What it takes to be a diesel mechanic

What it Takes to Be a Successful Diesel Mechanic in Today’s World

The transportation industry in 2019 is lacking some much-needed talent. Whether it’s a lack of qualified CDL drivers, or professional mechanics to service and repair those commercial trucks, the logistics and commercial vehicle industry is desperate for passionate and dedicated candidates to fill these well-paying jobs. One of the best job opportunities for mechanically inclined people, is becoming a diesel mechanic.
This leads to the obvious question; “what does it take to be a successful diesel mechanic in today’s highly-technical world?”

To be honest, it’s not as easy as you’d think. While the industry is starving for mechanics who specialize in diesel engines, the path involves navigating the hurdles associated with landing any technical job in 2019. So, let’s examine a few of the important attributes that impact the ability to become a successful diesel technician, and a few tips for infusing them all in order to be a well-rounded candidate.

What Education is Needed to Become a Diesel Mechanic?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average diesel tech position requires 3 to 4 years of secondary training. In most cases, this is completed by attending a technical school, and specializing in diesel technology. Truth be told, this isn’t the only way to become a diesel tech. In fact, several previously highly successful mechanics were self-taught, starting their careers repairing their own equipment, graduating to smaller mechanical shops and eventually, opening their own diesel service and repair business.
However, those success stories are quickly becoming few and far between.

Today’s employers place and emphasis on education and certifications when hiring specialists. For example, in order to become a professional truck driver, an applicant must have a CDL commercial license. The same applies to most diesel mechanic jobs. However, the certification most employers seek is provided by National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence or (ASE). They offer certifications in the following diesel specialties:

  • Medium/Heavy Trucks
  • Commercial Diesel Equipment
  • School & Transit Buses

To receive this critical certification, a candidate must complete two-years of on-the-job training and pass their ASE certification exam. While attending a technical college looks great on a resume, at the end of the day, today’s candidate is looking for that all important ASE diesel certification.

*Tip: When it comes to education, nothing beats a technical school. Not only will you learn from expert instructors, but you’ll also be required to complete several on-the-job training hours, before you take your ASE exams. What is not commonly known however, is that some of the best technical school partner with large fleets that will hire candidates and place them in an opportunity to succeed.

How Does Location or Area Impact a Diesel Mechanic Career?

As they say, location is everything. This is exceptionally true when it comes to becoming a diesel mechanic. In areas with a large diversity of diesel equipment (such as farming areas or cities with large diesel repair facilities) will offer candidate more opportunities for employment. However, this often comes with a drawback.

A constant reality of any vocation is that when there is a large demand for a certain profession, there are likely multiple candidates willing to fill those jobs. This is definitely true for diesel mechanics. According to the BLS, US states with the lowest amount of diesel-specific mechanic jobs include Alaska, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. The interesting thing is that these four states also have a higher per-capita ratio of diesel-powered equipment to their gasoline-powered counterparts.

States with the highest amount of diesel jobs include Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Texas, California, Ohio, Minnesota, and Indiana. Ironically, several of these states are homes to large LTL & FTL carriers, 3PL’s (third-party logistics companies), and commercial equipment suppliers.

*Tip: Working with a technical college or school will help you with job placement. They will also consider your personal preference with regards to where you want to work and live. One other item that is important when making the decision is to factor the average cost of living in the area you work.

Exploring the Scope of Work Options

When it comes to becoming a diesel mechanic, candidates usually have three options:

  • Diesel repair with consumer/commercial equipment (personal, farming & large trucks for transportation)
  • Marine diesel repair and service
  • Commercial construction equipment

Within each of these three divisions, a candidate will find different levels of pay, job responsibility, and level of work required. For the most part, diesel mechanic salary is highest among these three with marine diesel repair services. This is mainly attributed to the additional specialty training required and advanced technology used to diagnose, repair and maintain marine diesel equipment. This industry also pays higher (on the average) due to the ever-evolving work environment.

In most cases, becoming a marine diesel technician is only possible with special training at a diesel mechanic school offering this certification, or a minimum of three years of on-the-job training.

Commercial diesel repair is second on the list of diesel technician average salary. This includes working on farm equipment, transportation equipment, and consumer vehicles. These jobs are also some of the easiest entry-level positions, especially if you attend a technical school that works with larger fleets, diesel manufacturers or large diesel repair facilities.

The third scope within diesel tech vocation is commercial construction equipment. In most cases, the range of equipment begins with portable light towers with two-cylinder diesel engines, to huge Caterpillar earth movers. Because of the wide diversity in this industry, average salary and job opportunities are not as easy to define.

Choosing the Type of Shop

Once you’ve determined what type of diesel tech scope is best for you, choosing the best facility is next on your list. There are four specific options that will provide different levels of opportunities of employment.

  • The Mom & Pop Shop: Most people who have worked in a smaller, privately owned repair shop rave about working in a family-like atmosphere. Truth be told, these stories are few and far between these days. Smaller shops must maintain a constant stream of dedicated customers to stay afloat. When business falls, the first to go is the new ‘guy or gal’.
  • Diesel Fleets: The best feature about working with a diesel fleet is continual work. The drawback however is that they tend to pay the worse, have greater expectations for results, and generally are not incredibly employee friendly. Those who thrive in this environment will experience greater opportunity for advancement – simply due to the multiple locations and changes in staffing.
  • Government: The best opportunity for stability, growth, and average salary is local, state or Federal government diesel mechanic positions. Whether it’s working for a school district maintaining school buses, a state fleet of diesel trucks and equipment, or as a contractor for US Department of Defense, Government diesel technicians earn the highest average salary, receive the best benefits, and in many cases, qualify for retirement pension.

diesel tech key tips

Wrapping it Up – How to Best Prepare for a Diesel Repair Profession in 2019

In 2016, the average salary for a diesel mechanic in the United States was $42,154. Two years later, it has risen nearly $8,000 per year. This industry is expected to rise at a rate of 9 percent each year, for the next five years. However, there are some important things to consider.

Electric Power Vehicles

While they are mainly focused in the private consumer segment, commercial truck manufacturers are spending millions per year on trying to integrate Electric Powered Vehicles into their fleets. The possibility of this happening in the next 10 years is remote, but it is something to consider.

An Aging Demographic

The current diesel mechanic field is comprised of several experienced technicians that represent the baby boomer generation. As they age and prepare for retirement, more diesel repair and service positions are likely to open.

Always Defer to Technical School with Practical Training

Today’s employer places an emphasis on that magical piece of paper that say’s you’re qualified to take on a job. However, in order to succeed, you shouldn’t discount the value of learning on the job. While you’re attending school, consider taking a part time job at a normal repair shop. Whether it’s installing tires, or changing oil, preparing for the daily grind of becoming a diesel mechanic will arm you with practical experience and allow to you accelerate into this profession on the right foot.