How to test electronic components with a multimeter

Written by colin campbell
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How to test electronic components with a multimeter
Standard digital multimeter (Digital Multimeter image by TekinT from Fotolia.com)

If you need to find out whether electronic components or circuits work, you can easily test them in your home with a multimeter. Three primary electronic components are used in circuits. The capacitor stores energy in an electrical field, the inductor stores energy in a magnetic field, and a resistor increases the potential difference between two points.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Multimeter
  • Red and black leads
  • Capacitor, resistor or inductor

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Test a resistor by turning the multimeter switch to the resistor setting (indicated by the omega symbol). Place the dial to the lowest setting above the resistance of the component (which you can check by reading the colour bands). If the component is unlabeled, set the dial to the lowest setting.

    Place one probe on each side of the resistor, generally on an extended lead. If the measurement is not conclusive (indicated by a zero or maxed-out value), adjust the dial up or down a magnitude as needed.

    Resistors are electronic components that resist the flow of electric current to increase voltage. They are used to control the voltage or current.

  2. 2

    Test a capacitor by turning the multimeter switch to the capacitor setting (indicated by the letter "C"). Place the dial to the lowest setting above the capacitance of the component (which you can check by reading the colour bands). If the component is unlabeled, set the dial to the lowest setting.

    Place one probe on each side of the capacitor, generally into recessed slots. If the measurement is not conclusive (indicated by a zero or maxed-out value), adjust the dial up or down a magnitude as needed.

    Capacitors hold energy in an electric field and are often used to store a charge for later, or to control current.

  3. 3

    Test an inductor by turning the multimeter switch to the inductor setting (indicated by the letter H). Place the dial to the lowest setting above the inductance of the component (which you can check by reading the colour bands). If the component is unlabeled, set the dial to the lowest setting.

    Place one probe on each side of the inductor, generally into extended leads. If the measurement is not conclusive (indicated by a zero or maxed-out value), adjust the dial up or down a magnitude as needed.

    Inductors store energy in a magnetic field that is generated by electric current passing through coils of wire. They can be used to simply store energy or control electric current.

Tips and warnings

  • Plug the red and black leads into their respective coloured sockets on the multimeter.
  • Sufficiently small inductors and resistors with a resistance of less than 100 ohms will display as a short circuit.
  • Analogue multimeters show the value for the unit you are measuring by moving a pointer across a printed scale, while the more precise digital multimeters display results on an LCD or LED readout.
  • Discharge capacitors before testing them, as they will not always fully discharge on their own.
  • Never touch a closed circuit with your hands while it is in contact with a power supply.

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