How to Test a Car Battery Without a Multimeter

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How to Test a Car Battery Without a Multimeter

test car battery

The coldest days of winter are one of your car battery’s worst enemies. In general, extreme temperatures of any kind are not good for batteries. One of the worst winter weather experiences for vehicle owners is when you head out to commute to work or run an errand and your car won’t start. Is it because of a dead battery? There is a way to test a car battery and access if it is having problems before this happens.

How to Test a Car Battery Without a Multimeter

First off, what is a Multimeter?

Testing your car battery with a multimeter is the easiest and most effective way to get the job done. We are assuming you will NOT have one handy but for the record, a multimeter is an instrument designed to measure electric current, voltage, and usually resistance, typically over several ranges of value.

However, if you do not have a multimeter handy there are a couple of things you can do to test a car battery.

Step 1: Inspect the Battery

You want to start with a visual inspection of your battery. Make sure it is not leaking and the case itself is not bulging. Your battery should still be a perfectly straight-sided box. Check for corrosion around the terminals. Many cars today use maintenance free batteries, which means the vent caps are sealed. If everything looks good, then you can move on.

Step 2: Turn on Headlights

You can start testing your battery by turning on the headlights without turning on the engine. Leave the lights on for about 15 minutes.

Step 3: Do they Dim?

With the lights still on, rev the engine and see what happens. (You might need someone in the car to help do this while you check out the headlights.) You should notice a very slight dimming of the bulbs as the vehicle starts. If the headlights get extremely dim or turn off while the engine takes a bit of time to turn over, (especially if you notice any kind of clicking noises,) then you have a problem with your battery. Engines need starting power. What we are seeing here is your battery isn’t generating the voltage to get your car started. There is no juice!

Now this is nowhere near as accurate as using a multimeter and we cannot give you specific numbers, but it is a practical example of whether your battery is working for you.

What if you do have a multimeter handy? Here is how to test a battery with a multimeter.

Signs of a Bad Car Battery

If you are testing your battery in the first place, you are already wondering if there is a problem. And it is true there are several signs you can be on the lookout for what will indicate you are having an issue with your battery. We have already touched on corrosion. In the same vein, let us take a look at what else can tip you off it might be time to test your battery to see if it’s working okay.

Dim Lights

Dimming lights is a potentially good indicator of the strength of your battery. Not just your headlights but the interior lights of your vehicle as well. You will notice issues with your other electrical mechanisms such as power windows or anything you plug in, like a phone charger.

Slow Engine Starting

This is often the first sign people get when there is a problem with their battery. Without the charge, your starter motor isn’t going to come on right away to get your engine to turn over. If this is a constant issue every time you try to start your car, chances are you are having a battery issue. This is good to watch out for before you need a jump start.


If your battery is unable to send out the current to the starter then you are likely going to hear a series of clicks as you try to get your car started and nothing else. At this point, your battery is likely completely dead and your car will not start at all.

Battery Light or Check Engine Light

Indicator lights on your dashboard can often be vague. However, when your battery is failing to hold a charge, you will likely get a warning light that pops up on your dashboard. Some cars may just throw up a check engine light first, while others will give you the battery light to let you know there is a problem. If you get these along with other symptoms, it is a good bet your battery has a problem, and you may need to replace it.

Cost of a New Car Battery

When it is clear you need a new battery, then luckily there are many places you can pick up a new one. As with most parts of a car, a new battery for your vehicle comes with a range of prices and battery brands. You can pick up a brand new battery for anywhere between $50 and $150. There are also some premium batteries that may cost you as much as $300 or more. This is not necessarily something you need for your car and certainly not standard or required by any means.

It is also worth noting you can save yourself some money on your car battery by replacing it yourself rather than heading to a mechanic. A lot of people are intimidated by doing any kind of work on their vehicle but replacing the battery is one of the easiest things you can do, and it’s not going to take a lot of time either.

The Bottom Line

It can be difficult sometimes to pinpoint the nature of an electrical problem in your car. The first step is to test a car battery. Most importantly, this is the best way to figure out if it is the problem or whether you should be focusing perhaps on the alternator. If you’re not comfortable you can go to a mechanic to get this job done.

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