Becoming an Engine Mechanic: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as an engine mechanic? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming an engine mechanic is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Engine Mechanic Career

If you enjoy working with tools and the feeling of building and repairing mechanical and electrical devices, then you may wish to become an engine mechanic. There are a number of pros and cons that are common to every type of engine mechanic; please read on to learn more about becoming an engine mechanic and become more informed about the positive and negative aspects of choosing this career field.

Pros of Being an Engine Mechanic
There are many different ways to acquire job skills (on-the-job training, associate degree programs, certificate programs)**
Opportunities to work with your hands and with tools**
Steady projected job growth in some specialties (anticipated 9% for automotive mechanics and diesel mechanics)**
On-the-job training opportunities*

Cons of Being an Engine Mechanic
Some specialties may entail seasonal employment (marine engine work)*
Might have to work in uncomfortable positions*
Might have to perform work under pressure or in noisy environments (repair shops, airplane hangars)**
Work may be dangerous or physically difficult (lifting heavy engine parts, working underneath vehicles)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **Occupational Information Network.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

While many engine mechanics have specialized careers that center around specific types of engines, such as aircraft, automobile or boat engines, the skills needed in a given specialty area can be largely applicable to others; some mechanics or engine mechanics split their time between two or more specialties. Engine mechanics perform routine maintenance operations on engines, such as inspecting, testing and troubleshooting engine components and ancillary equipment. They must replace defective, worn or damaged components using a variety of tools and testing equipment. Many modern engines integrate computerized or electronic components, and engine mechanics must also have a comprehensive understanding of these non-mechanical aspects of engines. Many mechanics who work on engines also service other parts of vehicles.

Automotive mechanics typically work on all parts of a car, including engines, brakes, fuels systems, carburetors and suspension systems. Diesel service technicians and mechanics specialize in vehicles with diesel engines, such as trucks, buses and marine vessels. Aircraft mechanics specialize in servicing aircraft engines, and typically work under incredible pressure in order to meet all safety regulations and ensure that flight schedules remain on time. Small engine mechanics, including motorboat mechanics, work on machines with smaller engines. Some small engine mechanics specialize in recreational equipment and household equipment, such as lawn mowers and chain saws.

Job Growth and Salary Information

Job growth and wages depend on your employment specialty. Specialized technicians, such as aircraft engine mechanics, who have increased training requirements and job responsibilities, typically make higher salaries than other types of mechanics. The following chart summarizes wage and job growth information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS); the chart is organized by specialty. All information is from May 2014 (www.bls.gov).

Title of Specialty Median Annual Wage Median Hourly Wage Job Growth 2012-2022
Aircraft Mechanic $56,990 $27.40 2% (slower than average)
Automotive Mechanic $37,120 $17.84 9% (about average)
Diesel Mechanic $43,630 $20.98 9% (about average)
Small Engine Mechanic $32,120 $15.44 6% (slower than average)

What Are the Requirements?

Education, Training and Certification Requirements

Most engine mechanics have a high school diploma or equivalent. Typically, mechanics must acquire skills through a combination of formal training through technical schools, community colleges or vocational schools as well as on-the-job training. Educational requirements vary in accordance with specialization.

Aircraft mechanics learn their skills through programs that have been certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which are offered by various community colleges and technical schools. Coursework typically lasts up to 24 months. Aircraft mechanics also have strict licensure requirements; the FAA requires that maintenance procedures on aircraft be performed by certified mechanics. Most mechanics acquire a combined airframe and powerplant (A&P) certificate.

Automotive and diesel engine mechanics usually learn their trades through a combination of formal training and hands-on experience. Some trade schools and technical colleges offer programs that last six months to a year. Community colleges provide two-year degree programs. Diesel mechanics are not required to be certified, but many validate their skills by earning certification through The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).

Small engine mechanics can learn their trades through on-the-job training or might attend degree programs. There are a number of special programs offered by technical schools and community colleges for individuals who wish to specialize in repairing marine engines, such as inboard and outboard motors. Mechanics who work on boats may have to earn certifications through organizations such as the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) or the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).

