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How to buy and use a multitester

Even if you have no electrical skills, a multitester is an essential troubleshooting tool to have on hand

Here's all you need to know about this small, inexpensive - but essential - tool.

First, what is it? A multitester is a handheld battery-operated tester; use it prior to performing any electrical work.

A multitester is also called a voltmeter, which is shortened from volt-ohm meter.

It is used to test a complete circuit, which is known as "continuity."

The difference between using a multitester to test continuity and that of a simple continuity tester is that power may be on or off with the multitester. Power must always be off if using a continuinty tester.

A multitester also measures voltages, current, and resistance.

Simple electrical testers only provide "go/no go" while the multitester displays actual measurements.

Use a multitester to check dryer and air conditioner thermostats, telephone jacks, doorbells, power cords, switches, and circuits of all types, whether household current or battery-operated.

Purchase voltmeters as either digital or analog. The digital model may have an edge on accuracy. Both, however, are dependable when used according to manufacturer's directions.

You can purchase quality meters at home improvement stores and at electrical specialty stores - in a wide range in pricing.

To begin using a voltmeter, insert the red lead into positive jack (+), the black lead then goes to the negative (-) jack. A digital meter does not require setting, but an analog model must be zeroed out. Accomplish this by holding the probes (red/black) together and then adjust the meter needle to zero.

To test household circuit devices, switch to AC and use the OHMS scale. A reading of less than .05 OHMS defines a complete circuit. An incomplete circuit exists when the reading is infinite resistance. You should understand exactly how these readings display on your particular model by following manufacturer's instructions.

DC volt scales allow you to test most battery-operated devices. Note: to improve accuracy, always test while power to the device is on.

One of the most dangerous situations in home operations is a ground fault. Always test your repairs with the voltmeter before proceeding.

If you have any questions or doubts about testing electrical current, consult a professional first.
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