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Diesel Mechanic Career Questions and Answers

Becoming a diesel mechanic can be an excellent choice for individuals who are seeking to enter a career with promising employment options.

With an ever-growing number of job openings for diesel mechanics, this field offers competitive salary and benefit packages, both for individuals who are entering the job market for the first time and individuals who are transitioning from another career.

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Diesel Tech career questions and answers

An Overview of this Field

Diesel mechanics work in a wide range of capacities, everywhere from small neighborhood garages to working for major multinational corporations. However, the following facts are common to most diesel mechanic careers.

What is a diesel mechanic?

A diesel mechanic is an individual to maintains, repairs and examines diesel engines. These engines can range from small diesel engines used for various types of tools and appliances, up to the very large diesel power plants used by ocean going ships.

Depending on the mechanic’s specific job duties, he or she may be carry out general maintenance duties or may perform more specialized repair duties as a part of a technical team.

Do diesel mechanics have to be licensed?

Currently, neither the United States nor any of its states mandate the licensure of diesel mechanics.

Regardless, many employers often prefer to hire diesel mechanics who have obtained a certification from an accredited school, even if this is not legally required.

However, some fields, such as shipboard diesel engineers, may require other types of certification that are mandated by state or federal authorities.

What type of education must a diesel mechanic have?

In general, diesel mechanics do not have to obtain a formal education. Some diesel mechanics receive on the job training.

However, most modern diesel mechanics obtain a formal education via a university, community college or vocational training center. The type of education they receive depends on their professional and personal goals.

See the Becoming a Diesel Mechanic section of this FAQ for a more detailed overview.

Diesel Engines In America

What is a diesel engine?

Diesel engines are a type of internal combustion (IC) engine that works by compression ignition, where the fuel is compressed until the heat ignites it.

This is different from gasoline engines, where a spark is used to ignite the fuel mixture.

How long have diesel engines been used in America?

Diesel engines predate the common use of gasoline engines.

Diesel engines were first developed in the late 1800s and quickly became the dominant type of engine for a wide range of stationary and mobile applications.

In fact, diesel engines quickly replaced most older steam engines in general use by the early 1900s.

Why are diesel engines so popular?

Diesel engines are popular due to their durability, fuel efficiency and longevity. A properly maintained diesel engine will require less fuel, less maintenance and last longer than an equivalent gasoline engine.

In addition, diesel fuel is less prone to sudden price shifts when compared to gasoline, making diesel engines an excellent choice for individuals seeking to avoid having to pay exorbitant prices for gasoline.

Are diesel engines safer than gasoline engines?

Yes. Diesel fuel is far less flammable than gasoline.

Unlike gasoline, diesel fuel will not form an explosive mixture with the air if it is vaporized.

This alone makes diesel engines much safer than gasoline engines.

What are the most common uses for diesel engines in America?

The most common use for diesel engines are in heavy transport and construction applications, including construction equipment, large diesel trucks and railroad and waterborne transport.

In addition, since the 1980s a growing number of private vehicles, ranging from large SUV’s to passenger cars to various types of off-road sports vehicles have found popularity in the personal vehicle market.

Are diesel engines environmentally safe?

While all internal combustion engines produce some form of pollution, properly maintained diesel engines emit lower amounts of CO2 and other pollutants during their operation.

This makes diesel engines less damaging to the environment than gasoline engines, especially when it comes to adding dangerous greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere.

For this reason, diesel powered vehicles find it somewhat easier to meet state and federal emission requirements.

Can diesel engines use biofuel?

One of the greatest advantages diesel engines possess is that they are easily adapted to a wide range of fuel types.

This is most notable in the rising use of biofuel, or diesel fuel derived from non-fossil fuel based sources such as vegetable oil, algae or other types of vegetable matter.

In addition to being environmentally responsible, these types of fuels are unlikely to face the wild price swings experienced by fossil fuels.

For this reason, individuals making use of diesel engines are able to engage in environmentally responsible behavior without having to pay for expensive modifications to their vehicles.

The trend towards focusing on environmentally friendly vehicles is likely to continue to encourage a growing demand for diesel-powered vehicles.

Why are trained diesel mechanics needed?

