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Nature of the Work
* Careers in diesel mechanics offer relatively high wages and the challenge of skilled repair work.
* Opportunities are expected to be good for persons who complete formal diesel mechanic training programs.
The diesel engine is the workhorse powering the Nation's heavy vehicles and equipment, because it delivers more power per unit of fuel, and is more durable, than its gasoline-burning counterpart.
Diesel mechanics, often referred to as diesel technicians, repair and maintain the diesel engines that power transportation equipment, such as heavy trucks, buses, and locomotives. Some mechanics also work on bulldozers, cranes, road graders, and farm tractors and combines, and a small number repair automobiles or boats. (For information on mechanics who work primarily on automobiles or boats, see the Handbook statements on automotive mechanics or motorcycle, boat, and small-engine mechanics.) Diesel mechanics also service a variety of diesel-powered electric generators, compressors, and pumps used in oil well drilling and irrigation systems.
Mechanics who work for organizations that maintain their own vehicles spend most of their time doing preventive maintenance to ensure that equipment can be operated safely and to eliminate unnecessary wear and damage to parts that could result in costly breakdowns. During a routine maintenance check on a truck, a diesel mechanic follows a checklist that includes the inspection of brake systems, steering mechanisms, wheel bearings, and other important parts. Following an inspection, a mechanic usually repairs or adjust parts that do not work properly and replaces parts that cannot be fixed.
In many mechanic shops, it is common for workers to do all kinds of repairs. Jobs can vary from working on a vehicle's electrical system one day to doing major engine repairs the next. In some large shops, mechanics specialize in one or two types of work. For example, a shop may have mechanics who specialize in major engine repair, transmission work, electrical systems, or suspension or brake systems. Diesel maintenance is becoming more complex, as electronic components increasingly are used to control engine operation. In modern shops, diesel mechanics use handheld computers to diagnose problems and adjust engine functions.
Diesel mechanics use a variety of tools in their work, including power tools, such as pneumatic wrenches to remove bolts quickly; machine tools, like lathes and grinding machines, to rebuild brakes; welding and flame-cutting equipment to remove and repair exhaust systems; and jacks and hoists to lift and move large parts. Common handtoolsscrewdrivers, pliers, and wrenchesare used to work on small parts and get at hard-to-reach places. Diesel mechanics also use a variety of computerized testing equipment to pinpoint and analyze malfunctions in electrical systems and engines.
Mechanics generally receive their assignments from shop supervisors or service managers. Most supervisors and managers are experienced mechanics who also assist in diagnosing problems and maintaining quality standards. Mechanics may work as a team or be assisted by an apprentice or helper, when doing heavy work like removing engines and transmissions.
Diesel mechanics usually work indoors, although they occasionally make repairs to vehicles on the road. Mechanics lift heavy parts and tools; and minor cuts, burns, and bruises are common, although serious accidents can usually be avoided, if the shop is kept clean and orderly, and safety practices are observed. Mechanics handle greasy and dirty parts and may stand or lie in awkward positions to repair vehicles and equipment. They usually work in well lighted, heated, and ventilated areas, however, some shops are drafty and noisy. Many employers provide locker rooms and shower facilities.
Diesel mechanics held about 266,000 jobs in 1996. Nearly 25 percent serviced trucks and other diesel-powered equipment for customers of vehicle and equipment dealers, leasing companies, or independent automotive repair shops. Over 20 percent worked for local and long-distance trucking companies, and nearly 10 percent maintained the buses and trucks of buslines, public transit companies, school systems, or Federal, State, and local government. The remaining mechanics maintained the fleets of trucks and other equipment for manufacturing, construction, or other companies. A relatively small number were self-employed. Nearly every section of the country employs diesel mechanics, though most work in towns and cities where trucking companies, bus lines, and other fleet owners have large operations.
Although many persons qualify for diesel mechanic jobs through years of on-the-job training, authorities recommend completion of a formal diesel mechanic training program after graduating from high school. Employers prefer to hire graduates of formal training programs, because of these workers' head start in training and their ability to quickly advance to the journey mechanic level. Many community colleges and trade and vocational schools offer programs in diesel repair. These 1- to 2-year programs lead to a certificate of completion or an associate degree. This training provides a foundation in the latest diesel technology and electronics and instruction in the service and repair of the vehicles and equipment mechanics will encounter on the job. These programs also improve the communication skills needed to interpret technical manuals and communicate with colleagues and customers. Increasingly, employers work closely with training programs, providing instructors with the latest equipment, techniques, and tools, and offer jobs to graduates.
There is a shortage of diesel mechanics who have completed formal training programs. As a result many continue to learn skills on the job. Unskilled beginners usually do tasks, such as cleaning parts, fueling and lubricating vehicles, and driving vehicles in to and out of the shop. Beginners are usually promoted to mechanics' helpers, as they gain experience and as vacancies become available. In some shops, beginners who have automobile service experience start as mechanics' helpers.
Most mechanics' helpers perform routine service tasks and make minor repairs after a few months' experience. These workers advance to increasingly difficult jobs, as they prove their ability and competence. After mechanics master the repair and service of diesel engines, they learn to work on related components, such as brakes, transmissions, and electrical systems. Generally, a mechanic with at least 3 to 4 years of on-the-job experience will qualify as a journeyman diesel truck or bus mechanic. Completion of a formal training program speeds advancement to the journeyman level.
