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How to Become a Diesel Mechanic

Updated on June 13, 2010

Is being a Diesel Mechanic the job for you?

Does the bad economy have you looking for a new career? Does the idea of fixing a large piece of equipment on a construction site sound like fun? Or maybe rescuing a semi that's broken down on the highway? You may want to consider becoming a Diesel Mechanic. There is potential for high pay, good benefits, and plenty of room for advancement.

Truck and Trailer

Entering the Industy.

There a few different ways to enter into the industry.

  • Trade School or Tech School

From my experience the tech school is the most popular way to gain access to the industry. These range from the high end private trade schools, public community colleges, and even some vocational programs attached to high schools. The biggest downside to this option is that the better and faster the school, is the more you will likely end up owing in student loans, unless of course you pay cash. A lot of programs are offered as either certificates or Associates of Applied Science degrees. Time ranges generally from about a year for a Certificate from a specialty school to about two years for an Associates Degree from a community college.

The military is not going to be for everybody. It does look pretty good on your resume if you were a mechanic in the military and will even give you an edge when it comes to civilian contractor jobs. They give you a lot of training and the best part is you won't be paying the student loans afterward.

  • On The Job Training

This is probably the hardest way to break into the industry. If you are lucky enough to find a job that will train you, it is usually lower pay than entry level for vaterans and tech graduates. It usually takes a while longer to move up the ladder. Some of the best mechanics I've worked with started this way.

Truck Stop

Truck Stop During Blizzard
Truck Stop During Blizzard

Types of Diesel Mechanic Jobs.

  • Working on Over the Road and City Trucks, Buses, and Coaches.
  1. Truck Stop Mechanic- This can be a very good paying job in the right situations. I would look for commission paying jobs over hourly paying jobs. A first stop for a lot of students and on the job training guys. Most of these places are 24 hour operations so a regular 9-5 kind of schedule isn't likely for new guys. Beginners usually start with oil changes, then move up to tires. Benefits are usually OK and a lot of places include student loan repayment programs.
  2. Fleet Mechanics- For many companies it is more economical to have their own shop than to outsource repairs. The good side to these jobs is the schedule, most have only a 40-50 hour work week. Most only run one or two shifts, but large one run 24 hours. Pay is generally lower than dealerships and independent shops. I have been told that State fleet jobs are the ones to look for.
  3. Dealership Jobs- Dealerships are where broken trucks go when the problem is under warranty or out of scope for other shops. Dealerships that pay well and have good work tend to have really good mechanics. You can learn a lot from these guys but it will take time. Dealership jobs are hard to get as first mechanic jobs unless you go to a place with more work than hirable people. Benefits are usually really good. Afternoon or Graveyard shifts are all but gauranteed for newbies. Top pay at dealerships is often well above $30 per hour flat rate, income potential is huge if you do good work quickly. One great benefit to these jobs is that there is a really good opportunity for manufacturer training, which really looks good on your resume.
  4. Independent repair Shops- A lot of these shops do the same work as dealerships, minus the warranty work. Pay varies from relatively low to really high. Work conditions also vary wildly from shop to shop. These can be the best jobs you ever have but also can be the worst jobs you find. Just don't make any commitments until you know the situation is workable. In places with labor shortages you can negotiate really good deals including signing bonuses, performance bonuses, and retention bonuses with these shops if you are willing to relocate and qualified.
  • Heavy Equipment Repair Jobs
  1. Construction Equipment / Agricultural Equipment - These jobs can range from working on small equipment at rental shops to working on large equipment in the field from a service truck. Generally speaking a good liking for hydraulics goes a long way in these jobs. Pay and Benefits are usually good. Union membership is sometimes required. A lot of tech schools have the connections to place frech graduates in these jobs. These jobs have basically the same fleet, independent, and dealership breakdown as the truck jobs.
  2. Natural Resource Gathering Equipment Jobs- These can be some of the most dangerous, exciting, and well paying jobs in the industry. They can include logging equipment, mining equipment, oilfield equipment, and many others. The pay for these jobs depends on what equipment you are working on, how dangerous it is, and where it is located.
  3. Power Generation Jobs- I don't have too much experience in this field, but the guys I have talked to who work on generators say it goes from backyard generators to really large commercial generators. A couple of them have even worked in Antarctica.
  4. Other- Under other I list Railroad Locomotive mechanics and Marine Mechanics which generally have their own apprenticeship programs. Previous military experience in these areas are great ways to get your foot in the door. I have seen some tech schools advertising marine programs, but I believe these programs are for smaller boats and not ships.

Oilfield Equipment

Workover Rig
Workover Rig


One thing to consider is that most of these jobs will require you to have your own tools. That is not an investment to be taken lightly. Its OK to have a small set in the beginning but in order to move up you will need to buy tools in most cases. Some of the top guys I have worked with have had well over 100k in tools but they are the exception. 

Tool Box


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    • Dustin Lanier profile image

      Dustin Lanier 2 years ago

      i want to become a diesel mechanic and am considering trade schools, however I'm a felon on parole, what are my chances?

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA

      Your article is an excellent overview of how to become a diesel mechanic and the types of job available. My husband was in the industry for over 40 years. Back when he started, most mechanics learned on the job as he did. However, by the time he retired as a service manager for a large truck dealership, his shop recruited new hires mostly from the tech schools because they were up-to-date on the new computerized systems. On the job experience is always valuable, but everything is so much more complex than it used to be, that it's almost a necessity to have some formal training. Good article, voted up and useful!

    • profile image

      timothy glassburn 4 years ago

      I'm making a change in my trade from tile installation to getting a job at a truck repair shop never worked on big trucks before but do have general knoledge with smaller vehichles by having to do a lot of my own machanic work dew to economy would like to know some of the begining basics to know to be ahead of the game a little my first day on the job is this monday the 21st

    • profile image

      s. locke 5 years ago

      i am wondering if i can become a certified mechanic with 4 years of doing on the job training?

    • profile image

      J. Smith 6 years ago

      @ramos it is very likley with the military exp to back you up you should have no problem landing a good diesel mechanic job as long as you were a mechanic of some sort in the military

    • profile image

      Kevin Griffin 7 years ago

      I am an ex-police officer that is getting ready to change professions to the diesel mechanic trade. Police do not get paid as much and it is least likely that I would get shot.....

    • profile image

      ramos 8 years ago

      im currently serving in the army. my ets date is coming up in about a yr is it possible for me to land a decent paying deisel mechanic job with 3 and a half yrs exp?

    • ttravis5446 profile image

      ttravis5446 8 years ago from U.S.

      That is true, its amazing how may diesel mechanics can make it working in an Automotive shop, but how few Auto mechanics could walk into a heavy duty diesel shop and make it.

    • GAWjr profile image

      GAWjr 8 years ago from Denver, CO

      I prefer Diesel Mechanics over automotive, because commercial companies have to keep those trucks running, even in a bad economy. And, most diesel mechanics know how to work on cars, but not the other-way-around.