How to Test a Varistor

By J.T. Barett
A varistor, electronics, voltage surges
electronics image by Michael Shake from Fotolia.com

A varistor is an electronic component that protects expensive devices from harmful power surges, much like a shock absorber. For example if there is a power surge, the varistor, normally having a very high resistance, responds to the voltage spike by absorbing its energy with a very low resistance. This may blow the equipment’s fuse, but it will protect the expensive electronics. A varistor that’s received a strong electrical jolt may remain at low resistance and should be tested.

Step 1

Disconnect the electronic equipment from the wall outlet.

Step 2

Open the case with the screwdrivers and locate the varistor. It is usually a brightly colored disk the size of a coin. The varistor will likely be wired to a fuse holder. If the varistor is visibly burned through or broken, replace it immediately.

Step 3

Desolder and disconnect one of the varistor’s leads. Heat the lead with the soldering iron until the solder melts, and remove the solder with the desoldering tool. Carefully pry the lead loose from the connection with the long-nosed pliers. With the varistor removed from the circuit, you can now measure its resistance.

Step 4

Turn the multimeter on and set it to read resistance times 1000 ohms. Touch one meter probe to the free varistor lead and the other probe to the connected lead. Read the resistance on the meter. If it reads nearly infinite resistance, the varistor is still good. If it reads very low resistance, the varistor is blown.

Step 5

Resolder the disconnected lead if the varistor’s resistance reads good. If the varistor is blown, disconnect the remaining lead and solder a new varistor of the same rating in its place.

About the Author

Chicago native J.T. Barett has a Bachelor of Science in physics from Northeastern Illinois University and has been writing since 1991. He has contributed to "Foresight Update," a nanotechnology newsletter from the Foresight Institute. He also contributed to the book, "Nanotechnology: Molecular Speculations on Global Abundance."