There are approximately 255,000 diesel service technicians and mechanics in the United States. Projected job growth over the next decade is expected to be slower than average. For those with formal training, job opportunities over the next decade will be plentiful. For those without training, certification or work experience will have more difficulty.
Because diesel-powered engines are more efficient than those that burn gasoline, most train, bus, and semis are built with diesel engines. More and more, manufacturers are producing cars and pickup trucks that are powered by diesel gas. Diesel service technicians and mechanics maintain and repair diesel-powered engines. Because an increasing number of electronic elements are being added to diesel engines each year, maintenance has become more complex than in the past. Engine efficiency is regulated by microprocessors that control engine timing and fuel injection. As emissions standards become stricter, diesel mechanics will be needed to retrofit emissions control filters and catalysts to vehicles that are not in compliance.
Computers are used diagnostically in many repair shops, and sometimes to adjust engine functions. Technicians routinely inspect brake and steering mechanisms, wheel bearings, and the like, and adjust, repair, or replace parts as needed using power tools, machine tools, and welding equipment. Jacks or hoists are used to elevate vehicles. Hand tools are used for areas that are difficult to reach.
Most employers provide power tools as well as computerized engine analyzers; these are expensive. Mechanics provide their own hand tools. Most diesel repair shops are well lit and ventilated to remove dust and fumes. Shops can be noisy; protective hearing devices should be used. Most diesel mechanics work inside and only occasionally must service a vehicle that has broken down on the road. Lifting heavy tools or engine parts and reaching, crouching, and holding awkward positions to reach difficult areas can be physically challenging for diesel technicians. While potential hazards, such as getting cut by shorn metal, burned by welding equipment, or hurt by power equipment exist, following safety procedures minimizes these dangers. Some technicians work as a team; others are assigned new hires for training or work primarily alone. A forty-hour week is standard. Shops that are open in the evenings or on weekends may require employees to work odd hours or overtime. Some shops that service commercial vehicles are available around the clock.
Individuals who have completed a formal training program are employers’ first choice. These workers will move from entry-level work to journey level fairly quickly. Repairers with at least three years of job experience can also move to journey level. Formal study in math, electronics, English, and physics provides diesel service technicians with especially useful skills. Graduating from a community college or vocational school program assures employers that a mechanic has the basic knowledge needed. These programs typically run from six months to two years and culminate in certification or an associate’s degree. Most combine classroom instruction with hands-on training.
Certification or an associate’s degree is not required to begin work. Inexperienced hires will be given tasks that don’t require too much knowledge or experience, such as cleaning parts and lubricating cars. With time, advancement to a trainee position is likely. Most trainers become competent with routine maintenance after two or three months’ experience.
Once diesel engine repair and servicing has been mastered, mechanics move to electrical and brake systems, as well as transmission repair. Journey level is reached with three to four years of hands-on experience. Ongoing education is important in this line of work; manufacturers are constantly making technical changes in vehicles.
Job applicants should demonstrate mechanical ability and be able to look at diagnostic problems logically. Mechanics that test-drive trucks or buses must have a state license. Passing a drug test is standard with most companies.
Diesel service technicians and mechanics that are experienced, good diagnosticians, and communicate well might be promoted to a supervisor or manager position. Another way to advance is by becoming a sales representative for a manufacturer. In most cases, mechanics without certification will find it far more difficult to advance in their careers. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifies diesel service technicians and mechanics. Certification can be in a specialty, such as brakes, suspension and steering, drivetrains, electronic systems, or preventive maintenance and inspection, and is earned by passing a test and proving two years’ experience in that specialty. Master technicians must pass a series of tests. All certified technicians must retake the appropriate tests every five years.
The median hourly pay for diesel engine specialists, including incentive pay, is around $20 per hour. Those with the least experience or training earn less than $13 per hour, while those who are highly trained and have considerable experience earn close to $30 per hour. Nearly a fourth of all diesel service technicians and mechanics are members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers or another union.