Most modern engines are highly complex and incorporate advanced computer controls.

For this reason, “do it yourself maintenance” has become less viable in recent years due to the need to be well versed in diesel engine repair.

In addition, many diagnostic tools used by modern diesel mechanics are too expensive for casual mechanics to invest in.

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The Diesel Mechanic’s Duties

What does a diesel engine mechanic do?

Diesel mechanics have a variety of duties relating to the repair of diesel engines. In general, a diesel mechanic will perform the following activities:

  • Regularly examine diesel engines to ensure that they are operating properly.
  • Provide preventative maintenance, such as changing filters, checking the electronics and other components for wear and verifying that any emission control systems are operating properly.
  • When an engine requires repair, the diesel mechanic will determine what must be done to repair the engine.

Do diesel mechanics specialize in specific engine types?

Some diesel mechanics focus on a single type of diesel engine, such as construction or commercial diesel engines.

However, because the base design of all diesel engines is relatively similar, most mechanics can work on a wide variety of engines.

What about fixed diesel engines?

Fixed diesel engines are often used to power generators, pumps and other devices that must have uninterrupted power even if the local power grid fails.

Alternately, remote installations may not be connected to any larger power grid and thus must generate their own power. In these cases, the diesel mechanic may be required to have been trained in how to repair generators or pumps, in addition to his or her skill in repairing the diesel engine itself.

However, these fields can often offer substantially higher wages to a diesel mechanic with the proper skill set.

What do marine diesel mechanics do?

Marine diesel engines are similar to land-based engines, but are designed to better endure both salt and fresh water conditions.

Marine diesel engines used for small vessels are normally serviced on land and those diesel mechanics work in largely the same type of surroundings as automotive diesel mechanics. Large vessels are powered by very large diesel engines, some of them as big as a building.

In many cases, their mechanics are part of the crew and live on board the ship. These mechanics often are required to be trained as a seaman in order to ensure that they can safely perform their duties.

What are small engine mechanics?

Small diesel engines are often used to power a wide range of equipment such as lawn mowers and portable generators.

Because they require different tools and parts than larger diesel engines, many diesel mechanics specialize in repairing small diesel engines, either by working out of a shop or by providing on site repair services to homeowners and others.

The Job Environment For Diesel Mechanics

Currently, there is an excellent and growing job environment for diesel mechanics, ranging from working at small neighborhood auto garages to providing diesel repair services to large businesses and government agencies.

This field is becoming especially important due to the rising popularity of diesel-powered cars, trucks and SUVs.

How many diesel mechanics are currently working in America?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has determined that as of 2012, there were over 250,000 diesel mechanics working in America.

By 2022, the BLS believes that there will be over 272,000 job openings for diesel mechanics, an increase of about 9 percent.

However, because many diesel mechanics will be retiring between now and 2022, the number of actual job openings will be greater than the number of new jobs added to this field.

Are there other jobs available for a diesel mechanic?

The BLS’ job numbers do not include all diesel mechanics in America. In some cases, individuals who have a number of other duties, such as marine engineers, may be listed as a distinct profession, as opposed to being considered a specialized diesel mechanic by the BLS.

How much can a diesel mechanic make?

The BLS currently has determined that the median wage earned by this field is over $42,000.

However, there is a wide variation in the pay rates of individual diesel mechanics. The highest paid 10 percent of diesel mechanics earn over $63,000, while the lowest paid 10 percent earn about $27,000.

The rate of pay depends on the diesel mechanics experience, his or her job position and any specialty skills he or she may have.

What about other benefits?

Many employers provide generous benefits to their employees. A diesel mechanic will often enjoy excellent individual and family health care plans, paid vacation time and other benefits that make this profession highly competitive with other fields that have similar educational requirements.

Will diesel mechanics earn the same no matter where they work?

No. A diesel mechanic’s salary will often depend on where he works, not simply on a state basis, but where he or she is located in any given state.

In many cases, a diesel mechanic’s wages are closely related to the cost of living in his or her area.

For this, a diesel mechanic may find that a lower wage is equivalent in buying power to a higher wage he or she might earn elsewhere because the cost of living in his area is lower.

Do diesel mechanics have a high degree of job security?

