6 simple steps for using a voltage meter

Also called a voltmeter or voltage tester, and often packaged as one function of a multimeter, a voltage meter’s role is predictable enough: it’s used to test voltage levels in live electrical circuits.  They come in many shapes, sizes and basic types, including analogue and digital, and these days can commonly be just one function of a multimeter that can also measure current and resistance.

But the question you should consider today is whether a voltage (or multi-) meter is something that belongs in your organisation’s toolbox.  For instance: do you ever need to test a battery, light bulb/fixture or extension cord, or do any other forms of troubleshooting of control systems and electronics?  Do you need to check for hot wires, faulty switches, and other minor electrical issues?  Are you in the manufacturing, distribution, industrial, or repair-related industries?

Remember, you don’t need to be an electrical engineer or technician to safely use a voltage meter, and you definitely don’t need to spend a lot of money either as you can grab a simple version for less than $50.  And if you’re worried that the perhaps rudimentary electronic skills of those charged with using your new voltage meter may not be sufficient, we hope to reassure you that it’s really no more complex than following the steps below:

1. Power off

Although it’s possible to use your voltage meter without powering the circuit down, the inexperienced user should not attempt this in order to prevent damage and even shocks and death.  That way, you don’t have to worry about touching the wrong thing with the meter’s probes.

2. Meter on

If the meter is digital, find a way to turn it on.

3. Choose the voltage type

Whether it’s a voltage meter or a multimeter, you’ll probably need to select the circuit’s current flow type – either AC or DC.  You may also need to select the voltage scale range, and if you’re not sure what that is, choose the option or number that is bigger than the voltage you’re expecting to see.  If the result you get is clearly too small, reduce the scale range by one until it makes sense.  And if you don’t see a scale range selection, your meter is probably auto-ranging.

4. Connect the probes

Remember, voltage is a unit of potential difference between two points – hence the two probes that are a key feature of your meter.  Being careful to never touch the ends of the black and red probes together (and causing a potentially devastating short circuit), hold the probes against the contact points of the voltage source or circuit you’re testing.

5. Read the result

If the scale range is incorrect or another step has been missed, you’ll see 0 volts.  If not, you’re looking at the result!

6. Disconnect

Disconnect the red probe first, then the black one – remembering that they cannot be touched together.  Turn off your meter and you’re done.

Are you ready to start browsing for a new voltage meter?  Remember to consider:

  • Any known required meter specifications
  • The desired accuracy/quality/resolution
  • The required input impedance (for sensitive electronics)
  • The energy capacity of the circuits to be tested.

Do you need a little more guidance to ensure you select the perfect voltage meter for your needs and budget?  Get in touch with our experienced industry guides who can walk you through the full modern range – and happy voltage testing!

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