What Does a Diesel Mechanic Do?
Diesel mechanics provide specialized service doing the following:
- Using technical charts and manuals to plan work procedures
- Inspecting components of diesel engines and vehicles, including brakes, steering mechanisms and transmissions
- Diagnosing mechanical problems
- Repairing or replacing malfunctioning parts
- Providing maintenance services such as changing oil and rotating tires
Diesel Mechanic Specializations
A diesel mechanic school provides the knowledge needed to work on a variety of vehicles, but some mechanics want to specialize their career. The following are some examples of specializations pursued by graduates of diesel mechanic trade schools.
- Diesel auto mechanics. These diesel service technicians inspect, repair and maintain auto engines to ensure they run smoothly.
- Bus and truck mechanics. As their title suggests, bus and truck mechanics tend to specialize in larger diesel engines. Often these vehicles are subjected to higher loads and run-times than passenger cars and require special care.
- Small engine diesel mechanics. Small engine mechanics repair and maintain diesel engines in motorized power equipment like motorcycles and boats.
- Heavy vehicle diesel technicians. These mechanics specialize in larger machinery such as construction equipment, farm tractors and diesel trains.
How to Become a Diesel Mechanic
At one time, diesel mechanics weren't expected to have any education beyond a high school diploma. While there are still some jobs available for those without a postsecondary education, employers are increasingly looking for graduates from diesel mechanic trade schools. In general, expect to need the following:
- Earn a high school diploma, though this is not always necessary.
- Complete training in a degree or certificatte program for diesel mechanics.
- Stay up to date with certification sometimes required by employers.
Having a formal education means less on the job training is needed and helps ensure new workers have a good grasp of all the following:
- Basics of diesel technology
- How to read technical manuals
- Diagnostic and repair techniques
Diesel Mechanic Degrees
To become a diesel mechanic, you can earn a degree or complete a non-degree postsecondary program. Both can provide the knowledge needed to begin a career in the field. Here's a look at each option:
- Diploma/Certificate: A diploma or certificate is a common level of education for diesel mechanics. If you're concerned about how long is diesel mechanic school, the good news is that these postsecondary programs can often be completed in less than a year. Diploma and certificate programs teach all aspects of diesel vehicle maintenance and repair and some even provide specialized training for those who want to become experts in working with engines from a particular manufacturer.
- Associate Degree: Although less common, some mechanics choose to earn an associate degree in diesel technology or a similar field. These programs cover much of the same material as a diploma or certificate but may delve into more advanced concepts related to engine design and shop management. An associate degree typically takes two years to earn.
Diesel Mechanic Schools
You can find diesel technology programs at dedicated trade schools as well as community colleges. Since diesel mechanics have a hands-on job, most programs provide in-person training.
While you can find a diesel mechanic school online, distance education programs may not provide hands-on instruction. However, some online diesel mechanic schools offer hybrid programs which can be the best of both worlds. These programs may allow students to take online classes that are complemented with face-to-face instruction.
Diesel Mechanic Certification
While not required to work as a diesel mechanic, many employers prefer to hire those who have become certified. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, known as ASE, offers what is considered the standard level of diesel mechanic certification. Those working with diesel technology can earn an Electronic Diesel Engine Diagnosis Specialist certification or be certified in one of the following areas for medium and heavy trucks:
- Diesel Engines
- Drive Train
- Suspension & Steering
- Electrical/ Electronic Systems
- Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning (HVAC)
- Preventive Maintenance Inspection
Career Advancement for Diesel Mechanics
Certification is a key ways to advance a career as a diesel mechanic. Earning specialty certifications may open the door to new job opportunities. Some mechanics also obtain a commercial driver's license so they can fill jobs requiring test drives.
Financial Aid for Diesel Mechanic Programs
Skills and Qualities for Diesel Mechanics
Before enrolling in a diesel mechanic trade school, it's a good idea to understand what skills and abilities are needed for the job. Here's a look at the traits successful mechanics possess.
- Troubleshooting: While modern computer systems can help identify engine problems, mechanics still need to be able to interpret data and inspect vehicle parts to determine how to make a repair.
- Operation monitoring: Mechanics must be able to monitor gauges, dials and fluids to ensure a vehicle is in peak condition.
- Quality Control Analysis: When inspecting and maintaining a vehicle, a mechanic must be able to identify whether correct parts have been installed and determine if they are in good working condition.
- Finger Dexterity: Mechanics may use hand tools and manipulate small parts on a daily basis so good finger dexterity is a must for this job.
- Hearing Sensitivity: Sometimes mechanical problems can be noticed and identified based on sound. A good mechanic will have a sharp ear for when something might be wrong with an engine.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for Diesel Mechanics
It's time to address a question that's probably on your mind: how much does a diesel mechanic make? The chart below includes national diesel mechanic salary data. However, keep in mind that a person's income can depend on many factors including education, work experience and certification. Just as diesel mechanic salary figures can vary across the country so too can job prospects. Average nationwide job growth is listed below, but you're more likely to find jobs in states like Texas and California than in less populated regions:
Professional Resources for Diesel Mechanics
If you are planning a career as a diesel mechanic, you should be familiar with the following three organizations.
- Association of Diesel Specialists - Dating back to 1956, ADS is the leading trade organization for the diesel industry. The group also offers an ADS/Ortner Foundation Scholarship.
- Association of Equipment Management Professionals - This organization represents those who manage heavy, off-road equipment. It too offers a scholarship for future diesel technicians.
- National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence - The ASE offers the standard diesel mechanic certification preferred by employers today.