Heavy Vehicle and Mobile Equipment Service Technicians and Mechanics
Opportunities should be good for persons with formal postsecondary
training in diesel or heavy equipment mechanics, especially
if they also have training in basic electronics and hydraulics.
This occupation offers relatively high wages and the challenge
of skilled repair work.
Skill in using computerized diagnostic equipment is important
in this occupation.
Nature of the Work
Heavy vehicles and mobile equipment are indispensable to
many industrial activities, from construction to railroads.
Various types of equipment move materials, till land, lift
beams, and dig earth to pave the way for development and production.
Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians
and mechanics repair and maintain engines and hydraulic,
transmission, and electrical systems powering farm machinery,
cranes, bulldozers, and railcars, for example.
Service technicians perform routine maintenance checks on
diesel engines and on fuel, brake, and transmission systems
to ensure peak performance, safety, and longevity of the equipment.
Maintenance checks and comments from equipment operators usually
alert technicians to problems. With many types of modern heavy
and mobile equipment, technicians can plug diagnostic computers
into onboard computers to diagnose a component needing adjustment
or repair. After locating the problem, these technicians rely
on their training and experience to use the best possible
technique to solve the problem. If necessary, they may partially
dismantle the component to examine parts for damage or excessive
wear. Then, using hand-held tools, they repair, replace, clean,
and lubricate parts as necessary. In some cases, technicians
calibrate systems by typing codes into the onboard computer.
After reassembling the component and testing it for safety,
they put it back into the equipment and return the equipment
to the field.
Many types of heavy and mobile equipment use hydraulics,
to raise and lower movable parts. When hydraulic components
malfunction, technicians examine them for fluid leaks, ruptured
hoses, or worn gaskets on fluid reservoirs. Occasionally,
the equipment requires extensive repairs, as when a defective
hydraulic pump needs replacing.
In addition to conducting routine maintenance checks, service
technicians perform a variety of other repairs. They diagnose
electrical problems and adjust or replace defective components.
They also disassemble and repair undercarriages and track
assemblies. Occasionally, technicians weld broken equipment
frames and structural parts, using electric or gas welders.
It is common for technicians in large shops to specialize
in one or two types of repair. For example, a shop may have
individual specialists in major engine repair, transmission
work, electrical systems, and suspension or brake systems.
Technicians in smaller shops, on the other hand, generally
perform multiple functions.
The technology used in heavy equipment is becoming more sophisticated
with the increased use of electronic and computer-controlled
components that run much of the equipment’s functions. These
onboard computers are accessed using other computers and electronic
devices that are manipulated by the technician. As a result,
technicians need training in electronics and the use of hand-held
diagnostic computers to make engine adjustments and diagnose
Service technicians use a variety of tools in their work:
power tools, such as pneumatic wrenches to remove bolts quickly;
machine tools, like lathes and grinding machines, to rebuild
brakes; welding and flame-cutting equipment to remove and
repair exhaust systems; and jacks and hoists to lift and move
large parts. Service technicians also use common handtools—screwdrivers,
pliers, and wrenches—to work on small parts and to get at
hard-to-reach places. They may use a variety of computerized
testing equipment to pinpoint and analyze malfunctions in
electrical systems and other essential systems. Tachometers
and dynamometers, for example, serve to locate engine malfunctions.
Service technicians also use ohmmeters, ammeters, and voltmeters
when working on electrical systems.
Mobile heavy equipment mechanics and service technicians
keepconstruction and surface mining equipment,
such as bulldozers, cranes, crawlers, draglines, graders,
excavators, and other equipment, in working order. Typically,
these workers are employed by equipment wholesale distribution
and leasing firms, large construction and mining companies,
local and Federal governments, and other organizations operating
and maintaining heavy machinery and equipment fleets. Service
technicians employed by the Federal Government may work on
tanks and other armored equipment.
Farm equipment mechanics service, maintain, and repair
farm equipment, as well as smaller lawn and garden tractors
sold to suburban homeowners. What typically was a general
repairer’s job around the farm has evolved into a specialized
technical career. Farmers have increasingly turned to farm
equipment dealers to service and repair their equipment because
the machinery has grown in complexity. Modern equipment uses
more computers, electronics and hydraulics, making it difficult
to perform repairs without some specialized training.
Railcar repairers specialize in servicing railroad
locomotives and other rolling stock, streetcars and subway
cars, or mine cars. Most work for railroads, public
and private transit companies, and railcar manufacturers.
Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians usually
work indoors, although if repairs are needed urgently, or
the machinery cannot be moved to a shop, many technicians
make repairs at the worksite. To repair vehicles and equipment,
technicians often lift heavy parts and tools, handle greasy
and dirty parts, and stand or lie in awkward positions. Minor
cuts, burns, and bruises are common; serious accidents normally
are avoided when the shop is kept clean and orderly and when
safety practices are observed. Technicians usually work in
well-lighted, heated, and ventilated areas. However, some
shops are drafty and noisy. Many employers provide uniforms,
locker rooms, and shower facilities.
When heavy or mobile equipment breaks down at a construction
site, it may be too difficult or expensive to bring into a
repair shop, so the shop will send a field service technician
to the site to make repairs. Field service technicians work
outdoors and spend much of their time away from the shop.
Generally, the more experienced service technicians specialize
in field service. They usually drive trucks specially equipped
with replacement parts and tools. On occasion, they must travel
many miles to reach disabled machinery. Field technicians
normally earn a higher wage than their counterparts, because
they are required to make on-the-spot decisions that are necessary
to serve their customers.
The hours of work for farm equipment mechanics vary according
to the season of the year. During the busy planting and harvesting
seasons, mechanics often work 6 or 7 days a week, 10 to 12
hours daily. In slow winter months, however, mechanics may
work fewer than 40 hours a week.
Many persons qualify for service technician jobs through
years of on-the-job training, but most employers prefer that
applicants complete a formal diesel or heavy equipment mechanic
training program after graduating from high school. They seek
persons with mechanical aptitude who are knowledgeable about
the fundamentals of diesel engines, transmissions, electrical
systems, computers, and hydraulics. In addition, the constant
change in equipment technology makes it necessary for technicians
to be flexible and have the capacity to learn new skills quickly.
Many community colleges and vocational schools offer programs
in diesel technology. Some tailor programs to heavy equipment
mechanics. These programs educate the student in the basics
of analytical and diagnostic techniques, electronics, and
hydraulics. The increased use of electronics and computers
makes training in the fundamentals of electronics essential
for new heavy and mobile equipment mechanics. Some 1- to 2-year
programs lead to a certificate of completion, whereas others
lead to an associate degree in diesel or heavy equipment mechanics.
These programs not only provide a foundation in the components
of diesel and heavy equipment technology, but also enable
trainee technicians to advance to the journey, or experienced
worker, level sooner than would otherwise be possible.
A combination of formal and on-the-job training prepares
trainee technicians with the knowledge to service and repair
equipment typically seen by a shop. After a few months’ experience,
most beginners perform routine service tasks and make minor
repairs. As they prove their ability and competence, they
advance to harder jobs. After trainees master the repair and
service of diesel engines, they learn to work on related components,
such as brakes, transmissions, and electrical systems. Generally,
a service technician with at least 3 to 4 years of on-the-job
experience is accepted as fully qualified.
Many employers send trainee technicians to training sessions
conducted by heavy equipment manufacturers. The sessions,
which typically last up to 1 week, provide intensive instruction
in the repair of the manufacturer’s equipment. Some sessions
focus on particular components found in the equipment, such
as diesel engines, transmissions, axles, and electrical systems.
Other sessions focus on particular types of equipment, such
as crawler-loaders and crawler-dozers. As they progress, trainees
may periodically attend additional training sessions. When
appropriate, experienced technicians attend training sessions
to gain familiarity with new technology or equipment.
High school courses in automobile repair, physics, chemistry,
and mathematics provide a strong foundation for a career as
a service technician or mechanic. It is also essential for
technicians to be able to read and interpret service manuals
in order to keep abreast of engineering changes. Experience
working on diesel engines and heavy equipment acquired in
the Armed Forces is valuable as well.
Voluntary certification by the National Institute for Automotive
Service Excellence is the recognized industry credential for
heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians, who
may be certified as a master medium/heavy truck technician
or in a specific area of heavy-duty equipment repair, such
as brakes, gasoline engines, diesel engines, drivetrains,
electrical systems, or suspension and steering. For certification
in each area, technicians must pass a written examination
and have at least 2 years’ experience. High school, vocational
or trade school, or community or junior college training in
gasoline or diesel engine repair may substitute for up to
1 year’s experience. To remain certified, technicians must
be retested every 5 years. Retesting ensures that service
technicians keep up with changing technology. However, ASE
currently offers no certification programs for more advanced
heavy vehicle and mobile equipment repair specialties.
The most important work possessions of technicians are their
handtools. Service technicians typically buy their own handtools,
and many experienced technicians have thousands of dollars
invested in them. Employers typically furnish expensive power
tools, computerized engine analyzers, and other diagnostic
equipment, but handtools are normally accumulated with experience.
