techdirections — January 2014
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Because of their efficiency and durability, diesel engines have become the standard in powering our nation’s trucks and buses. Other heavy vehicles and equipment, including bulldozers and cranes, also are powered by diesel engines, as are farming equipment, construction vehicles, oil rigs, power plants, hydraulic systems, locomotives, cargo ships, and mining equipment. Diesel service technicians who service and repair these engines are commonly known as diesel mechanics.

In 2010, the median annual wage of all diesel mechanics was $40,850. In that same year, median annual wages in specific industries were:

Local government $48,070
Motor vehicle and parts wholesalers 41,070
Automotive repair and maintenance 38,320
General freight trucking 38,010
Specialized freight trucking 36,110

Job Outlook
Employment of diesel mechanics is expected to grow 15% from 2010 to 2020. As more freight is shipped across the country, additional diesel-powered trucks will be needed. Demand for new workers in the freight trucking and automotive repair and maintenance industries is expected to drive overall diesel mechanic job growth.

In addition, older vehicles will need to be retrofitted and modernized to comply with environmental regulations, which will create additional jobs for diesel mechanics.

Overall employment growth, however, may be dampened due to increasing durability of new truck and bus diesel engines. Continuing advances in repair technology, including computerized diagnostic equipment may result in fewer mechanics doing the same amount of work, further reducing demand for mechanics.

Certification from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is the recognized industry credential for diesel and other automotive service technicians and mechanics. Although not required, this certification is recommended because it proves to employers a diesel mechanic’s competence, experience, and value to potential employers and clients.

Diesel mechanics may be certified in specific repair areas, such as drive trains, electronic systems, or preventive maintenance and inspection. To earn certification, mechanics must have two years’ work experience and pass one or more ASE exams. To remain certified, diesel mechanics must pass the test again every five years.

The Job
Most diesel mechanics work on the engines of heavy trucks—those used in hauling freight over long distances— or in heavy industries such as construction and mining. Many are employed by companies that maintain their own fleet of vehicles. The mechanic’s main task is preventive maintenance to avoid breakdowns, but they also make engine repairs when necessary. Diesel mechanics handle many kinds of repairs. They may work on a vehicle’s electrical system, brakes system, heating and air conditioning systems, or retrofit engines with emission control systems to comply with pollution regulations.

Diesel engine maintenance is becoming increasingly complex as engines and other components use more electronic systems to control their operation. For example, fuel injection and engine timing systems rely heavily on microprocessors to maximize fuel efficiency. In most shops, workers often use hand-held or laptop computers to diagnose problems and adjust engine functions.

In addition to computerized diagnostic equipment, diesel mechanics use a variety of power and machine tools, such as pneumatic wrenches, lathes, grinding machines, and welding equipment. Hand tools, including pliers, wrenches, and screwdrivers, are also commonly used.

Mechanics typically supply their own hand tools at an investment of $6,000 to $25,000, depending on their specialty. It is the employer’s responsibility to furnish large power tools, engine analyzers, and other diagnostic equipment.

Frequent changes in technology demand that mechanics keep up to date with the latest training. To maintain and increase their skills, mechanics must regularly read service and repair manuals, industry bulletins, and other publications. They must also be willing to take part in training programs provided by manufacturers.

-Excellent communication skills
-Must have a Class A driver’s license
-Customer-service skills—Diesel mechanics frequently talk to customers. They must be courteous, good listeners, and ready to answer customers’ questions.
-Dexterity—Mechanics need a steady hand and good hand-and-eye coordination for many tasks, such as disassembling engine parts, connecting or attaching components, or using hand tools.
-Mechanical skills—Mechanics must be familiar with parts and components of engines, transmissions, braking mechanisms, and other complex systems. They must also be able to disassemble, work on, and reassemble parts and machinery.
-Technical skills—Modern diesel engines rely heavily on electronic systems to function. Diesel mechanics must be familiar with how the electronic systems operate and the tools needed to work on them.
-Troubleshooting skills—Diesel mechanics must be able to identify mechanical and electronic problems, make repairs, and offer a maintenance strategy.

Training High School
-Automotive repair
-Technology education
-Computer science

Many employers prefer workers with postsecondary training in diesel engine repair. A large number of community colleges, trade and vocational schools, and manufacturers offer programs in diesel engine repair. These programs usually last six months to two years and may lead to a certificate of completion or an associate’s degree. Trade and technical schools nearly always provide job placement assistance for their graduates.

Programs mix classroom instruction with handson training, including the basics of diesel technology, repair techniques and equipment, and practical exercises. Students also learn how to interpret technical manuals and electronic diagnostic reports.

Graduates usually advance to journey-worker status, where they may then work with minimal supervision.

Working Conditions
Diesel mechanics usually work in well ventilated and sometimes noisy repair shops. Occasionally, they repair vehicles on roadsides or at worksites in unfavorable conditions. Most diesel mechanics work full time. Overtime is common as many repair shops extend their service hours during evenings and weekends. In addition, some truck and bus repair shops provide 24-hour maintenance and repair services.

Diesel mechanics often get very dirty. They must lift heavy parts and tools, handle greasy or dirty equipment, and work in uncomfortable positions. Although cuts or burns are common, the work is generally not hazardous when workers follow basic safety precautions.

Professional Associations
Association of Diesel Specialists
National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation
National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence