Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at a parts washer, an often overlooked tool that comes in handy; a power inverter, a road trip game changer for keeping your tools and gadgets juiced up; and returned to the giant battery power stations that can keep the lights on while off-grid. This week’s Cool Tool is a multimeter. It’s a simple tool that will save you so much diagnostic time.
I’ve been on the fence about featuring a multimeter because it’s a simple tool that most of you probably already own. But even good simple tools need a shoutout for the work that they do.
It’s no secret that I have a huge collection of vehicles to keep alive. That’s miles of electrical wiring, and many of the vehicles are complex German SUVs, a big bus and even a Triumph Tiger. That’s a lot of stuff to go wrong.
Admittedly, up until recent months, I solved electrical issues through trial and error or by firing up the parts cannon. But lately, that method had only left me with more questions and more broken vehicles.
My Tiger’s electrical system has always been an oddity. The previous owner said that its battery was dead, requiring me to jump start it with a handy jump pack just to get it home.
I bought a new battery, but most of the time it still didn’t start without help from the jump pack. It would only start sometimes with the new battery. Odd, right?
I thought maybe that new battery was defective, so I planned to exchange it for another. But before I could do that, the bike stopped being able to start at all on the jump pack, instead requiring the old-school method of the bump start.
After having fixed dozens of motorcycles and some cars over the years I finally bought a multimeter, and it honestly changed my life.
By putting the multimeter’s probes on the alternator’s output (it actually has an adorable little alternator) and setting it to measure DC Volts, I was able to tell that it was pushing out 14 volts at idle. The battery itself read a healthy 12.6 volts and didn’t drop much when starting another motorcycle.
Next, I moved to the starter solenoid, where I performed the same test, probing the solenoid’s terminals then trying to start it. Nothing was getting through the solenoid, even when hooked up to my jump pack. As a confirmation, I shorted out the terminals on the solenoid, and the starter churned to life. Sure enough, a new solenoid fixed my issue entirely, and the Triumph hasn’t needed the jump pack since.
I’ve had starter solenoids fail, but never like this. Had it not been for the multimeter, it probably would have taken me far longer to figure it out.
Since then, the multimeter’s been getting tons of use checking the charge of batteries, from my battery wall to testing the wonky alternator in one of my Smarts.
A multimeter has so many uses in taking the guesswork out of dealing with electricity that I cannot begin to list them out.
If you have the time, check out this tutorial from Dan The Technology Man on YouTube to open yourself to the wonderful world of multimeters.
These are dirt cheap wherever you get your tools. Mine was a whole $7 at Harbor Freight. Some reviews suggest that more expensive models last longer, have greater accuracy, and even more versatility. A cheap one will still get the job done.
If you have one, what do you use it for?
Do you know of a weird or unique tool that wrenchers can benefit from knowing about? Do you want to see us put a type of tool to the test and see how it performs? Shoot me an email or drop it down in the comments!