electron tubes, are susceptible to damage by electrical overloads, heat, humidity, and radiation. Damage of this nature often occurs during transistor servicing by applying the incorrect polarity voltage to the collector circuit or excessive voltage to the input circuit. Careless soldering techniques that overheat the transistor have also been known to cause considerable damage.">

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Transistors, although generally more rugged mechanically than electron tubes, are susceptible to damage by electrical overloads, heat, humidity, and radiation. Damage of this nature often occurs during transistor servicing by applying the incorrect polarity voltage to the collector circuit or excessive voltage to the input circuit. Careless soldering techniques that overheat the transistor have also been known to cause considerable damage. One of the most frequent causes of damage to a transistor is the electrostatic discharge from the human body when the device is handled. You may avoid such damage before starting repairs by discharging the static electricity from your body to the chassis containing the transistor. You can do this by simply touching the chassis. Thus, the electricity will be transferred from your body to the chassis before you handle the transistor.

To prevent transistor damage and avoid electrical shock, you should observe the following precautions when you are working with transistorized equipment:

  • Test equipment and soldering irons should be checked to make certain there is no leakage current from the power source. If leakage current is detected, isolation transformers should be used.
  • Always connect a ground between test equipment and circuit before attempting to inject or monitor a signal.
  • Ensure test voltages do not exceed maximum allowable voltage for circuit components and transistors. Also, never connect test equipment outputs directly to a transistor circuit.
  • Ohmmeter ranges that require a current of more than one milliampere in the test circuit should not be used for testing transistors.
  • Battery eliminators should not be used to furnish power for transistor equipment because they have poor voltage regulation and, possibly, high-ripple voltage.
  • The heat applied to a transistor, when soldered connections are required, should be kept to a minimum by using a low-wattage soldering iron and heat shunts, such as long-nose pliers, on the transistor leads.
  • When it becomes necessary to replace transistors, never pry transistors to loosen them from printed circuit boards.
  • All circuits should be checked for defects before replacing a transistor.
  • The power must be removed from the equipment before replacing a transistor.
  • Using conventional test probes on equipment with closely spaced parts often causes accidental shorts between adjacent terminals. These shorts rarely cause damage to an electron tube but may ruin a transistor.
  • To prevent these shorts, the probes can be covered with insulation, except for a very short length of the tips.


Transistor lead identification plays an important part in transistor maintenance; because, before a transistor can be tested or replaced, its leads or terminals must be identified. Since there is no standard method of identifying transistor leads, it is quite possible to mistake one lead for another. Therefore, when you are replacing a transistor, you should pay close attention to how the transistor is mounted, particularly to those transistors that are soldered in, so that you do not make a mistake when you are installing the new transistor. When you are testing or replacing a transistor, if you have any doubts about which lead is which, consult the equipment manual or a transistor manual that shows the specifications for the transistor being used.

There are, however, some typical lead identification schemes that will be very helpful in transistor troubleshooting. These schemes are shown in figure 2-17. In the case of the oval-shaped transistor shown in view A, the collector lead is identified by a wide space between it and the base lead. The lead farthest from the collector, in line, is the emitter lead. When the leads are evenly spaced and in line, as shown in view B, a colored dot, usually red, indicates the collector. If the transistor is round, as in view C, a red line indicates the collector, and the emitter lead is the shortest lead. In view D the leads are in a triangular arrangement that is offset from the center of the transistor. The lead opposite the blank quadrant in this scheme is the base lead. When viewed from the bottom, the collector is the first lead clockwise from the base. The leads in view E are arranged in the same manner as those is view D except that a tap is used to identify the leads. When viewed from the bottom in a clockwise direction, the first lead following the tab is the emitter, followed by the base and collector.

Figure 2-17. - Transistor lead identification.

In a conventional power transistor as shown in views F and G, the collector lead is usually connected to the mounting base. For further identification, the base lead in view F is covered with green sleeving. While the leads in view G are identified by viewing the transistor from the bottom in a clockwise direction (with mounting holes occupying 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock positions), the emitter lead will be either at the 5 o'clock or 11 o'clock position. The other lead is the base lead.


There are several different ways of testing transistors. They can be tested while in the circuit, by the substitution method mentioned, or with a transistor tester or ohmmeter.

