Pros and Cons of Becoming a Truck Mechanic
Truck mechanics, or technicians, maintain and repair the diesel engines in trucks and other equipment used for transportation. Check out the following pros and cons to decide if a career as a truck mechanic is right for you.
|Pros of Becoming a Truck Mechanic|
|Most work a 40-hour week*|
|Room for advancement in management or shop ownership*|
|Many states offer accredited training programs (38 states as of 2012)**|
|Most parts of the nation employ diesel truck mechanics*|
|Cons of Becoming a Truck Mechanic|
|Average wages slightly below average for all occupations (diesel mechanics earned about $45,160 per year as of 2014)*|
|High rate of injury*|
|Might have to purchase hand tools*|
|Involves lifting heavy parts and lying or standing in difficult positions*|
|Might work in noisy or drafty areas*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF).
Job Description and Duties
In this career, you repair, inspect or overhaul trucks and other vehicles with diesel engines. As more electronic parts are used in engines, diesel truck maintenance has become even more complicated and includes repairs to both electrical systems and engines. If you work for an organization that takes care of its own vehicles, you're also responsible for performing a lot of preventive maintenance. You often use many types of power tools supplied by your employer; you may be required to purchase your own hand tools as well.
As a truck mechanic, it's important to follow safety procedures to avoid serious accidents. You might work on your own, with a team of mechanics or get help from an apprentice. Most mechanics put in a 40-hour week, but you may work for a shop with extended daily or weekend repair hours.
Salary and Career Prospects
In May 2014, the BLS listed an annual mean wage of about $45,160, or around $21.71 per hour, for bus and truck mechanics as well as diesel engine specialists. In 2009, the NATEF revealed that entry-level salaries are often around $25,000, but mechanics with experience can earn from $40,000 to $60,000 per year. Some earn even more by working overtime. The BLS notes that experienced truck mechanics who work for dealers or repair shops may earn a commission based on customer charges. Mechanics sometimes join labor unions and receive extra benefits, too.
According to the BLS, the number of employed diesel engine mechanics, including those who work on trucks, is expected to increase 9% from 2012-2022. Many jobs for diesel truck mechanics may be available in towns where trucking companies or large fleet operations are located.
Education and Skills
You need at least a high school diploma in order to enter this field, although employers prefer mechanics who have some postsecondary training. NATEF, in conjunction with the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), had a listing of certified programs in 38 states as of May 2012. These programs are offered through community colleges, vocational/technical schools and career centers. In addition to technical training, they often include classes in language arts, math and science.
Aspiring truck mechanics should have strong communication skills; you may need to explain your repair plans or listen to a customer's concerns. Solid troubleshooting strategies and good hand-eye coordination are essential as well.
What Employers Are Seeking
Employers look for mechanics with good problem-solving skills and strong mechanical aptitude. They also want workers who are in good physical shape and hold a commercial driver's license (CDL). You might be asked to take a drug test. Read the following excerpts taken from a few real job postings in May 2012:
- A truck fleet repair company in Virginia advertised for a full-time truck technician/mechanic with 8-10 years of experience. This employer preferred ASE-certified master technicians with CDLs. Great diagnostic computer skills were a plus.
- A medium-duty truck dealership in Michigan was looking for a full-time diesel truck mechanic/technician. This employer preferred 2-5 years of truck dealership experience in diesel engine repair, problem diagnosis, suspensions, electrical systems, transmissions or brakes. You'd need your own tools, and ASE certification was also required. A CDL was a plus.
- A truck dealership network sought a full-time diesel mechanic/service technician for the 3rd shift (11:00 P.M.-7:30 A.M.) in a Wisconsin location. You'd diagnose, disassemble, assemble and repair medium- and heavy-duty trucks with minimal supervision. Good customer relations were important, and you'd also process parts orders. This employer required 3-4 years of experience in medium- and heavy-duty truck environments, a valid driver's license, a CDL and air-conditioning/engine certifications or the ability to obtain them.
- A truck center enterprise advertised nationally for full-time diesel mechanics with at least 2 years of diesel maintenance experience. An open work schedule was necessary, with availability for after-hours service calls. This employer preferred college-trained diesel technicians who held CDLs. In addition, a valid driver's license, hand tools, a clean background check and a drug screening were required.
How to Get an Edge in the Field
You should have the best job prospects by completing postsecondary education; the BLS notes that untrained mechanics may face strong competition. Earning ASE certifications in a wide range of areas can also make you a desirable job applicant. By taking exams, you may obtain credentials in various areas, like brakes, steering, drive trains, electronics or preventive maintenance. You need two years of experience before taking ASE exams, although two years of postsecondary training can be substituted for one year of experience. You have to retest every five years in order to maintain certification.
Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanic
Maybe you've decided that working on trucks isn't the right field for you, but you enjoy repair work. If so, consider becoming an aircraft or avionics equipment mechanic. In this position, you repair and maintain helicopters and airplanes; you could also inspect aircraft according to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. Some postsecondary education is required, and aircraft mechanics usually need to be certified. According to the BLS, professionals in this field earned median salaries of about $55,000 as of May 2011.
Automotive Service Mechanic
If you'd still like to work on vehicles but not limit yourself just to trucks, think about becoming an automotive service mechanic. These professionals inspect, repair and maintain cars and light trucks. You can get started with just a high school diploma, although mechanics with postsecondary training and ASE certifications are often preferred by employers. As of 2011, the median pay for automotive service mechanics was approximately $36,000, according to the BLS.