What Does a Diesel Mechanic Do?
Diesel mechanics, also called diesel technicians, are in high demand. They work on cars, trucks or any machine with a diesel engine.
As a diesel mechanic, you’ll inspect, service and repair agricultural equipment, construction vehicles, boats, cranes and even power generators. Diesel mechanics make sure the machines that help us meet our most basic needs keep running. They safeguard the machines that grow food and transport it to communities across the country.
Diesel powers so much of the heavy machinery used in industries like transport, auto, manufacturing and air travel. Your skills will be needed to diagnose faults as well as carry out the proper maintenance and overhauling of various types of diesel engines. You’ll also be required to run an engine performance tests on anything you fix.
Diesel mechanics work in repair shops, on the roadside or on worksites. These specialized technicians use power tools, such as lathes, grinding machines, welding equipment and pneumatic tools. It’s work that’s becoming more complex and technical, as engines and other components rely on more electronic systems to do the work. In many workshops, diesel mechanics use laptops to diagnose problems and adjust engines. While employers usually provide the expensive power tools and the computerized equipment, most mechanics acquire their own hand tools over time.
SkillPointe can show you what to expect day to day, how much you’ll earn as a diesel mechanic, and show you what it’s like to get trained and find a job. If you want to find out how to start a career in this industry, read on.
- Consult with customers and determine work required
- Plan jobs – using technical charts, schematics and manuals
- Carry out thorough inspections of vehicle systems, including steering and brakes
- Identify mechanical issues by reading and interpreting diagnostic tests
- Follow checklists and examine critical parts
- Diagnose engine fault codes, wiring diagnostics, air brake systems, exhaust filtration and regeneration systems
- Perform basic maintenance, including changing oil, checking fluid levels and tire quality
- Carry out in-depth repairs
- Repair or replace malfunctioning parts, including mechanical or electrical equipment
- Test-drive vehicles to ensure they work and run properly
Becoming a Diesel Mechanic: FAQs
What are the entry-level requirements for a diesel technician?
You’ll need to have a high school diploma for an entry-level job. While most employers offer on-the-job training lasting three to four years, some prefer workers with knowledge of repairing diesel engines. High school courses such as automotive repair, electronics, engineering and math can help anyone interested in this career to get ahead.
Boost your qualifications out of high school by completing training in these areas.
Many mechanics test-drive vehicles, so earning a commercial driver’s license can be worthwhile.
LEARN MORE: Read how, why and where to get great training in How To Become a Diesel Mechanic.
What about certifications?
By getting certified by the National Institute for Automotive Excellence (ASE) you’ll elevate your career potential, improve your chances of getting noticed by an employer and earn more.
Working as a diesel mechanic in specific repair areas, such as electronic systems or drivetrains, you’ll need to earn a certification. After two years of on-the-job work experience, you’ll be required to pass one or more ASE exam. This type of certification needs to be revisited every five years to keep you up to date.
Diesel mechanic vs. diesel technician: What's the difference?
There isn't much difference in the jobs today — but there used to be. Diesel mechanics used to focus mostly on mechanical issues, but because engines have changed, they now solve both mechanical and technical problems. As engines evolved and became more complicated, the need for computer diagnostics increased. That's when the diesel technician name came into play. Now, most people who work on diesel engines do both of these tasks, which is why the terms are interchangeable.
What other qualifications do I need?
Get certified or earn your associate degree at one of the top training schools in the country. Community colleges and trade schools offer degree programs for diesel mechanics that typically last about 24 months. You’ll get a mix of hands-on experience, including learning the basics of diesel tech, repair and equipment, while also learning how to read technical manuals and diagnostic reports.
What about diesel mechanic apprenticeships and on-the-job training?
Find a diesel mechanic or diesel technician apprenticeship through an employer and learn on the job in a workshop. There are advantages to to this approach because you improve your skills and learn new ones through your employer. Getting training through a brand-specific diesel engine repair program is another way to train into a job, and in some cases, this will be shorter because it's more specific. (For example, learn about this diesel mechanic academy that trains workers in 12 weeks.)
Is there a demand for diesel mechanics?
There are plenty of job opportunities in this industry. The future for diesel mechanics and diesel technicians looks good, with employers actively looking for skilled workers to fill open jobs right now. Even better? This industry is it’s expected to grow. With many diesel mechanics working for organizations that service customers operating fleets, it’s a stable environment no matter what area you specialize in.
If you want to broaden your area of expertise, you can train for related jobs, such as an aircraft mechanic or heavy equipment mechanic. As an FFA-Certified Aviation Maintenance Technician (or AMT) your job will be highly technical. AMTs keep aircraft operating and running smoothly. Get certified by the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) through an approved school or experience in the field. You’ll need to complete two certificates, one in power plant and one in airframe. Heavy equipment mechanics, aka heavy diesel mechanics, work on trucks, logging, construction and farming machinery, as well as oil rigs and hydraulic systems.
What does a mechanic's schedule look like?
Many diesel mechanics work regular business hours. Many repair shops run their business after hours, so you may need to work some evenings and weekends. Businesses like truck and bus repair shops are open 24 hours. With so much overtime available, a diesel mechanic who wants more hours can work more than 40 hours a week.
What about salary?
As an entry-level diesel mechanic or technician your pay is tied to your skill level. As your experience and skillset grow, so will your earnings. The best mechanics stay on top of the latest technology and changes in their field. Upgrading your skills will help you go further in your career. Gaining more experience means your customers will get the best of your knowledge.
What will I gain from becoming a diesel mechanic?
Your customers will look to you for valuable knowledge and expertise. A good diesel mechanic will strive to get the work done as efficiently as possible by quickly identify problems and knowing how long each job will take. As the first person to diagnose an issue, your job will be to understand your customer’s needs, whether it’s a minor repair or something more critical. An eye for detail to notice the small things others might miss will help you get the job done right the first time. This also requires explaining issues to someone who isn’t a trained mechanic. Don't underestimate the importance of good communication skills. Every diesel mechanic needs them.
What skills do I need?
There are many skills and personality traits that make you well-suited to this job. You could be a good fit for this job if you are:
- Are detail-oriented
- Can think on your feet
- Are good with machinery
- Can manage your time well
- Have excellent problem-solving and organization skills
- Like working with changing technology
- Have good hand-eye coordination
- Are a good communicator
- Are adaptable
- Work well with others
- Are safety conscious