Diesel Mechanics: Great Pay and Excellent Job Security
As the promise of what a 4-year college degree means for the average young American continues to fade, the prospect of learning a skilled trade is becoming a more attractive option for ambitious youth who aren’t afraid of hard work. Within the wide world of skilled trades you’ll find the niche of diesel mechanics. For whatever reason, it’s a field that is perpetually short on knowledgeable, competent candidates. However, with diesels being the backbone of the transportation, construction, farming, marine, military and forestry industries, it’s a line of work that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. With demand for workers high and supply low, qualified diesel mechanics have much more say in where they work, what they work on and how much money they bring home.
Diesel technology has grown in leaps and bounds over the past two decades and it isn’t showing any signs of letting up anytime soon. High-pressure common-rail injection, electronic controls, cutting-edge turbocharger technology and complex emissions equipment is all a part of the diesel landscape now. Sure it’s hard, sweat-inducing, blue-collar work, but it’s also highly rewarding. In fact, making a six-digit figure right out of tech school is well within reach for a skilled diesel mechanic—not exactly a bad start for a debt-free, 20-something. Whether it’s working in the heavy equipment or automotive sector, or at a dealership or an independent shop, if you know your way around a diesel engine you’ll always have a well-paying job.
Why The World Needs Diesel Mechanics
Class 8 trucks, buses, construction, marine vessels and farm and forestry equipment all have one thing in common: they keep the world moving. The diesel engines that power them feed us, clothe us, deliver our building materials, break ground for highways, bridges, dams, power plants, pipelines and airports to be built, and even allow us to export goods to other continents. Regardless of whether they live on the road, in the dirt or on the water, they all require a home to go to where repairs can be made. It is here that a competent diesel mechanic makes his or her mark.
The Dealership Mechanic (Hourly Pay Vs. Flat-Rate)
Turning wrenches at a dealership brings with it two common types of pay: flat rate and hourly. Hourly pay is as straightforward as it gets and provides predictability and stability to workers. Flat-rate (also known at book time) is frequently employed at automotive dealerships. Its pay is based on each job the mechanic completes. For example: a head gasket job books for 20 hours according to the engine or vehicle manufacturer but the mechanic performs the job in 10 hours. The mechanic gets paid for the 20 hours even though it took only half that amount of time to complete the task. As you can imagine, this makes for a fast-paced work environment, but a motivated dealership mechanic who hustles can easily clear $100,000 a year on the flat-rate system.
The Independent Shop Mechanic
For whatever reason, qualified and plentiful automotive diesel mechanics are in much shorter supply than they are on the gasoline side of things (and this is especially true at GM dealerships). But that doesn’t keep dealerships from selling tens of thousands of diesel-powered pickups annually. In cases where a dealership doesn’t possess the expertise to properly diagnose or repair a diesel, the job is often outsourced to an independent diesel repair shop. And for prospective diesel mechanics or even future diesel shop owners, this is where an operation that specializes in diesels can pick up a huge account that provides both steady workflow and guaranteed payment.
Heavy Equipment Mechanic
Shop-based, heavy equipment mechanic positions provide the type of 8 to 5 stability and predictability that many workers prefer. Union or not, making upward of $25 an hour isn’t an uncommon starting point for qualified mechanics. Dealerships or independent shops sometimes seek specialists for certain areas of work, such as an engine specialist, hydraulic specialist, drive train specialist and electrical specialist to name a few. However, at the same time any one employee that’s proficient in all or most of those areas will go very far in a shop-based, heavy equipment repair setting.
Heavy Equipment Field Tech
Any time a machine that’s too big to tow is rendered inoperable, repairs have to be made out in the field. This is where the field tech comes in. The hours are longer but the pay is higher, with an ability to make a six-digit figure annually. You get your own service truck and in many ways act as your own boss. There typically isn’t a home base to regularly report to, so the cab of your truck becomes your office. Working for a dealership, you might not earn your own service truck overnight, but with enough motivation a well-rounded mechanic (one that can troubleshoot and perform a multitude of repairs in addition to wrenching) can be promoted to the driver seat relatively quickly.
For the ultimate self-starter, becoming a mobile diesel mechanic has tremendous upside. First and foremost, your overhead costs are low. On top of that, you get to pick what you want to work on, when you want to work on it and also determine your own pay rate. This is the kind of business venture that appeals to the younger yet knowledgeable diesel mechanic who might not have the capital required (or the desire) to open a brick and mortar business. Mike Satkowski, a young, experienced diesel mechanic based in New England recently opened his own mobile repair business, repairing and servicing diesel pickups, medium duty trucks and heavy duty trucks. All indications are that he’s already busy every day of the week.
How You Can Get Educated
If you’re mechanically inclined and interested in pursuing a career as a diesel mechanic, seek out vocational programs at your high school or technical schools that offer post-secondary education in diesel technology. Yours truly has seen the effectiveness of Illinois Central College’s Caterpillar Dealer Service Technology and Diesel Powered Equipment Technology programs firsthand. The former spans two years and trains you to become an entry-level service technician at a Caterpillar dealership. In 8-week intervals, students rotate between the classroom and a paid internship at their sponsoring Caterpillar dealership. By offering both classroom and on-the-job learning, the program allows you to hit the ground running upon graduating.
A Versatile Diesel Mechanic Can Work Anywhere In The World
An ability to troubleshoot and then solve the problem will set you apart from the crowd. Even in today’s age of electronics, not all issues can be diagnosed by plugging in the code reader—and sometimes there isn’t even a code stored in the vehicle. Trust us, almost anyone can bolt parts onto an engine, vehicle or piece of equipment. But if you can troubleshoot a complicated problem and fix it, you’re way ahead of the game. With that in your portfolio, there are no limits to what you can work on, where you want to work and even how much you want to make!
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