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Although the engines that power motorcycles, boats, and lawn and garden equipment are usually smaller than those that power automobiles and trucks, they have many things in common, including breakdowns. Motorcycle, boat, and small-engine mechanics repair and service power equipment ranging from chain saws to yachts.
Small engines, like larger engines, require periodic servicing to minimize the possibility of breakdowns and keep them operating at peak efficiency. At routine intervals, mechanics adjust, clean, lubricate, and, when necessary, replace worn or defective parts such as spark plugs, ignition points, valves, and carburetors. Routine maintenance is normally a major part of the mechanic's work.
When breakdowns occur, mechanics diagnose the cause and repair or replace the faulty parts. The mark of a skilled mechanic is the ability to diagnose mechanical, fuel, and electrical problems and to make repairs in a minimum amount of time. A quick and accurate diagnosis requires problem-solving ability as well as a thorough knowledge of the equipment's operation. The mechanic first obtains a description of the symptoms of the problem from the owner, and then, if possible, operates the equipment to observe the symptoms. The mechanic may have to use special diagnostic testing equipment and disassemble some components for further examination. After pinpointing the cause of the problem, the needed adjustments, repairs, or replacements are made. Some jobs require only the adjustment or replacement of a single item, such as a carburetor or fuel pump, and may be completed in less than an hour. In contrast, a complete engine overhaul may require a number of hours, because the mechanic must disassemble and reassemble the engine to replace worn valves, pistons, bearings, and other internal parts.
Motorcycle, boat, and small-engine mechanics use common handtools such as wrenches, pliers, and screwdrivers, as well as power tools such as drills and grinders. Engine analyzers, compression gauges, ammeters and voltmeters, and other testing devices help mechanics locate faulty parts and tune engines. Hoists may be used to lift heavy equipment such as motorcycles, snowmobiles, or boats. Mechanics often refer to service manuals for detailed directions and specifications while performing repairs.
Mechanics usually specialize in the service and repair of one type of equipment, although they may work on closely related products. Motorcycle mechanics repair and overhaul motorcycles, motor scooters, mopeds, and all-terrain vehicles. Besides engines, they may work on transmissions, brakes, and ignition systems, and make minor body repairs. Because many motorcycle mechanics work for dealers that service only the products they sell, mechanics may specialize in servicing only a few of the many makes and models of motorcycles.
Motorboat mechanics repair and adjust the engines and electrical and mechanical equipment of inboard and outboard marine engines. Most small boats have portable outboard engines that can be removed and brought into the repair shop. Larger craft, such as cabin cruisers and commercial fishing boats, are powered by diesel or gasoline inboard or inboard-outdrive engines, which are only removed for major overhauls. Motorboat mechanics may also work on propellers, steering mechanisms, marine plumbing, and other boat equipment.
Small-engine mechanics service and repair outdoor power equipment such as lawnmowers, garden tractors, edge trimmers, and chain saws. They also may occasionally work on portable generators, go-carts, and snowmobiles.
Motorcycle, boat, and small-engine mechanics usually work in repair shops that are well lighted and ventilated, but which are sometimes noisy when engines are being tested. However, motorboat mechanics may work outdoors in all weather when repairing inboard engines aboard boats; they may have to work in cramped or awkward positions to reach a boat's engine.
In northern States, motorcycles, boats, lawnmowers, and other equipment are used less, or not at all, during the winter, and mechanics may work fewer than 40 hours a week; many mechanics are only hired temporarily during the busy spring and summer seasons. Some of the winter slack is taken up by scheduling time-consuming engine overhauls and working on snowmobiles and snowblowers. Many mechanics may work considerably more than 40 hours a week when the weather is warmer in the spring, summer, and fall.
Motorcycle, boat, and small-engine mechanics held almost 46,000 jobs in 1994. About 11,000 were motorcycle mechanics, while the remainder specialized in the repair of boats or outdoor power equipment such as lawnmowers, garden tractors, and chain saws. More than one-quarter of all motorcycle, boat, and small-engine mechanics worked for dealers of boats, motorcycles, and miscellaneous vehicles. Others were employed by independent repair shops, marinas and boat yards, equipment rental companies, and hardware and lawn and garden stores. Nearly one-third were self-employed.
Due to the increasing complexity of motorcycles, most employers prefer to hire motorcycle mechanics who are graduates of formal training programs. However, because technology has not had as great an impact on boat and outdoor power equipment, most boat and small-engine mechanics learn their skills on the job. For trainee jobs, employers hire persons with mechanical aptitude who are knowledgeable about the fundamentals of small 2- and 4-cycle engines. Many trainees develop an interest in mechanics and acquire some basic skills through working on automobiles, motorcycles, boats, or outdoor power equipment as a hobby, or through mechanic vocational training in high school, vocational and technical schools, or community colleges. A growing number also prepare for their careers by completing training programs in motorcycle, marine, or small-engine mechanics, but only a relatively small number of such specialized programs exist.
