Education and Training Varies—see profile
Salary Median—$17.20 per hour
Employment Outlook Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Diesel mechanics repair, maintain, and rebuild diesel engines that power buses, trucks, ships, trains, and other vehicles. To repair engines, mechanics run diagnostic tests, find the sources of problems, and then remove and replace faulty parts. Mechanics who maintain engines may check water-cooling systems or clean air and oil filters to prevent engine parts from breaking down. Because diesel engines are expensive to replace, they are rebuilt at regular intervals, usually after vehicles have traveled more than one hundred thousand miles. Mechanics take the engines completely apart, replace worn parts, and put the engines back together.
Diesel mechanics use many kinds of tools, including pliers, wrenches, screwdrivers, grinders, drills, and lathes. They also use testing equipment such as dynamometers, which measure engine power. Mechanics often lift heavy parts, so they should be in good physical condition.
Some mechanics do a variety of diesel engine repairs. Others specialize in rebuilding engines or in repairing fuel-injection systems, turbochargers, cylinder heads, or starting systems. Some also repair large natural gas engines used to power generators and other industrial equipment.
Mechanics are sometimes described by the type of equipment they repair. For example, those who repair diesel truck engines may be called diesel truck mechanics. Those who work on construction equipment, such as bulldozers and earthmovers, are usually called heavy equipment diesel mechanics.
Diesel mechanics work for equipment dealers, manufacturers, or companies that use and repair diesel equipment.
Education and Training Requirements
Employers prefer trainees and apprenticeship applicants who have high school diplomas and mechanical ability. Automobile repair and machine shop courses offered by many high schools and vocational schools are helpful, as are courses in science and mathematics.
Many diesel mechanics start by assisting experienced workers who repair gasoline-powered engines. That training lasts three to four years. New employees of companies that use or repair diesel equipment usually receive six to eighteen months of additional training.
Some mechanics enter formal apprenticeship programs, which generally last four years. They include classroom instruction and practical experience. Apprentices are paid for their work while they attend school at night.
A growing number of employers prefer to hire graduates of trade or technical schools. These programs generally last from several months to two years and provide practical experience and related classroom instruction. Graduates usually need additional on-the-job training before becoming skilled diesel mechanics.
Voluntary certification by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is recognized as the standard credential for diesel mechanics, who can be certified as master medium/heavy truck technicians, master school bus technicians, or master truck equipment technicians. To become certified, mechanics must pass one or more ASE-certified exams and have at least two years of hands-on experience in diesel engine repair. Because technology advances so quickly in this field, mechanics must be retested every five years to remain certified. Mechanics stay abreast of these advances through continuing education.
Getting the Job
Job seekers can apply directly to repair shops or manufacturing companies. School placement offices, state employment services, newspaper classified ads, and Internet job sites are all sources of employment leads.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Diesel mechanics with the most advanced training have the greatest opportunity for advancement. When vacancies occur, they can be promoted to shop supervisor or service manager. Locomotive specialists may advance to plant superintendent. Diesel engine mechanics on ships might become marine engineers. Experienced mechanics can also open their own repair shops.
The employment outlook for diesel mechanics is expected to be good through 2014. Diesel engines are more durable and economical than gasoline engines, so they may be used more extensively in trucks, buses, and other vehicles.
Most larger repair shops are pleasant places in which to work, but some small shops have poor lighting, heating, and ventilation. Heavy parts are often supported by jacks or hoists, so proper safety measures must be taken. Mechanics handle greasy tools and engine parts and often stand or lie in awkward positions for extended periods. Sometimes they make repairs outdoors in all kinds of weather.
The typical workweek runs forty to forty-eight hours, although extra hours may be required for emergency repairs. Many shops have expanded their work hours to better serve their customers, so evening, night, and weekend work may be necessary. Many diesel mechanics belong to labor unions.
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings vary by industry. In 2004 the median wage for all diesel mechanics was $17.20 per hour. The most experienced mechanics earned more than $25.67 per hour. They were often paid time and a half for overtime. Inexperienced mechanics generally earned fifty to seventy-five percent as much as experienced mechanics.
Where to Go for More Information
Association of Diesel Specialists
10 Laboratory Dr.
PO Box 13966
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-3966
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
9000 Machinists Place
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772-2687
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
900 Seventh St. NW
Washington, DC 20001
National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence
101 Blue Seal Dr. SE, Ste. 101
Leesburg, VA 20175
Many mechanics receive paid holidays and vacations as well as health and life insurance. Railroad mechanics may receive free travel passes.