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Diesel Mechanic Careers

Diesel Mechanics keep the wheels of commerce turning in the United States and Canada.  In 2013, the United States consumed 37 billion gallons of diesel fuel for on-highway applications and an additional 15 billion gallons of diesel fuel for off-highway applications including construction, agricultural, electric power generation, and railroad usage.  This averages out to 165 gallons of diesel fuel burned annually for every man, woman, and child in the United States.  Nearly every product in the world has been extracted, built, or transported using diesel powered trucks or equipment.

What does a diesel mechanic do?
Purists will argue that a diesel mechanic and technician are distinctly different jobs, but we are going to use the term mechanic to refer to both.  Diesel mechanics inspect, diagnose, and repair trucks and equipment with diesel powered engines.  Much like an auto mechanic, their expertise extends beyond the engine and includes various other hydraulic, electrical, and mechanical systems.  This could include anything from a routine oil change to a complete engine rebuild.

What does a diesel mechanic work on?
Diesel engines are everywhere.  On-highway trucks or semi tractor trailers are the most visible and well known.  There are over 1.7 million truck drivers in the United States alone.  Before a product ever gets loaded on a truck, it has to be produced.  This includes mining equipment extracting resources, farm tractors growing our food, and construction equipment building our buildings — all powered by diesel engines.  If a product is not moved over the road, it is often moved by railroad locomotives or large marine vessels, all of which utilize diesel engines.  And usage is not isolated to the industrial sector.  Every hospital, data center, and police station has a diesel-powered electric power generator.  Diesel mechanics are needed to maintain all of the above, but often specialize in a specific segment, whether it be agricultural equipment or on-highway trucks.

 
How does one become a diesel mechanic?
There are many paths to becoming a diesel mechanic.  Many have worked their way up from sweeping the shop floor, some went through an apprenticeship program, while others have gone to vocational schools to complete an associates degree in diesel technology.  Diesel technology programs are offered at vocational schools across the country.  The following are links for three of the top diesel programs in the country, as well as Caterpillar’s ThinkBIG program.

 

How much does a diesel mechanic earn?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median earnings for a diesel mechanic in 2012 was $42,320 annually or $20.35 per hour.  There are approximately 250,000 diesel mechanics in the United States.  And due to baby boomers retiring and the skilled trades gap, diesel mechanics are in high demand, and wages are going up as a result.  Diesel mechanics are often able to work overtime, and there are diesel mechanics in very high demand areas earning over $100,000.  Since the diesel engine is not going away anytime soon, and diesel mechanics cannot be outsourced, the employment outlook is very stable.

 
What does a diesel mechanic’s career path look like?
The future largely depends on what sector of the industry in which a diesel mechanic works.  Diesel mechanics working for an owner of a large fleet can advance into fleet management roles, and those on the dealer side can advance into service management positions.  These positions can range from managing a few diesel mechanics in a shop to executive level positions managing a billion dollar fleet.  Having a technical background can also lead to positions in sales, technical support, or engineering.