Testing Capacitors with a Multimeter
Some DMMs have modes for capacitor testing. These work fairly well to determine approximate uF rating. However, for most applications, they do not test at anywhere near the normal working voltage or test for leakage. Normally, this type of testing requires disconnecting at least one lead of the suspect capacitor from the circuit to get a reasonably accurate reading - or any reading at all. However, newer models may also do a decent job of testing capacitors in-circuit. Of course, all power must be removed and the capacitors should be discharged. This will generally work as long as the components attached to the capacitor are either semiconductors (which won't conduct with the low test voltage) or passive components with a high enough impedance to not load the tester too much. The reading may not be as accurate in-circuit, but probably won't result in a false negative - calling a capacitor good that is bad. But I don't know which models are better in this regard.
CAUTION: For this and any other testing of large capacitors and/or capacitors in power supply, power amplifier, or similar circuits, make sure the capacitor is fully discharged or else your multimeter may be damaged or destroyed!
However, a VOM or DMM without capacitance ranges can make certain types of tests.
For small caps (like 0.01 uf or less), about all you can really test is for shorts or leakage. (However, on an analog multimeter on the high ohms scale you may see a momentary deflection when you touch the probes to the capacitor or reverse them. A DMM may not provide any indication at all.) Any capacitor that measures a few ohms or less is bad. Most should test infinite even on the highest resistance range.
For electrolytics in the uF range or above, you should be able to see the cap charge when you use a high ohms scale with the proper polarity - the resistance will increase until it goes to (nearly) infinity. If the capacitor is shorted, then it will never charge. If it is open, the resistance will be infinite immediately and won't change. If the polarity of the probes is reversed, it will not charge properly either - determine the polarity of your meter and mark it - they are not all the same. Red is usually **negative** with (analog) VOMs but **positive** with most DMMs, for example. Confirm with a marked diode - a low reading across a good diode (VOM on ohms or DMM on diode test) indicates that the positive lead is on the anode (triangle) and negative lead is on the cathode (bar).
If the resistance never goes very high, the capacitor is leaky.
The best way to really test a capacitor is to substitute a known good one. A VOM or DMM will not test the cap under normal operating conditions or at its full rated voltage. However, it is a quick way of finding major faults.
A simple way of determining the capacitance fairly accurately is to build an oscillator using a 555 timer. Substitute the cap in the circuit and then calculate the C value from the frequency. With a few resistor values, this will work over quite a wide range.
Alternatively, using a DC power supply and series resistor, capacitance can be calculated by measuring the rise time to 63% of the power supply voltage from T=RC or C=T/R.
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