Trainees begin by learning routine service tasks under the guidance of experienced mechanics, such as replacing ignition points and spark plugs, or taking apart, assembling, and testing new equipment. Equipment manufacturers' service manuals are an important training tool. As trainees gain experience and proficiency, they progress to more difficult tasks, such as diagnosing the cause of breakdowns or overhauling engines. Up to 3 years of training on the job may be necessary before an inexperienced beginner becomes skilled in all aspects of the repair of some motorcycle and boat engines.
Employers sometimes send mechanics and trainees to special training courses conducted by motorcycle, boat, and outdoor power equipment manufacturers or distributors. These courses, which can last as long as 2 weeks, are designed to upgrade the worker's skills and provide information on repairing new models.
Most employers prefer to hire high school graduates for trainee mechanic positions, but will accept applicants with less education if they possess adequate reading, writing, and arithmetic skills. Many equipment dealers employ students part time and during the summer to help assemble new equipment and perform minor repairs. Helpful high school courses include small-engine repair, automobile mechanics, science, and business arithmetic.
Knowledge of basic electronics is increasingly desirable for motorcycle, boat, and small-engine mechanics. Electronics are increasingly being used in engine controls, instrument displays, and a variety of other components of motorcycles, boats, and outdoor power equipment. Mechanics should be familiar with at least the basic principles of electronics in order to recognize when an electronic malfunction may be responsible for a problem, and be able to test and replace electronic components.
Motorcycle, boat, and small-engine mechanics are sometimes required to furnish their own handtools. Employers generally provide some tools and test equipment, but beginners are expected to gradually accumulate handtools as they gain experience. Some experienced mechanics have thousands of dollars invested in tools.
Some mechanics are able to use skills learned through repairing motorcycles, boats, and outdoor power equipment to advance to higher paying jobs as automobile, truck, or heavy equipment mechanics. In larger shops, mechanics with leadership ability can advance to supervisory positions such as shop supervisor or service manager. Mechanics who are able to raise enough capital may open their own repair shops or equipment dealerships.
Employment of motorcycle, boat, and small-engine mechanics is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. The majority of job openings are expected to occur because many experienced motorcycle, boat, and small-engine mechanics leave each year to transfer to other occupations, retire, or stop working for other reasons. Job prospects should be especially favorable for persons who complete mechanic training programs.
Growth of personal disposable income over the 1994-2005 period should provide consumers with more discretionary dollars to buy boats, lawn and garden power equipment, and motorcyclesrequiring more mechanics to keep the growing amount of equipment in operation. However, growth in the demand for mechanics will be slowed by design improvements that should continue to make equipment more reliable and lengthen intervals between routine service.
Employment of motorcycle mechanics should increase slowly as the popularity of motorcycles rebounds. Beginning in the late 1990's, the number of persons between the ages of 18 and 24 should begin to grow. Motorcycle usage should continue to be popular with persons in this age group, who historically have the greatest proportion of motorcycle enthusiasts. Motorcycles have also been increasing in popularity with persons between the ages of 25 and 40, a group with more disposable income to spend on recreational equipment such as motorcycles and boats.
Recreational boating is expected to continue to be popular, and construction of new single-family houses will result in an increase in the lawn and garden equipment in operation, increasing the need for mechanics. However, equipment growth will be slowed by trends toward smaller lawns and contracting out their maintenance to lawn service firms.
Motorcycle, boat, and small-engine mechanics who usually worked full time had median earnings of about $407 a week in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $286 and $516 a week. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $202 a week, while the highest paid 10 percent earned over $644 a week.
Motorcycle, boat, and small-engine mechanics tend to receive few fringe benefits in small shops, but those employed in larger shops often receive paid vacations and sick leave and health insurance. Some employers also pay for work-related training and provide uniforms.
The work of motorcycle, boat, and small-engine mechanics is closely related to that of mechanics and repairers who work on other types of mobile equipment powered by internal combustion engines. Related occupations include automotive mechanic, diesel mechanic, farm equipment mechanic, and mobile heavy equipment mechanic.
For more details about work opportunities, contact local motorcycle, boat, and lawn and garden equipment dealers, and boat yards and marinas. Local offices of the State employment service also may have information about employment and training opportunities.
General information about motorcycle mechanic careers may be obtained from:
Motorcycle Mechanics Institute, 2844 West Deer Valley Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85027.
eneral information about motorboat mechanic careers may be obtained from:
Marine Mechanics Institute, 2844 West Deer Valley Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85027.
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