Employment is expected to grow as fast as the average for
all occupations, and persons with formal training as a mechanic
should enjoy good job prospects.
Use of motorcycles, motorboats, and outdoor power equipment
is seasonal in many areas, so mechanics may service other types
of equipment or work reduced hours in the winter.
Nature of the Work
Small engines powering motorcycles, motorboats, and outdoor
power equipment share many characteristics with their larger
counterparts, including breakdowns. Small engine mechanics
repair and service power equipment ranging from racing motorcycles
to chain saws. Mechanics usually specialize in the service
and repair of one type of equipment, although they may work
on closely related products.
Motorcycle mechanics repair and overhaul motorcycles,
motor scooters, mopeds, dirt bikes, and all-terrain vehicles.
Besides repairing engines, they may work on transmissions,
brakes, and ignition systems and make minor body repairs.
Mechanics often service just a few makes and models of motorcycles,
because most work for dealers that service only the products
Motorboat mechanics, or marine equipment mechanics,
repair and adjust the electrical and mechanical equipment
of inboard and outboard boat engines. Most small boats have
portable outboard engines that are removed and brought into
the repair shop. Larger craft, such as cabin cruisers and
commercial fishing boats, are powered by diesel or gasoline
inboard or inboard-outboard engines, which are removed only
for major overhauls. Most of these repairs are performed at
the docks or marinas. Motorboat mechanics also may work on
propellers, steering mechanisms, marine plumbing, and other
Outdoor power equipment and other small engine mechanics
service and repair outdoor power equipment, such as lawnmowers,
garden tractors, edge trimmers, and chain saws. They also
may occasionally work on portable generators and gocarts.
In addition, small engine mechanics in certain parts of the
country may work on snowblowers and snowmobiles, but demand
for this type of repair is both seasonal and regional.
Like large engines, small engines require periodic service
to minimize the chance of breakdowns and to keep them operating
at peak performance. During routine equipment maintenance,
mechanics follow a checklist that includes the inspection
and cleaning of brakes, electrical systems, fuel injection
systems, plugs, carburetors, and other parts. Following inspection,
mechanics usually repair or adjust parts that do not work
properly or replace unfixable parts. Routine maintenance is
normally a major part of the mechanic’s work.
When a piece of equipment breaks down, mechanics use various
techniques to diagnose the source and extent of the problem.
The mark of a skilled mechanic is the ability to diagnose
mechanical, fuel, and electrical problems and to make repairs
in a minimal amount of time. Quick and accurate diagnosis
requires problem-solving ability and a thorough knowledge
of the equipment’s operation.
In larger repair shops, mechanics may use special computerized
diagnostic testing equipment as a preliminary tool in analyzing
equipment. This computerized equipment provides a systematic
performance report of various components to compare against
normal ratings. After pinpointing the problem, the mechanic
makes the needed adjustments, repairs, or replacements. Some
jobs require minor adjustments or the replacement of a single
item, while a complete engine overhaul requires a number of
hours to disassemble the engine and replace worn valves, pistons,
bearings, and other internal parts.
Small engine mechanics use common handtools, such as wrenches,
pliers, and screwdrivers. They also utilize power tools, such
as drills and grinders, when customized repairs warrant their
use. Computerized engine analyzers, compression gauges, ammeters
and voltmeters, and other testing devices help mechanics locate
faulty parts and tune engines. Some highly skilled mechanics
use specialized components and the latest computerized equipment
to customize and tune motorcycles and motorboats for racing.
Small engine mechanics usually work in repair shops that
are well lighted and ventilated, but are sometimes noisy when
engines are tested. Motorboat mechanics may work outdoors
at docks or marinas, as well as in all weather conditions,
when making repairs aboard boats. They may work in cramped
or awkward positions to reach a boat’s engine.
During the winter months in the northern United States, mechanics
may work fewer than 40 hours a week, because the amount of
repair and service work declines when lawnmowers, motorboats,
and motorcycles are not in use. Many mechanics work only during
the busy spring and summer seasons. However, many schedule
time-consuming engine overhauls or work on snowmobiles and
snowblowers during winter downtime. Mechanics may work considerably
more than 40 hours a week when demand is strong.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Due to the increasing complexity of motorcycles and motorboats,
most employers prefer to hire mechanics who have graduated
from formal training programs for small engine mechanics.
Because the number of these specialized postsecondary programs
is limited, most mechanics learn their skills on the job or
while working in related occupations. For trainee jobs, employers
hire persons with mechanical aptitude who are knowledgeable
about the fundamentals of small two- and four-stroke engines.
Many trainees develop an interest in mechanics and acquire
some basic skills through working on automobiles, motorcycles,
motorboats, or outdoor power equipment as a hobby. Others
may be introduced to mechanics through vocational automotive
training in high school or one of many postsecondary institutions.
Trainees learn routine service tasks under the guidance of
experienced mechanics by replacing ignition points and spark
plugs or by taking apart, assembling, and testing new equipment.
As they gain experience and proficiency, trainees progress
to more difficult tasks, such as advanced computerized diagnosis
and engine overhauls. Anywhere from 3 to 5 years of on-the-job
training may be necessary before a novice worker becomes competent
in all aspects of the repair of motorcycle and motorboat engines.
