How to Test the Ground When Wiring Car Electronics

Written by john walker
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How to Test the Ground When Wiring Car Electronics
Multimeters simplify testing of electrical lines. (multimeter image by dinostock from

Installing car electronics may be complicated, but most electronics come with clear and concise directions. Following those directions simplifies the process but for peace of mind, testing the wiring prior to installation ensures that the installation will go off without a hitch. The primary concerns with wiring are having power to the line and a solid ground point. Most vehicles you can ground by contacting any metal, but to test that to be sure, all you need is a multimeter.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Multimeter

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  1. 1

    Test the ground location. If installing electronics, locate an unpainted bolt or plain metal location to which you will attach the ground.

  2. 2

    Test the ground. Using a multimeter set to DC, contact the red wire of the multimeter to the positive terminal on the battery and the black wire to the ground location. The multimeter should read approximately 12 volts. Any range of 10 to 12.5 volts means a good connection.

  3. 3

    Test the hot wire of the electronic device. Locate the hot wire and connect the red wire of the multimeter to it and the black wire of the multimeter to the ground point. The contact should produce a reading as the line may be set to operate at lower volts. The multimeter may read as low as 2 volts. As long as it produces a solid read, the ground is a solid connection.

Tips and warnings

  • The hot wire to the electronics can be one of two options: continuous hot or only hot when the engine is engaged. If you are unsure of which it is, test with the engine running and with the keys removed. You may also have multiple hot lines as some stereos have a continuous run option and an option to only run when the engine is engaged. To test the ground, you only need step one, but to ensure hot wires to ground conduct properly, test all power lines.

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