Diesel mechanics enjoy excellent job security. Because the field is experience robust job growth, employers prefer to retain skill diesel mechanics by keeping their job positions competitive in terms of salary and other benefits.

Can a diesel mechanic be self-employed?

Yes. Many diesel mechanics run their own businesses. In some cases, they work as mobile repair services, working on diesel engines at their client’s home or place of business.

This can be especially useful when working on large commercial trucks due to the expense and inconvenience involved with transporting them to a repair center.

Other diesel mechanics open their own neighborhood garages, building up a clientele of local customers in the surrounding community.

What other requirements does self-employment have?

Becoming self-employed can be an extremely complex process. Individuals who own their own business must be certain to comply with all relevant state, federal and local regulations.

For this reason, anyone who is considering becoming self-employed should seek advice from his or her local chamber of commerce or business association.

Becoming a Diesel Mechanic

What type of training is required for Diesel Mechanics?

The training requirements for diesel mechanics can vary widely, depending on what type of employment they are seeking, their experience in other areas and any specific requirements their potential employers may have.

Because there are no current state or federal licensure requirements, a diesel mechanic can have a great deal of freedom in choosing what form his or her training will take.

Can diesel mechanics be trained on the job or be self-trained?

Yes. In the past, a large number of diesel mechanics were self-trained or received on the job training from their employer.

This can be beneficial for those individuals who do not have the resources to seek out a formal education.

However, as engines have become more complex, a larger number of employers prefer to hire individuals who can show proof of a formal education.

What types of schools offer training for diesel mechanics?

A large number of private and public institutions provide training for diesel mechanics. Community colleges, vocational training centers and some adult education schools all provide diesel mechanic training programs.

How long does it take to become a diesel mechanic?

Completing a diesel mechanic program can take anywhere from several months to two years, depending on the nature of the program.

In addition, students who are focusing on a specialty field may take longer than those who are focusing on the general skills required by all diesel mechanics.

Can a diesel mechanic attend school on a part-time basis?

Yes. Many schools offer part-time schedules for those students who are currently employed or who are otherwise unable to attend the program on a traditional schedule.

Some of these schools offer classes that take place on the weekends or in the evenings in order to ensure that their students can attend the classes they need.

Can a student attend a program online?

In many cases, yes. A growing number of schools offer online distance-learning programs for those students who are unable to attend classes in person.

However, some classes, such as those involving hands on work on an engine, may require the student to be physically present. Anyone seeking to complete his or her training via online courses should speak to the admissions department in order to determine how to proceed.

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What degrees does the completion of a diesel repair program offer?

Vocational schools will normally provide a certificate of completion to the successful student.

Community colleges may provide a certificate, if the student was solely enrolled in the program or an associate’s degree if the student entered the school to complete the two-year associate’s degree program while also working to complete the diesel repair program.

What is the advantage of obtaining an associate’s degree?

Individuals who complete an associate’s degree will find it far easier to enter a four-year college to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

In addition, many colleges allow a large number of the credits earned at the community college to fulfill graduation requirements for their bachelor’s degree program.

What about advanced degrees?

Many four-year colleges offer advanced degrees in diesel engineering.

These programs focus on the design and construction of diesel engines and are seldom needed for individuals seeking to become diesel mechanics.

Should a school be accredited?

Yes. Accreditation is the process by which an outside authority verifies that the school is currently providing an adequate education to its students. Unaccredited institutions may not provide a cost-effective or adequate training for their students.

Does attending an unaccredited school hurt an individual’s chances for later employment?

In many cases it does. Most employers prefer to hire individuals who have completed a diesel-engineering program from an accredited school.

In addition, unaccredited schools may unexpectedly cease operation, which can make it difficult for potential employers to verify the candidate’s school records.

What types of accreditation are there?

In many cases, the school as a whole is accredited, which also covers any diesel engineering programs the school may offer.

This is most common with community colleges. In other cases, a school may have a specific accreditation process for individual programs.

This is most common in four-year colleges that offer advanced training in this field.

Can I obtain grants or scholarships to complete my program?

Many schools offer student loans for those individuals who cannot currently afford to pay for their own education.

These loans can be both private and government subsidized. Some students who meet certain guidelines may be eligible for grants that they do not have to pay back after their graduation.

