First of all, current is electrical volume, measured in amperes ("amps").
Electrical pressure is called voltage; techs measure voltage with a voltmeter.
Using a clamp meter is one convenient, effective way to measure the current flowing through a wire or cable. All a tech has to do is open the clamp meter's spring-loaded jaws and slip the jaws around the wire or cable.
The clamp meter's digital display shows the current measurement. In this example (refer to the photograph), I am checking the current flowing through a vehicle's negative battery cable.
The display shows a measurement of 87 milliamps or 87 thousandths of an ampere.
Second, suppose a motorist shuts off a vehicle and walks away from it. Normally, its onboard electronic components shut off within approximately 20 to 45 minutes.
This "shut-off" time may vary a great deal from one make and model to another.
A tech may refer to this routine electronic shutdown as components going to sleep or going into sleep mode or rest mode.
Third, a very low volume of electrical current continues flowing out of the battery after rest mode occurs. This often is called key-off or parasitic battery drain.
Normal parasitic battery drain usually measures 25 to 50 milliamps (25 to 50 thousandths of an ampere) or less.
Clamp meters designed for automotive diagnosis measure these extremely low volumes of electricity. And, as I just explained, a tech simply connects the clamp meter onto a battery cable to take the reading.
A failing electronic component may remain on instead of going into rest mode. Then this component discharges the battery by drawing current from it continually.
The resulting symptom is a dead battery with no obvious causes.
Routine testing may confirm that the battery and charging systems are OK. If that is the case, a tech may park the vehicle, shut off the ignition switch and wait for its electronic components to "fall asleep."
Then the tech repeatedly checks current flow at one of the car's battery cables over a period of time. Generally speaking, this key-off current should drop into the normal range within 60 minutes or less — I emphasize the word generally.
Suppose the clamp meter check shows that key-off battery drain remains abnormally high. This confirms that something within the vehicle's electrical system is stuck on and drawing excessive current.
Furthermore, it means the tech must perform a series of additional tests to pinpoint this failed component.