values, assisting both novices and professionals in performing crucial tests like voltage measurements and continuity checks in electrical circuits.

Essentially, a multimeter measures three fundamental electrical values: voltage, current, and resistance. Whether you’re measuring DC voltage or checking a circuit’s resistance, a multimeter is indispensable. It’s like having an X-ray vision that allows you to see the invisible electrical currents and voltages that flow through the wires and components. Now, let’s delve into the usage of this essential tool – the multimeter.

The Anatomy of a Multimeter

Close-up of a digital multimeter display

Just like any complex machine, a multimeter is made up of several crucial parts. Each part plays a specific role in obtaining accurate electrical measurements. Let’s dissect this tool and understand its anatomy, which includes the display, probes, and the selection knob.

Display Insights

The display of a multimeter is like its face, the first thing you notice when you look at it. This is where all the action happens. It’s where you see the readings for the various electrical values, such as voltage, denoted by a capital ‘V’ and three hyphens. But how does one interpret these readings?

Interpreting a digital multimeter display is simple, yet it’s a key aspect of using the device. You achieve this by connecting the probes to the appropriate ports – the red probe to the mAV? port and the black probe to the COM port, then monitor the screen to get the reading.

For those who want to speed up their measurements, the auto range feature comes in handy. It automatically chooses the optimal measurement range to ensure precise readings, while the manual range functionality necessitates manual adjustment.

However, like any instrument, multimeters can also display errors. These could be due to:

  • Incorrect lead connections
  • Improper measurement mode selection
  • Surpassing the meter’s voltage limits, leading to overload or out-of-range notifications.

Probing into Probes

The multimeter probes are your hands, they reach out to the circuits and electrical components to measure the current, voltage, and resistance. They are like your magic wands that you wave around your circuit to make sense of the invisible electrical world. But remember, with great power comes great responsibility.

Before you start waving your magic wands, you need to ensure they are safe to use. This means:

  • visually examining the probes for any signs of damage or wear
  • not touching the metal parts of the probes while conducting measurements
  • always following the manufacturer’s instructions and safety guidelines.

Careful handling of the test leads is also vital; you should avoid any kinks and store them in a straight line when not in use.

Navigating the Selection Knob

Imagine the selection knob as the steering wheel of your multimeter. It helps you navigate through the different functions of your device. From milliamps (mA) of current, voltage (V), to resistance (?), the selection knob allows you to select the parameter you want to measure.

But the selection knob is not just about selecting the right measurement parameter. It also houses the auto-ranging feature, designed to automatically identify the appropriate range without necessitating manual adjustments when obtaining a reading. This feature is especially useful for novice users or intricate measurements. It’s like having an automatic transmission in your car that changes gears for you based on the speed and acceleration.

Measuring Voltage: A Step-by-Step Guide

Measuring DC voltage with a multimeter

Measuring voltage is one of the key tasks you’ll be carrying out with your multimeter. But how do you go about it? Let’s delve deeper into the step-by-step process of how to measure voltage and troubleshooting voltage drops.

Ensuring Correct Voltage Detection

For accurate voltage measurements, understanding the basic principle that voltage is shared by two parallel components is vital. This principle is fundamental to the placement and method of using the probes to achieve an exact voltage measurement. After all, you wouldn’t want to measure the height of a tree while standing at its base, would you?

Measuring voltage is not just about getting a number on your multimeter display. It’s about understanding what that number tells you about your circuit. For instance, it can tell you if the circuit is receiving the correct voltage, helping you identify potential issues related to power supply or circuit connections.

Voltage Drop Troubleshooting

Voltage drops can be a pain, especially if they cause your circuit to malfunction. But don’t worry, your multimeter is here to help you diagnose the problem. Typical factors leading to voltage drops in a circuit include:

  • Excessive resistance
  • Poor connections
  • Damaged or undersized wires
  • The passage of current through a resistance

When troubleshooting voltage drops, follow these steps:

  1. Set your multimeter to the appropriate voltage scale, typically DC, to measure dc voltage.
  2. Connect the positive probe to the suspected point of voltage drop and the negative probe to a reliable ground.
  3. If the multimeter displays even minimal voltage readings, it may signify a voltage drop, warranting further investigation.

How to Measure Current Safely

Safe measurement of electrical current with a multimeter

Just like measuring voltage, measuring current is another critical task that you’ll be performing with your multimeter. However, it’s important to remember that when you’re dealing with current, safety comes first.

Before beginning, it’s good practice to visually check the meter and test probes for any signs of damage. When you’re ready to measure, ensure that the multimeter is connected in series with the circuit. This means you’ll need to interrupt the flow of current and place the meter in-line to accurately measure the current flowing through the circuit. Remember, safety first!

A digital clamp meter, or clamp-on meter, is an ideal current measuring device.

Mastering Resistance Measurements

Resistance may be futile in Star Trek, but not when you’re dealing with electrical circuits. Resistance measurements, especially very low resistance, reveal a lot about your circuit’s functioning. So, how does one measure resistance using a multimeter?

To measure resistance, follow these steps:

  1. Connect the red probe to the correct port on the multimeter.
  2. Turn the selection knob to the resistance section.
  3. Connect the probes to the resistor leads.
  4. The multimeter will display a reading, which will give you the resistance value.

However, if the multimeter displays a reading of 0.00 or close to zero, you may need to adjust the mode to 2k or 200.

The Path of Least Resistance: Using Continuity Mode

Testing continuity with a multimeter

Continuity mode is another important function of your multimeter. It helps you detect faulty connections and ensure proper circuit functionality. It’s like your multimeter’s version of a stethoscope, helping you listen to the heartbeat of your circuit.