Employers often send mechanics and trainees to special courses
conducted by motorcycle, motorboat, and outdoor power equipment
manufacturers or distributors. These courses, which last as
long as 2 weeks, upgrade workers’ skills and provide information
on repairing new models. They also may be used as a refresher
for employees. They are usually a prerequisite for any mechanic
who performs warranty work for manufacturers or insurance
Most employers prefer to hire high school graduates for trainee
mechanic positions, but will accept applicants with less education
if they possess adequate reading, writing, and arithmetic
skills. Many equipment dealers employ students part time and
during the summer to help assemble new equipment and perform
minor repairs. Helpful high school courses include small engine
repair, automobile mechanics, science, and business arithmetic.
Knowledge of basic electronics is essential for small engine
mechanics, because electronic components control an engine’s
performance, the vehicle’s instrument displays, and a variety
of other functions of motorcycles, motorboats, and outdoor
The most important work possessions of mechanics are their
handtools. Mechanics usually provide their own tools, and
many experienced mechanics have invested thousands of dollars
in them. Employers typically furnish expensive power tools,
computerized engine analyzers, and other diagnostic equipment,
but mechanics accumulate handtools with experience.
The skills used as a small engine mechanic generally transfer
to other occupations, such as automobile, diesel, or heavy
vehicle and mobile equipment mechanics. Experienced mechanics
with leadership ability may advance to shop supervisor or
service manager jobs. Mechanics with sales ability sometimes
become sales representatives or open their own repair shops.
Small engine mechanics held about 73,000 jobs in 2004. Motorcycle
mechanics held around 19,000 jobs. Motorboat mechanics held
approximately 23,000 and outdoor power equipment and other
small engine mechanics about 31,000. Almost half worked for
other motor vehicle dealers, an industry that includes retail
dealers of motorcycles, boats, and miscellaneous vehicles;
or for retail hardware, lawn, and garden stores. Most of the
remainder were employed by independent repair shops, marinas
and boatyards, equipment rental companies, wholesale distributors,
and landscaping services. About 20 percent were self-employed,
compared to about 7 percent of workers in all installation,
maintenance, and repair occupations.
Employment of small engine mechanics is expected to grow
about as fast as the average for all occupations through the
year 2014. Most of the job openings are expected to be due
to the need to replace many experienced small engine mechanics
that are expected to transfer to other occupations, retire,
or stop working for other reasons. Job prospects should be
especially favorable for persons who complete mechanic training
Motorcycle usage should continue to be popular with persons
between 18 and 24 years, an age group that historically has
had the greatest proportion of motorcycle enthusiasts. Motorcycles
also are becoming increasingly popular with persons over the
age of 40. Traditionally, this group has more disposable income
to spend on recreational equipment such as motorcycles and
Over the next decade, more people will be entering the 40-and-older
age group, the group responsible for the largest segment of
marine craft purchases. These potential buyers will help expand
the market for motorboats, while maintaining the demand for
The construction of new single-family houses will result
in an increase in the lawn and garden equipment in operation,
increasing the need for mechanics. However, equipment growth
will be slowed by trends toward smaller lawns and the contracting
out of maintenance to lawn service firms. Small engine mechanics’
growth will also be tempered by the tendency of many consumers
to dispose of and replace relatively inexpensive items rather
than have them repaired.
Employers will increasingly prefer mechanics to have knowledge
of both two- and four-stroke engines, as well as other emissions-reducing
technology, as the government increases regulation over the
emissions produced by small engines. While advancements in
technology will lengthen the interval between checkups, the
need for qualified mechanics to perform services on motorcycles,
motorboats, and lawn and garden equipment will increase.
Median hourly earnings of motorcycle mechanics were $13.70
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.58 and
$17.53. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.48, and
the highest 10 percent earned more than $21.95. Median hourly
earnings in May 2004 in other motor vehicle dealers, the industry
employing the largest number of motorcycle mechanics, were
Median hourly earnings of motorboat mechanics were $14.74.
The middle 50 percent earned between $11.46 and $18.11. The
lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.21, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $21.90. Median hourly earnings
in May 2004 in other motor vehicle dealers, the industry employing
the largest number of motorboat mechanics, were $14.29.
Median hourly earnings of outdoor power equipment and other
small engine mechanics were $11.98 in May 2004. The middle
50 percent earned between $9.44 and $15.25. The lowest 10
percent earned less than $7.53, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $19.19. Median hourly earnings in lawn and
garden equipment and supplies stores, the industry employing
the largest number of outdoor power equipment and other small
engine mechanics, were $11.40.
Small engine mechanics tend to receive few benefits in small
shops, but those employed in larger shops often receive paid
vacations, sick leave, and health insurance. Some employers
also pay for work-related training and provide uniforms.
Mechanics and repairers who work on mobile equipment other
than small engines include automotive service technicians
and mechanics, diesel service technicians and mechanics, and
heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians and
Sources of Additional Information
For more details about work opportunities, contact local
motorcycle, motorboat, and lawn and garden equipment dealers,
boatyards, and marinas. Local offices of the State employment
service also may have information about employment and training
For a list of accredited private trade and technical schools
that offer programs in small engine servicing and repair,
Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
of Technology, 2101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 302, Arlington,
VA 22201. Internet: http://www.accsct.org/
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics,
U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook,