I just moved into a home and I am hooking up a used dryer (which I'm told works). The dryer spins, but I get no heat.

I bought a multimeter, and it tells me that the receptacle provides insufficient voltage for both the dryer's spin and heat. The receptacle is a NEMA 10-30. Referring to the poles as listed in this diagram, I get the full 120V between poles W and Y, but only 45V between poles W and X (and 70V between X and Y). I think, from these DIY questions (1 2), that I should get 120V between W and X and 240V between X and Y.

NEMA 10-30

I even took the receptacle off the wall, and I get the same readings from the bare wires.

So here's my question: is it time to call an electrician, or are there some other things I can investigate on my own?

  • 1
    I'm stumped trying to figure out where the 45V is coming from. It's in phase with Y, so that's why you're losing voltage when you connect X and Y. If you're comfortable opening up the breaker panel, then you can check the wiring coming out of the breaker. Otherwise, unless someone else chimes in, I'd call in the electrician, and then be sure to let us know the solution.
    – BMitch
    Jun 1, 2011 at 11:16
  • Be sure you have set your multimeter to measure AC (alternating) volts, not DC (direct current) volts.
    – Bryce
    Aug 14, 2012 at 23:01

2 Answers 2


a broken wire or loose connection can pass voltage but as the current draw goes up, the voltage goes down. depending on the quality of the break, the voltage at no current draw (such as with a multimeter) could vary from full voltage to almost nothing.

to really figure this out, you'll need to remove the cover of your breaker box. measure the voltage between the neutral bar on the side of the box and the incoming wires from the meter at the top. they should all read 120V or 0V. if not, then the power company needs to investigate.

also measure between the neutral bar and the two screws on the side of the breaker that feeds the dryer outlet. those should read 120V. if not, then the breaker is likely bad.

otherwise, the problem is likely a broken wire or loose connection somewhere between the breaker and the outlet.

  • Great answer, longneck. I opened the breaker panel and tested the voltages. Sure enough, I got 120V from one terminal of the (double-pole) breaker to the ground strip, but only 45V from the other terminal. And I got 120V from the source of the breaker to the ground, so the problem was indeed the breaker. Thanks a lot! I'll be replacing the breaker soon. Jun 3, 2011 at 18:48

I recently had a very similar situation as the OP in this thread and I posted a related question at a different link.

My "cheap" low end electric dryer (rated for 220/240VAC) stopped working after several years. After checking all the obvious things like the circuit breaker, switches and controls inside the dryer, and the several thermal fuses inside it also, I was unable to determine the cause of failure as all of those checked out correctly. I did not see any scorched or burnt wiring anywhere inside either.

I then checked the voltage at the dryer socket as the OP did and noticed it was not correct. I was getting 120Vac from one line to neutral, but only around 60-70Vac from the other line to neutral. I then called a local electrician who said it could be a bad breaker. Even though I have some electromechanical skill, I decided to let them replace the faulty breaker - which was the cause of the faulty readings at the socket all along! I plan to find out what exactly died inside the old dryer when I take it all apart eventually...

Please see the pictures below for the damage that occurred to the breaker. Inside the contact bus in the panel, there was several globs of "molten" metal that was where things were arcing, etc. I have no idea how long this breaker has been this bad as I noticed no obvious symptoms running the dryer - except for the day it would not start at all. This was certainly a fire hazard....

The electrician said that the panel was so old (which is true) and several more contacts were very corroded that everything will need to be replaced and a dehumidifier also may need to be installed. I will be getting that done soon. I wanted to post these pictures to let other people know that "faulty" readings at the socket could be caused by issues such as this with the breaker.

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