How to Check Voltage with a Cheap Multimeter
The voltage setting is the easiest for most people to use and understand. A practical example of using the voltage setting would be to test the voltage on your battery. The voltage reading can give you insight into the health of your battery and charging system.
Setting Up Your Multimeter
If your multimeter is auto ranging, turn the dial to the V setting. If your multimeter is not auto ranging, make sure you are in the DC setting. There is no standard for multimeters. Because all models are different, you may need to refer to your manual to find the correct setting for a 12V system.
The symbol on the left is for AC Voltage. The symbol on the right is for DC Voltage.
On most models, the attachment for your leads will be color coded. For example, the black lead goes in the black port and the read lead goes in the red port. If these are not color coded, the black will always go in the port labeled COM (for common). The red will always go in the port labeled V (for volts, when you are using the voltage setting).
The ports may include other labels as well. For example, the red port on my model is V, TEMP, Ω, and CAP. For our purposes right now, we’re only interested in the V.
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Make Contact with Your Test Leads
For almost everything in the automotive world, you will touch the black lead to the negative (- or ground). You will touch the red lead to the positive (+ or power).
Most of the time (key word: most) you can use any of the frame, engine, or any metal part on your ATV for the black lead. If you have an off brand (Chinese) ATV, keep in mind that some of them do not use frame ground.
Of course there are exceptions. If you are testing a wire for ground, the black lead will be used as the test lead. The red lead will need to be on the positive terminal.
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If you have good contact and the system has live power, this should give you a reading.
How to Interpret Your Voltage Reading
If your meter shows a negative reading
You most likely have the leads crossed. Adjust the leads and try again.
If your meter is showing less than 12V
Charge your battery using a battery maintainer or a trickle charger.
If you charged your battery and your meter is showing a reading greater than 12V
Let your battery sit and stabilize for at least one hour before testing the voltage again.
If your battery has less than 12V after charging
You likely have a bad cell. It's time to replace your battery.