Anyone seeking to obtain loans or grants should speak to his or her school’s office of financial aid.

Do businesses offer training for their employees?

Yes. Larger businesses often have their own training programs.

In many cases, these programs focus on the types of engines and equipment used by the business in order to ensure that all diesel mechanics have the same level of skill.

In addition, the diesel mechanics are usually paid for attending these courses, as they are a condition of their employment.

What is an internship?

An internship is a process where the student works as a diesel mechanic in a practical setting while still being supervised by his or her instructors. This allows the student to obtain real world experience before completing the program.

What are the advantages of an internship?

If the student impresses his or her supervisors, they may agree to hire the intern immediately after graduation.

In addition, some internships are paid positions which can be used to defray the student’s educational costs.

Finally, a successful internship can provide the candidate with a number of professional references that he or she can use to secure later employment.

Are diesel mechanics required to continue their education after they complete their program?

Not legally, but many mechanics continue to take courses in their field in order to ensure that they remain current with modern design practices.

In some cases, the employer may require that the mechanic continue his or her education for this reason.

Are there any legal requirements required for diesel mechanics who work on other engine systems?

In some cases, yes.

Diesel mechanics who wish to work on emission control systems may be required to pass a variety of state and federal tests in order to be allowed to legally work with these systems.

Can diesel mechanics receive personal accreditation?

Yes. A number of businesses and organizations offer accreditation programs for diesel mechanics in order to allow them to demonstrate that they possess a high degree of skill in their field or are specifically train on a certain type of equipment.

For example, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) provides certification for those mechanics who can complete a study program and pass the examination the ASE offers.

In addition, a number of specialized services, such as working on electronic fuel controls or emission systems have their own specific certification programs.

Why would a diesel engineer want to be certified?

Certification can allow a diesel engineer to obtain a higher wage as well as improving his or her job security.

Many companies prefer to have as many mechanics as possible certified in one or more areas. By doing so, they can attract more customers by showcasing the qualifications of the staff.

Although not common, some businesses may require that all candidates for employment be certified before they will be considered for employment.

Can the military train an individual as a diesel mechanic?

Yes. The military uses a vast number of diesel engines of all types. For this reason, it is entirely possible to enter the military and become a diesel repair technician.

In addition to providing valuable real world experience, the military does not charge for this education.

Are there any drawbacks to being trained by the military?

Yes. First of all, one is not guaranteed a position as diesel mechanic.

That will depend on their scores on any placement tests and the current requirements of the military.

Secondly, the military is currently engaged in a wide range of operations which can present a real risk to the individual depending on his or her posting.

Joining the military is an important decision that should not be made lightly.

Preparing to Become a Diesel Mechanic

There are a number of things an individual can do to prepare to become a diesel mechanic. In many cases, preparing to become a diesel mechanic starts well before the student graduates from high school.

Should I get good grades?

Diesel mechanics work with highly advanced equipment that requires a technical understanding of both the specific issues and the underlying principles behind a diesel engine.

For this reason, a student should seek to take and do well at all his school courses, especially those focusing on math and science.

Should I learn how to work with computers?

Modern diesel engines often include computerized control systems. In addition, a growing number of computerized diagnostic systems are used in this field.

Anyone seeking to become a diesel engineer should try to become computer literate before entering any diesel mechanic training program.

Should I learn another language?

This is not required, but being bilingual will always be a positive point for those individuals seeking employment, no matter what their field is.

What else should I do before graduation?

If the school has courses in car or engine repair or maintenance, the student should take them.

These courses can provide a grounding that will help the student during any later training to become a diesel engineer.

What if I help out at a garage?

Individuals who work at a garage, no matter their capacity, should always seek to learn everything they can. In addition, the individual’s supervisors can provide references when he or she is trying to find a later job.


Becoming a diesel mechanic can be an excellent decision for individuals of all ages and educational levels.

With the growth of this field and the high demand for skilled mechanics, it presents excellent professional and personal options for the qualified mechanic.

Whether as a mechanic working on commercial trucks or one providing small engine repair services, this is an excellent choice for anyone seeking to obtain a well-compensated and secure career in today’s economy.

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