Diesel mechanics work in a number of industries servicing diesel equipment. The first thing most people think of when they hear diesel mechanic is the trucking industry. However, diesel mechanics are also needed in transportation, agriculture, construction, and commercial generator service. Equipment like cranes, tractors, commercial cargo boats, and school buses all run on diesel engines.
If you’re thinking about a career as a diesel mechanic, ProSource has you covered with these answers to frequently asked questions about the profession.
A diesel mechanic diagnoses, inspects, repairs, and maintains diesel engines. Diesel engines have different requirements from gas engines, so mechanics need specific knowledge to work on diesel engines. A diesel mechanic performs routine oil services, as well as major diesel engine rebuilds depending on how much experience they have and their given ability to perform such tasks. They may also perform upgrades on passenger and work trucks using diesel truck performance parts. Whatever they’re working on, diesel mechanics must understand both the mechanical and technical aspects of diesel engines, including diagnostic software.
A typical workday for a diesel mechanic might include diagnostics, inspections, repairs, and general maintenance. Diesel mechanics use diagnostic tools and software to identify issues when an engine is experiencing problems. In addition, diesel mechanics inspect other parts of the vehicles that use those engines. This might include brakes, steering, exhaust, suspension, and emissions systems. Diesel engines require basic maintenance just like gas engines including oil changes and fluid flushes among other things. Finally, diesel mechanics perform both minor and major repairs, from fixing simple diesel truck parts to more complicated head gasket repair.
In years past, many diesel mechanics began as assistants and learned on the job. However, today, employers often prefer that diesel mechanics have some formal schooling. This is partially due to more rigorous industry standards and more complex engines. To meet these new higher standards, you can start by taking courses at a trade school, vocational school, or even a community college. From there, you can get an entry-level position and start taking ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certification tests to move up.
The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is the program typically used by mechanics to earn certification (whether diesel or otherwise). Getting certified involves taking the available tests and passing them. The L2 certification is the highest certification for a diesel mechanic.
In order to earn Master Technician status as a diesel mechanic, you will need to pass a specified group of tests given by the ASE. You will need a high school diploma or GED, plus two years of experience at a minimum. The ASE allows one year of post-secondary training to count towards this two-year requirement. Before taking the exam, the ASE recommends that you have experience in customer service and vehicle computer systems as both are necessary for the job of a master diesel mechanic.
The amount of time you spend in diesel mechanic school depends on what type of program you choose. A diesel certificate program takes about a year. An Associate degree in the same field usually takes two years as a full-time student. The certificate program only teaches you the skills needed to perform the job well. The Associate degree includes other “general education” classes in addition to the diesel mechanic classes. If you can only attend school as a part-time student, then both programs will take about twice the amount of time.
Becoming a diesel mechanic can take anywhere from a few months to several years. If you choose the certificate program path, six to nine months is typical. If you choose the Associates degree path, it will take at least two years if you go full time and pass every course. If you go to school part-time it will take longer. Typically, there is also on-the-job training and that length of time varies by each employer. Finally, there is the time to become ASE certified. That takes a few weeks to a few months but in general, you can get a mechanic’s job and then fulfill this requirement while you are working in the shop.
This ultimately depends on whether you choose to get a formal education or start out learning on the job. The cost of diesel mechanic programs and courses depends on the type of program and may vary by state. Online courses can cost between $750 and $1,000 per course. Certificate programs that take between six months and two years might cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. An Associate degree can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $25,000. If you enroll in a community college or trade school, it’s very possible to get tuition assistance in the form of scholarships, grants, or loans.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, the average annual wage of a diesel mechanic was $50,360 per year. This is $10,000 higher than in 2010 when the median wage was $48,500 per year.
The 10 percent lowest paid diesel mechanics make about $31,990 per year, while the highest percentile makes $74,090 per year. The amount you make largely depends on your experience and the industry you choose to work in.
If you are paid by the hour, as opposed to being a salaried employee, you can expect to be paid $23.32 per hour according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The low end of the average hourly rate for a diesel mechanic is $15.38 per hour. The highest paid mechanics average about $35.62 per hour.
A master diesel mechanic is someone who has passed a specific group of tests for certification by the ASE. The tests must be recertified every five years or you will lose your master status. Getting a master certification gives you more income potential. The average salary for a master diesel mechanic is about $68,250 per year or about $35 per hour. The most experienced master technicians can make as much as $116,025 per year.
The job outlook for a diesel mechanic is very stable due to the ongoing demand in several industries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs to increase by as much as 15 percent by 2022. Trucking companies and automotive maintenance shops are some of the prime employers for diesel mechanics.
Becoming a diesel mechanic usually starts with some type of formal education which is followed by field experience. Moving up in the ranks requires further training or study, plus certification from the ASE through passing the tests.