Experienced technicians may advance to field service jobs,
wherein they have a greater opportunity to tackle problems
independently and earn additional pay. Field positions may
require a commercial driver’s license and a clean driving
record. Technicians with leadership ability may become shop
supervisors or service managers. Some technicians open their
own repair shops or invest in a franchise.
Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians and
mechanics held about 178,000 jobs in 2004. Approximately 125,000
were mobile heavy equipment mechanics, 33,000 were farm equipment
mechanics, and 20,000 were railcar repairers. About 30 percent
were employed by machinery, equipment, and supplies merchant
wholesalers. More than 13 percent worked in construction,
primarily for specialty trade contractors and highway, street,
and bridge construction companies; another 12 percent were
employed by Federal, State, and local governments. Other service
technicians worked in agriculture; mining; rail transportation
and support activities; and commercial and industrial machinery
and equipment rental, leasing, and repair. A small number
repaired equipment for machinery and railroad rolling stock
manufacturers or lawn and garden equipment and supplies stores.
Less than 4 percent of service technicians were self-employed.
Nearly every section of the country employs heavy and mobile
equipment service technicians and mechanics, although most
work in towns and cities where equipment dealers, equipment
rental and leasing companies, and construction companies have
Opportunities for heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service
technicians and mechanics should be good for those who have
completed formal training programs in diesel or heavy equipment
mechanics. Persons without formal training are expected to
encounter growing difficulty entering these jobs.
Employment of heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service
technicians and mechanics is expected to grow slower than
the average for all occupations through the year 2014. Most
job openings will arise from the need to replace experienced
repairers who retire. Employers report difficulty finding
candidates with formal postsecondary training to fill available
service technician positions, because many young people with
mechanic training and experience opt to take jobs as automotive
service technicians, diesel service technicians, or industrial
machinery repairers—jobs that offer more openings and a wider
variety of locations in which to work.
Faster employment growth is expected for mobile heavy equipment
mechanics than for farm equipment mechanics or railcar repairers.
Increasing numbers of heavy duty and mobile equipment service
technicians will be required to support growth in the construction
industry, equipment dealers, and rental and leasing companies.
Because of the nature of construction activity, demand for
service technicians follows the Nation’s economic cycle. As
the economy expands, construction activity increases, resulting
in the use of more mobile heavy equipment to grade construction
sites, excavate basements, and lay water and sewer lines.
The increased use of such equipment increases the need for
periodic service and repair. In addition, the construction
and repair of highways and bridges requires more technicians
to service equipment. As equipment becomes more complicated,
repairs increasingly must be made by specially trained technicians.
Job openings for farm equipment mechanics and railcar repairers
are expected to arise mostly because of replacement needs.
Construction and mining are particularly sensitive to changes
in the level of economic activity; therefore, heavy and mobile
equipment may be idled during downturns. In addition, winter
is traditionally the slow season for construction and farming
activity, particularly in cold regions. During periods when
equipment is used less, few technicians may be needed, and
employers may be reluctant to hire inexperienced workers.
However, employers usually try to retain experienced workers
during these slow periods.
Median hourly earnings of mobile heavy equipment mechanics
were $18.34 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$14.96 and $21.75. The lowest 10 percent earned less than
$12.11, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $26.27.
Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest
numbers of mobile heavy equipment mechanics in May 2004 were
Machinery, equipment, and supplies merchant
Other specialty trade contractors
Highway, street, and bridge construction
Median hourly earnings of farm equipment mechanics were $13.40
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.77 and
$16.34. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.08, and
the highest 10 percent earned more than $19.40. In May 2004,
median hourly earnings were $13.66 in machinery, equipment,
and supplies merchant wholesalers, the industry employing
the largest number of farm equipment mechanics.
Median hourly earnings of railcar repairers were $19.48 in
May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $16.12 and
$21.76. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $12.07, and
the highest 10 percent earned more than $25.52. In May 2004,
median hourly earnings were $20.38 in rail transportation,
the industry employing the largest number of railcar repairers.
Many heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians
and mechanics are members of unions, including the International
Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the International
Union of Operating Engineers, and the International Brotherhood
Workers in related repair occupations include aircraft and
avionics equipment mechanics and service technicians; automotive
service technicians and mechanics; diesel service technicians
and mechanics; industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance
workers; and small engine mechanics.
Sources of Additional Information
More details about job openings for heavy vehicle and mobile
equipment service technicians and mechanics may be obtained
from local heavy and mobile equipment dealers and distributors,
construction contractors, and government agencies. Local offices
of the State employment service also may have information
on job openings and training programs.
For general information about a career as a heavy vehicle
and mobile equipment service technician or mechanic, contact: