How To Test A Car Battery With A Multimeter

Updated October, 2020
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To test a car battery with a multimeter, first set the dial to the proper voltage range. Then connect the probes to their respective terminals, always red first. Once you get a reading, use that reading to decide what your car needs.

What is a multimeter

A multimeter is a device that measures the output of energy from a battery. It measures voltage, amperage, and resistance. It usually is two pen-shaped probes connected to a box by wires.

Types of multimeters

There are two different types of multimeters, analog and digital. Each has its own pros and cons.

Digital multimeter

A digital multimeter is a more expensive but more accurate multimeter. Instead of a gauge like the analog multimeter, it uses a digital display. It is much easier to read and can survive if dropped.

Analog multimeter

An analog multimeter is less expensive than a digital one but harder to read. The gauge on the multimeter can be difficult to decipher and requires recalibration if dropped.

The parts of a multimeter

The dial

The dial changes what the multimeter is measuring and at what range. Most basic multimeters have the primary measurement ranges and types, but more advanced ones are available.

The probes

The probes are what collects the data from what you're measuring. They are typically red and black, red for positive black for negative. They commonly have highly conductive metal tips.

The display

The display on multimeters differs from analog to digital. The analog display is a gauge while the digital display is LCD.

How to check a car battery with a multimeter

When you are testing a car battery, you want to test DC power. DC power is usually denoted by a V with a solid and dashed line above it. Since a car battery operates at 12.6 volts, set your multimeter to test in that range. Always attach the positive or red probe first.

  • Step 1: Allow the car to rest overnight before testing.
  • Step 2: Set the dial to measure DC power at 0-20 volts.
  • Step 3: Touch the probes to their respective terminals.

If your battery is below 12.6 volts, remove the battery and place it on a charger. Allow the battery to rest overnight before testing again.

Deciphering the multimeter reading

When you get your voltage reading, it doesn't mean anything unless you know how to interpret the numbers.

  • 10.6-12.0 - Your battery is discharged. Some batteries are dead at 10.6 volts.
  • 12.1-12.6 - Your battery has juice. If it is below 12.6 your battery needs to charge.
  • Above 12.6 - Something in your car is draining your battery and forcing it to work when it shouldn't.

What do I do if my battery is low?

Batteries have a defined lifespan. Most batteries last between 3 to 5 years. If your battery can't reach above 10.6 volts, it's dead. Eventually, your battery is going to need replacement. There are different types and prices of batteries, depending on their perks.

Battery Prices

Depending on what kind of battery you need, your costs vary. If you need a battery that starts reliably and has a high reserve, your price doesn't break the bank. The more perks you add on, the more money you are going to pay. A battery designed for cold weather costs more than a plain battery.

How to get the right battery

Batteries can be a complicated thing to understand. Between all the numbers, the sizes, and the voltages, it can be scary. However, you need to look for the size of the battery and the voltage. Your battery needs to fit in your car and have to start your vehicle. As long as those two things are compatible, you can then look for other perks.

When the time arises, is my insurance going to be enough?

When it comes to car insurance, there are several factors to consider beyond monthly cost. A policy that covers you when you need it, has a low deductible, and offers several discounts can be hard to find - which is why we've done the work for you.

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Call an insurance expert
Our team will help you find the lowest insurance prices.
866-996-3156