There are approximately 71,000 small engine mechanics working in the United States at this time. Job growth over the next decade is expected to be about average, ranging between 6 percent and 9 percent, depending upon location and area of focus.
Small engine mechanics maintain and repair motorcycles, motorboats, jet skis, and outdoor power tools. The work is often seasonal and may require considerable overtime during the high season. During the off-season, small-engine mechanics either work reduced hours or take another type of work. Experienced small-engine mechanics can expediently diagnose and repair mechanical, fuel, and electrical malfunctions. Minor repair jobs may require a single part replacement; an engine overhaul is far more complex. It might take several hours to replace valves, pistons, bearings, and other engine parts. Small engine mechanics use hand tools such as pliers, wrenches, and screwdrivers on a daily basis. Those who are trained or very experienced might use computerized handheld diagnostic tools. Hand tools are typically provided by the mechanic; employers generally provide power tools, computerized tools, and diagnostic tools like engine analyzers, compression gauges, ammeters, and voltmeters. While conducting routine maintenance, most mechanics inspect the brake, electrical, and fuel injection systems as well.
Motorcycle mechanics focus their work on scooters, mopeds, dirt bikes, and all-terrain vehicles in addition to motorcycles. Some mechanics prefer to specialize in manufacturer makes and models. Marine equipment mechanics tend to a boat’s electrical and mechanical components. Outboard motors are generally detached and carried into the shop. Inboard motors that power cruisers and fishing boats are typically serviced on-site. Some marine equipment mechanics work on propellers, steering components, plumbing, and other equipment on board. Outdoor power equipment mechanics service mowers, garden trucks, tractors, edge trimmers, chainsaws, and other outdoor gas- or electric-powered machinery.
Small engine repair shops are generally brightly lit and well ventilated to keep fumes and dust to a minimum. However, these shops can be very noisy; repairers should wear protective ear covering. Motorboat mechanics working on inboard engines must go on-site and make repairs, sometimes in extreme weather. The same holds true of outdoor power equipment mechanics completing on-site repairs as well.
For some small engine mechanics, winter is a slow time. They may be given fewer than forty hours per week to work. In spring and summer, lawn mowers need tuning; boats need to be made water ready; motorcycles, mopeds, jet skis, and other individual transporters must be inspected. This can create the need for considerable overtime.
Some employers will hire inexperienced trainee mechanics who have not graduated from high school. Others require a high school diploma or GED. In both cases, trainees are given on-the-job training. Most, however, prefer to hire mechanics that have completed postsecondary formal training at a vocational, technical, or community college.
Trainee mechanics are given easier tasks first; for example, replacing spark plugs or disassembling new equipment to test it. Trainees move from simple tasks to complex ones, such as using a computerized tool to diagnose a problem. Sufficient experience is required for a trainee to reach journey level. Depending upon the trainee and the type of work, this could mean a few months to a few years.
This type of work requires occasional continuing education because manufacturers incorporate new technology into new designs. Motorboat, motorcycle, and power equipment manufacturers or sellers offer intensive one- to two-week classes. To protect a manufacturer’s warranty, experienced small engine mechanics often advance their careers by turning to other forms of vehicle and equipment maintenance and repair. They might specialize in diesel engines, heavy vehicles, or automobiles. Those with both sufficient experience and leadership qualities might be promoted to shop supervisor or a managerial position. Some mechanics use the knowledge they have gained to becomes a sales representative, and others, to open their own shops.
The median wages of small engine mechanics is between about $14 to $16 per hour, depending upon specialty. Those at the low end of the pay scale earn less than $11 per hour, while those at the high end make close to $25 per hour. Few small shops, especially those that are independently owned, offer benefits. Bigger shops and franchises may offer paid vacations, medical insurance, and sick leave.