If you love the smell of diesel, you might be interested in becoming a diesel mechanic. This is not the same as being a traditional mechanic. Diesel mechanics focus on maintaining and repairing diesel engines, including heavy-duty pickup trucks and industrial vehicles that need to get back on the road ASAP. Companies of all sizes need diesel mechanics to keep their vehicles running, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding clients.
If you’re looking for a new career where you can put your skills to good use, learn more about what it takes to become a diesel mechanic.
What Does a Diesel Mechanic Do?
A diesel mechanic inspects and repairs vehicles that use diesel engines, including trucks, buses, construction machines, and other necessary equipment like generators. Like a traditional mechanic, they are often tasked with testing individual parts and components of the vehicle during the diagnostic process. They will then make the necessary repairs if the customer wants to move forward.
Being a diesel mechanic means being immersed in all things diesel, for better and for worse. You will need to get used to standing, kneeling, or squatting in uncomfortable positions for long periods of time. You will also have to work around potentially hazardous parts can chemicals, including oil, grease, and fuel. Don’t expect to come home smelling like a fresh vase of flowers.
Despite the working conditions, diesel mechanics tend to make more money per hour than traditional mechanics, considering all the additional training and expertise. The 2020 median pay for diesel mechanics was $50,200 per year, or $24.13 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The market for diesel service technicians and mechanics is projected to grow 8% from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations. About 28,100 openings for diesel service technicians and mechanics are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force to retire.
Steps for Becoming a Diesel Mechanic
Follow these steps to start your career as a diesel mechanic:
In terms of formal education, all you need is a high school diploma or GED equivalent to get started. No college required. However, you will need to familiarize yourself with the inner workings of diesel engines. Most diesel mechanics go through three to four years of formal training before working their first job. Your employment prospects will improve if you participate in an accredited diesel engine repair program or course. These programs can lead to formal certification or an associate degree.
These programs focus on the ins and outs of diesel engines, the problems they can encounter, how to fix them, as well as an overview of the latest technology, including built-in computer systems, and how they help these engines run more efficiently. You will learn about electrical systems, as well as additional vehicle components like brakes, wheels, and lubrication. You may also get to participate in an internship while you work alongside a trained professional. The program should include hands-on training, so online classes may not be helpful.
If you are building on your existing mechanical knowledge and experience, you will need to shift your focus towards diesel engines fuel systems and understand the many differences between the two. For example, diesel engines use highly compressed air to trigger the combustion process, while gas-powered vehicles use spark plugs to produce an electrical spark.
Most diesel systems also come with turbochargers and aftercooling systems that improve engine performance. Many engines come with exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) systems that transfer heat away from the exhaust gas to reduce NOx emissions.
You will then have the opportunity to specialize in a certain area of maintenance. Most diesel mechanics focus on repairing certain types of vehicles, such as light- or heavy-duty trucks. Like all fields, you have to choose between being a master of none and focusing on one particular type of vehicle. You can improve your business by taking on a wider range of clients but trying to master all these different types of vehicles can chip away at your expertise.
Once you narrow your focus, you can expand your knowledge of one particular area of the business. You will also have to decide whether you are going to focus on commercial vehicles or those meant for everyday consumers.
To get a job or start your own business, you will likely need to become certified in your chosen field. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is considered the standard in the U.S. It offers designations in medium/heavy trucks, truck equipment, school buses and transit buses. To become ASE certified, you will need to have at least two years work experience in your field and pass an exam. More advanced mechanics can then apply for master status by passing a series of additional exams.
- Building Your Business
Once you set up shop, you’ll need to create a stable business model by attracting clients. Consider adjusting your business model based on the most popular types of diesel engines in your area. For example, if you live in an area with lots of construction vehicles, you can make them a central part of your business.
You will also need reliable access to replacement diesel parts, so your customers don’t have to wait for you to order more supplies. Keep a range of diesel parts in stock, including the parts most likely to break down over time.
For example, the injection control pressure sensor on the Ford 6.0L engine has been known to cause problems. Keep replacement ICP sensors 6.0 on hand to quickly address the issue.
With a little bit of hard work and determination, you can become a diesel mechanic in just a few years. Start studying today to turn your passion into a well-paying career.