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Light Vs. Heavy Diesel Mechanics


Diesel engines are more efficient and reliable, with a better lifespan, according to those who love them. They're installed in a ton of different kinds of machinery and vehicles, and they require a different set of knowledge than gas engines, which is why there are complete programs just for diesel mechanics.

Once you're sold on becoming a diesel mechanic, you can then decide between light duty vehicles and heavy equipment as your specialty. Like every decision in your career, both heavy diesel and light diesel mechanics have their pros and cons to consider.

The Similarities

Even though the size and kinds of vehicles you work on are pretty different, you may be surprised at how similar diesel mechanics and heavy equipment mechanics have it.

Light and heavy diesel mechanic positions both come with general responsibilities including repairing and servicing diesel vehicles. You'll troubleshoot problems and use computer software programs to run diagnostic procedures.

For both categories, a certificate or a degree are increasingly desired by employers, and the training programs take the same amount of time. Six-month classes and two-year apprentice programs are available for either specialty.

The Differences

When choosing between becoming a diesel mechanic or a heavy equipment mechanic, think about what types of vehicles and equipment you’ll work on, everyday responsibilities, and salary. Here’s how the two categories differ.

Light Duty Diesel Mechanic

Diesel mechanics work on cars and trucks designed for on-the-road driving and shipping, including cars, light trucks, buses, and semi trucks.

Diesel service technicians and mechanics typically:

  • Consult with customers and read work orders to determine work required
  • Plan work procedures, using technical charts and manuals
  • Inspect brake systems, steering mechanisms, transmissions, engines, and other parts of vehicles
  • Follow checklists to ensure that all critical parts are examined
  • Read and interpret diagnostic test results to identify mechanical problems
  • Repair or replace malfunctioning components, parts, and other mechanical or electrical equipment
  • Perform basic care and maintenance, including changing oil, checking fluid levels, and rotating tires
  • Test-drive vehicles to ensure that they run smoothly

The median annual wage for diesel service technicians and mechanics is $46,360, according to bls.gov. The lowest 10 percent earn $30,400, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $69,870.

Heavy Duty Diesel Mechanic

Heavy equipment diesel mechanics specialize in vehicles and machines used for railroads, farms, mining, and construction, among others.

Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians typically do the following:

  • Consult equipment operating manuals, blueprints, and drawings
  • Perform scheduled maintenance, such as cleaning and lubricating parts
  • Diagnose and identify malfunctions, using computerized tools and equipment
  • Inspect, repair, and replace defective or worn parts, such as bearings, pistons, and gears
  • Overhaul and test major components, such as engines, hydraulics, and electrical systems
  • Disassemble and reassemble heavy equipment and components
  • Travel to worksites to repair large equipment, such as cranes
  • Maintain logs of equipment condition and work performed

The median annual wage for heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians is $49,440. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $31,450, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $74,200.

What’s Next?

If you’re still unsure which diesel career you’d prefer, then talk to some people in either line of work to help you decide. Think about the area you live in: Is there a big industry centered around heavy equipment, or will you have to move? Maybe you’ll even choose to start off as a light diesel mechanic and eventually switch to a career in heavy equipment later on.

No matter what, keep your eyes open for opportunities where you can get experience, and start with a rounded education from a school near you.

More reading: Fast certifications that pay well (diesel mechanic is one)

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