Multimeter vs. Battery Tester

Motorcycle, ATV and UTV batteries have somewhat limited lifespans, which can make things expensive if you have to constantly replace them.  

Keeping your vehicle’s batteries charged obviously extends their lifespans, and investing in electrical tools and equipment that help maintain your powersports batteries will ultimately save you money.

In this article and the video above, we look at the two of the most common tools used to diagnose and troubleshoot battery problems: the multimeter and the battery tester. 

The Multimeter

A multimeter measures battery voltage and helps gauge the battery's health.

Multimeter vs battery tester

By setting a multimeter to DC volts and connecting it to the positive and negative terminals of a battery, the multimeter will measure its voltage. A reading of 12.5 volts or more tells you the battery is properly charged. Below 12.5 volts means the battery needs to be charged. If the battery still reads under 12.5 after you charge it, the battery is past its prime and needs to be replaced.

While a multimeter can tell you a battery’s voltage, it can’t tell you the battery’s capacity to deliver the necessary amount of amps required to start an engine. That's where the battery tester comes in. 

The Battery Tester

A battery tester can tell you both the voltage of a battery and how much capacity it has.

Battery tester vs multimeter

Connecting a battery tester to the positive and negative terminals of a battery will give you a voltage reading first. Unlike the multimeter, the battery tester allows you to select from its menu which type of battery is being tested, and what its capacity is. The tester runs a diagnostic test on the battery by putting a load on it to determine how much capacity it has. Once the diagnosis is complete, the tester displays whether the battery is healthy or if it needs to be replaced. It also displays how much capacity the battery still has, as a percentage, compared to the specifications of a healthy new battery.

Battery tester

Multimeter or Battery Tester: Which is Best?

As already mentioned, a multimeter can tell you if your battery is fully charged and could potentially start your machine. 

Battery tester vs digital multimeter

On the other hand, a battery tester can tell you whether your battery is fully charged, as well as the condition of the battery, and how capable it is of delivering power to the electrical system. In other words, the battery tester will tell you for sure if the battery will start your machine.

So the battery tester is the better choice, right? Well yes, as far as checking the health of and charging a battery goes. To best look after the batteries in your power sports machines, a battery tester is the ideal diagnostic tool to have. However, a multimeter can be used for many other purposes. When doing any electrical job, a multimeter is an absolute must-have. This includes working on your car, truck, motorcycle, ATV, side-by side, and all the electrical systems within your home, including the house wiring itself. But your tool chest really should include both a multimeter and a battery tester, just in case.


Now that you know how a multimeter compares to a battery tester, how does it compare to a test light? Watch the video above to see how a test light tool compares to a multimeter.


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