Skills

In very general terms, all engine mechanics must possess the following skills and talents:

  • Mechanical aptitude
  • Knowledge of how engines operate and interact with other parts of vehicles
  • Ability to use a variety of tools
  • Educational background sufficient to ensure professional-level service
  • Patience, perseverance and an attention to detail

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers vary in the educational backgrounds, certifications and job experiences they require of employees. Typically, employers seek workers who have a high school education and some degree of work experience. Some form of postsecondary education is also highly valued by employers. To get a sense of what employers are looking for, see the following examples of job postings that were open during April 2012:

  • A company in Oklahoma was looking for a full-time diesel mechanic to service school buses. Candidates were required to have technical knowledge of diesel equipment, experience with computerized diagnostics and a valid driver's license. Job responsibilities included diagnosing malfunctions as well as performing repairs and routine maintenance operations.
  • An equipment rental company in Virginia sought to hire a full-time small engine mechanic. This job required a high school education, the ability to use tools and equipment and an understanding of equipment safety. Job duties included servicing equipment, conducting preventative maintenance, fabricating parts and assisting other mechanics with repairs and maintenance operations.
  • A company in Colorado was seeking a full-time aircraft mechanic. This employer required candidates to have a high school education and at least five years of experience servicing aircraft. In addition, this job required candidates to either hold A&P licenses, have completed military aviation maintenance training or to have completed an aviation maintenance program at a technical school. Job duties included servicing aircraft engines, controls, landing gears and ventilation systems.
  • A company in Minnesota was hiring automotive mechanics to perform repair and maintenance operations on used cars. This job required at least three years of experience as an automotive technician. Candidates also needed to have a minimum of three Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications, knowledge of shop equipment and the ability to interact with customers.

How to Stand Out in the Field

While many mechanics have high school educations and some college experience, relatively few have associate's degrees. The technologies incorporated into engines and other vehicular systems are becoming increasingly complex, and many associate's degree programs equip students with a more comprehensive knowledge of both mechanical and computerized systems. Another way to stand out is by earning licenses and certifications that correspond with given lines of employment; for example, automotive and diesel engine mechanics could benefit from getting licenses through the ASE, and boat mechanics might get an advantage by getting certified through the ABYC. Through a combination of formal education, licensure and certification, you can stand out in this field and qualify for jobs with more responsibilities and better pay.

Alternative Career Paths

Refrigeration Mechanic

If you enjoy working with tools and fixing mechanical, electrical and electronic devices but do not want to work on engines and other parts of vehicles, then you may enjoy a career as a refrigeration mechanic. Refrigeration mechanics assess and test the operation of refrigeration systems using gauges and other instruments. They adjust or replace defective or worn parts, overhaul refrigeration systems and reassemble systems that have been repaired. Most refrigeration mechanics have attended a college program that prepares them with the necessary skills of their trade. The Occupational Information Network reports that in 2010 the annual median wage of a refrigerator mechanic was over $42,000 and the median hourly wage was over $20.00. Between 2010 and 2020, employment is expected to rise by 29%, much faster than average.

Industrial Machinery Mechanic

If you have a mechanical aptitude but do not want to be exposed to the seasonal variance in demands that affect some types of mechanics and engine mechanics, you may wish to consider a career as an industrial machinery mechanic. Industrial machinery mechanics assess industrial machinery to detect defects and repair or replace malfunctioning or broken parts. In repairing and diagnosing industrial equipment, they use a variety of tools such as voltmeters, grinders and various measuring devices. The Occupational Information Network reports that the median annual wage of an industrial machinery mechanic was $45,000 in 2010 and that the median hourly wage was nearly $22.00. Employment is expected to grow faster than average; between 2010 and 2020, it is predicted that employment will grow somewhere between 20-28%.

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Universal Technical Institute

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Penn Foster Career School

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Pulaski Technical College

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