Transistor testers are nothing more than the solid-state equivalent of electron-tube testers (although they do not operate on the same principle). With most transistor testers, it is possible to test the transistor in or out of the circuit.

There are four basic tests required for transistors in practical troubleshooting: gain, leakage, breakdown, and switching time. For maintenance and repair, however, a check of two or three parameters is usually sufficient to determine whether a transistor needs to be replaced.

Since it is impractical to cover all the different types of transistor testers and since each tester comes with its own operator's manual, we will move on to something you will use more frequently for testing transistors-the ohmmeter.

Testing Transistors with an Ohmmeter

Two tests that can be done with an ohmmeter are gain, and junction resistance. Tests of a transistor's junction resistance will reveal leakage, shorts, and opens.

TRANSISTOR GAIN TEST. - A basic transistor gain test can be made using an ohmmeter and a simple test circuit. The test circuit can be made with just a couple of resistors and a switch, as shown in figure 2-18. The principle behind the test lies in the fact that little or no current will flow in a transistor between emitter and collector until the emitter-base junction is forward biased. The only precaution you should observe is with the ohmmeter. Any internal battery may be used in the meter provided that it does not exceed the maximum collector-emitter breakdown voltage.

Figure 2-18. - Testing a transistor's gain with an ohmmeter.

With the switch in figure 2-18 in the open position as shown, no voltage is applied to the PNP transistor's base, and the emitter-base junction is not forward biased. Therefore, the ohmmeter should read a high resistance, as indicated on the meter. When the switch is closed, the emitter-base circuit is forward biased by the voltage across R1 and R2. Current now flows in the emitter-collector circuit, which causes a lower resistance reading on the ohmmeter. A 10-to-1 resistance ratio in this test between meter readings indicates a normal gain for an audio-frequency transistor.

To test an NPN transistor using this circuit, simply reverse the ohmmeter leads and carry out the procedure described earlier.

TRANSISTOR JUNCTION RESISTANCE TEST. - An ohmmeter can be used to test a transistor for leakage (an undesirable flow of current) by measuring the base-emitter, base-collector, and collector-emitter forward and reverse resistances.

For simplicity, consider the transistor under test in each view of figure 2-19 (view A, view Band view C) as two diodes connected back to back. Therefore, each diode will have a low forward resistance and a high reverse resistance. By measuring these resistances with an ohmmeter as shown in the figure, you can determine if the transistor is leaking current through its junctions. When making these measurements, avoid using the R1 scale on the meter or a meter with a high internal battery voltage. Either of these conditions can damage a low-power transistor.

Figure 2-19A. - Testing a transistor's leakage with an ohmmeter.


Figure 2-19B. - Testing a transistor's leakage with an ohmmeter.


Figure 2-19C. - Testing a transistor's leakage with an ohmmeter.


Now consider the possible transistor problems that could exist if the indicated readings in figure 2-19 are not obtained. A list of these problems is provided in table 2-2.

Table 2-2. - Possible Transistor Problems from Ohmmeter Readings

FORWARD REVERSE The transistor is:
**Except collector-to-emitter test.    

By now, you should recognize that the transistor used in figure 2-19 (view A, view B and view C) is a PNP transistor. If you wish to test an NPN transistor for leakage, the procedure is identical to that used for testing the PNP except the readings obtained are reversed.

When testing transistors (PNP or NPN), you should remember that the actual resistance values depend on the ohmmeter scale and the battery voltage. Typical forward and reverse resistances are insignificant. The best indicator for showing whether a transistor is good or bad is the ratio of forward-to-reverse resistance. If the transistor you are testing shows a ratio of at least 30 to 1, it is probably good. Many transistors show ratios of 100 to 1 or greater.

Q.38 What safety precaution must be taken before replacing a transistor? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.39 How is the collector lead identified on an oval-shaped transistor? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.40 What are two transistor tests that can be done with an ohmmeter? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.41 When you are testing the gain of an audio-frequency transistor with an ohmmeter, what is indicated by a 10-to-1 resistance ratio?answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.42 When you are using an ohmmeter to test a transistor for leakage, what is indicated by a low, but not shorted, reverse resistance reading? answer.gif (214 bytes)

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