To use continuity mode:

  1. Select the mode that typically looks like a diode symbol with sound waves around it, resembling a speaker symbol.
  2. Connect each probe to the specific points of interest within a circuit, such as the wire tips or pins on a microcontroller.
  3. If the multimeter displays a value of zero and emits a beep, it indicates continuity, confirming an unbroken connection.

Practical Applications and Safety Tips

While using a multimeter might seem like a daunting task at first, it’s a skill that becomes second nature with practice. Let’s explore some practical applications of this versatile tool and discuss some safety tips for various testing scenarios.

Electrical Outlet Examination

One of the most common uses of a multimeter is electrical testing, particularly for electrical outlets. This test can help you determine whether an outlet is functioning properly and whether it’s safe to use.

Before initiating any testing, one must take certain safety precautions. Conduct tests with the power on, but exercise caution. Hold both meter probes in the same hand to prevent a shock from passing through your body.

If the outlet is functioning correctly, the AC voltage meter should display a reading between 110 to 120 volts.

To determine if an electrical outlet is grounded, follow these steps:

  1. Place one probe of the multimeter in the hot slot of the outlet.
  2. Place the other probe in the ground slot of the outlet.
  3. If the multimeter shows a reading, it indicates that the outlet is grounded.

Diagnosing with Diode Symbol

Diagnosing electrical issues using the diode symbol is another practical use of a multimeter. The diode symbol on a multimeter serves the purpose of the Diode Test mode, which generates a small voltage between test leads and indicates the voltage drop when the test leads are connected across a diode when forward-biased.

The diode mode is used to test diodes, transistors, and digital circuits, enabling the confirmation of diode functionality by assessing their forward-biased resistance. However, typical mistakes when utilizing the diode mode on a multimeter involve utilizing incorrect settings or ranges on the multimeter.

To prevent these mistakes, ensure to choose the Diode Test mode if available, and verify that the correct settings and ranges are selected on your multimeter.

From Theory to Practice: Hands-On Multimeter Exercises

Though theory is crucial, practical experience remains unparalleled in mastering multimeter usage. The best way to learn and improve your skills is by doing. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and dive into some hands-on multimeter exercises.

The first exercise is a simple one. Try establishing a circuit to conduct a voltage measurement using a multimeter. The next step is to try conducting a current measurement. But remember, always prioritize safety by turning off the circuit before you start. Once you’ve mastered these basic exercises, you can move on to more advanced ones, such as problem-solving in control systems, proficiency in fundamental functions for voltage, resistance, and current measurement, and even producing instructional videos.

Choosing Your Multimeter Companion

Having familiarized yourself with the workings of a multimeter, the next step is to select the right one for you. But with so many options available in the market, how do you select the right one for you? In the selection process, keep in mind your intended use, your level of expertise, and of course, your budget.

If you’re in the market for a multimeter, here are some things to consider:

  • Look for a multimeter that provides ±1% accuracy or higher if precision is your primary concern.
  • Consider the functionalities you need. An analog multimeter might suffice if you only need to measure basic electrical quantities.
  • If you’re looking for more advanced features like the ability to test diodes and transistors or measure frequency and temperature, you might want to invest in a digital model.

Lastly, consider your budget. The cost of a high-quality general-purpose multimeter typically ranges from $20 to $70, based on the functionalities and precision provided.

Care and Maintenance of Your Multimeter

Like any delicate instrument, a multimeter requires consistent care and maintenance to ensure its durability and accuracy. So how do you go about it?

Firstly, be on the lookout for signs that your multimeter may require maintenance or replacement, such as inaccurate readings, a blank or flickering display, or the multimeter not turning on at all.

Regular calibration is also vital to ensure the accuracy of your multimeter. The most common calibration interval is annually, although this can vary based on specifications, environmental conditions, and usage.

When it comes to cleaning your multimeter, disassemble it, scrub the parts with soap and water, dry them, and then reassemble the multimeter.

Store your multimeter in a dry and safe environment, ideally in the provided case, to prevent physical damage.

To prolong the battery life, consistently power off the multimeter when not in use, disconnect it when not actively taking readings, and maintain its cleanliness to prevent short circuits and depletion of charge.


Mastering the use of a multimeter can seem daunting at first, but with the right guidance and hands-on practice, it’s an achievable goal. From understanding its anatomy to troubleshooting voltage drops, from measuring resistance to using the continuity mode, you’ve now got the knowledge to navigate this indispensable tool with confidence.

Remember, a multimeter is not just a tool. It’s your companion on the electrifying journey of understanding and exploring the invisible world of electric currents and voltages. So, pick up your multimeter, and let the adventure begin!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you use a multimeter for beginners?

When using a multimeter for a beginner, it’s important to set the selector knob to the ohm meter, and gently tap the red and black tips together. Avoid testing high voltage as a beginner.

How do you check voltage with a multimeter?

To check voltage with a multimeter, set the dial to AC or DC mode, select the voltage range, plug in the probes, and connect them to the circuit you want to test. Adjust the multimeter as needed to get an accurate reading.

What are the steps in using multimeter?

To use a multimeter, first set the selection knob to ohms, then plug the black probe into the common port and the red probe into the ohms jack. Finally, ensure the reading is less than or equal to 0.5 ohms by tapping the red and black probe tips together.

How do you test a circuit with a multimeter?

To test a circuit with a multimeter, set the meter to resistance, touch the probes to the circuit’s components, and check for a reading. If there’s no resistance, the circuit is good; if there is resistance, there may be a break in the circuit.

What are the basic functions of a multimeter?

A multimeter can measure electrical values such as voltage, current, and resistance, and perform tests like voltage measurements and continuity checks in electrical circuits.