For unskilled entry level jobs, employers generally look for applicants who have mechanical aptitude and strong problem solving skills, and who are at least 18 years of age and in good physical condition. Completion of high school is required by nearly all employers. Courses in automotive repair, electronics, English, mathematics, and physics provide a strong educational background for a career as a diesel mechanic. A State commercial driver's license is needed for test driving trucks or buses on public roads. Practical experience in automobile repair in a gasoline service station, in the Armed Forces, or as a hobby is also valuable.
Employers often send experienced mechanics to special training classes conducted by manufacturers and vendors where the mechanics learn the latest technology and repair techniques. As mechanics constantly receive updated technical manuals and service procedures that outline changes in techniques and standards for repair, it is essential for them to read, interpret, and comprehend service manuals, to keep abreast of engineering changes.
Voluntary certification by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is recognized as the standard of achievement for diesel mechanics. Mechanics may be certified as Master Heavy-Duty Truck technicians or in one or more of six different areas of heavy-duty truck repair: Brakes, gasoline engines, diesel engines, drive trains, electrical systems, and suspension and steering. For certification in each area, a mechanic must pass a written examination and have at least 2 years of experience. High school, vocational or trade school, or community or junior college training in gasoline or diesel engine repair may substitute for up to 1 year of experience. To retain certification, mechanics must retake the tests at least every 5 years.
The most important work possessions of mechanics are their handtools. Mechanics usually provide their own tools, and many experienced mechanics have thousands of dollars invested in them. Employers typically furnish expensive power tools, computerized engine analyzers, and other diagnostic equipment, but handtools are ordinarily accumulated with experience.
Experienced mechanics who have leadership ability may advance to shop supervisors or service managers. Mechanics who have sales ability sometimes become sales representatives. A few mechanics open their own repair shops.
Employment of diesel mechanics is expected to increase slower than average for all occupations through the year 2006. Opportunities will exist for entrants to replace the mechanics who retire or transfer to other occupations.
Employment of diesel mechanics is expected to grow, as freight transportation by truck increases. More trucks will be needed for both local and intercity hauling, due to increased production of goods. Additional diesel mechanics will be needed to repair and maintain growing numbers of buses and heavy construction graders, cranes, earthmovers, and other equipment. Due to the greater durability and economy of the diesel relative to the gasoline engine, it is expected that buses and trucks of all sizes will be increasingly powered by diesels. This will subsequently create new jobs for diesel mechanics.
Careers in diesel mechanics attract many because of the relatively high wages and the challenge of skilled repair work. Opportunities should be good for persons who complete formal training in diesel mechanics at community and junior colleges and vocational and technical schools, but others may face competition for entry-level jobs.
Most persons who enter this occupation can expect steady work, because changes in economic conditions have little effect on the diesel repair business. During a financial downturn, however, some employers may be reluctant to hire inexperienced workers.
Median weekly earnings of diesel mechanics who were wage and salary workers were $545 in 1996. The middle 50 percent earned between $405 and $685 a week. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $297 a week, and the top 10 percent earned more than $816 a week. Earnings may vary by industry and geographic location.
Beginners usually earn from 50 to 75 percent of the rate of skilled workers and receive increases as they become more skilled, until they reach the rate of skilled mechanics.
The majority of mechanics work a standard 40-hour week, although many work as many as 70 hours per week, particularly if they are self employed. A growing number of shops have expanded their hours to better perform repairs and routine service when needed, or as a convenience to customers. Those employed by truck and bus firms that provide service around the clock may work evenings, nights, and weekends. These mechanics usually receive a higher rate of pay for working non-traditional hours.
Many diesel mechanics are members of labor unions, including the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the Amalgamated Transit Union; the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; the Transport Workers Union of America; the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association; and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Diesel mechanics repair trucks, buses, and other diesel-powered equipment to keep these mechanics in good working order. Related mechanic occupations include aircraft mechanics, automotive mechanics, boat engine mechanics, farm equipment mechanics, mobile heavy equipment mechanics, and motorcycle mechanics and small-engine specialists.
More details about work opportunities for diesel mechanics may be obtained from local employers such as trucking companies, truck dealers, or bus lines; locals of the unions previously mentioned; and local offices of the State employment service. Local State employment service offices also may have information about training programs.
For general information about a career as a diesel mechanic, write:
Automotive Service Industry Association, 25 Northwest Point, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007-1035.
American Trucking Associations, Inc., Maintenance Council, 2200 Mill Rd., Alexandria, VA 22314-4677.
Kenworth Truck Company, Service Coordinator, 700 East Gate Dr., Suite 325, Mt. Laurel, N. J 08054.
Detroit Diesel, Personnel Director, MS B39, 13400 West Outer Dr., Detroit, MI 48239.
For a directory of accredited private trade and technical schools with training programs for diesel mechanics, contact:
Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, 2101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 302, Arlington, VA 22201.
National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation, 13505 Dulles Technology Dr., Herndon, VA 22071-3415.
For a directory of public training programs for diesel mechanics, contact:
Vocational Industry Clubs of America, P. O. Box 3000, 1401 James Monroe Hwy, Leesburg, VA 22075.
Information on how to become a certified heavy-duty diesel mechanic is available from:
ASE, 13505 Dulles Technology Dr., Herndon, VA 22071-3415.
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