Nov 21, 2019

Should I go back to school? Your guide to a diesel mechanic education

Should I go back to school? Your guide to a diesel mechanic education

Hello, reader! Are you still grappling with the existential question of whether you should be a diesel mechanic?

Perhaps you read our last post on the subject and want to know more. How do you start? Where do you go? Can you just watch a few YouTube videos about it and consider yourself certified?

(No you can’t, and please don’t try that. YouTube videos are great, but you aren’t about to become a certified diesel mechanic by watching them.)

Fullbay is here to save the day. We’ve compiled some common questions people have when they’re considering a job as a diesel mechanic, and have answered them here. The work we’ve done can help anyone; whether you’re fresh out of high school and figuring out what you want to do with your life, or you’re older and want to switch to a more fulfilling career, this information is for you.

College vs diesel school

College is a great way to get you ready for any number of jobs — heck, lots of employers require you to have a degree before they’ll even look at you. But we’re zeroing in on becoming a diesel mechanic, and while some universities include diesel training in their programming, for the most part you don’t need a full four-year college experience to get a job in a diesel shop.

You can scratch most four-year universities off your list. Instead, look at trade or technical schools. They offer a variety of diesel-based diplomas, certifications, and occasionally degrees, and if you attend full-time you’re likely to graduate in under two years. Your coursework will be centered around diesel technology and it will largely be a hands-on experience. You’ll spend some time in the classroom learning the basics, but then you’ll be off on the shop floor putting your new knowledge to work and building your practical skills.

Going to a diesel school means it’s all diesel, all the time. Everything you learn is related to obtaining the necessary certifications in that field. You may be able to take some non-related electives, depending on the school, but for the most part your studies will be centered firmly in this field. Your colleagues will range in age from youngsters training up for their first jobs to people attending part-time as they start a new career.

How much will diesel school cost?

Fact: education costs money, no matter what industry you want to go into.

In that sense, paying for a diesel education isn’t all that different from paying for a university degree. Most of the schools we looked at don’t offer their prices upfront because they take your financial status into consideration before quoting you a price. Basically, the amount you shell out will depend on the school and whether you can receive any financial aid. Think grants, scholarships, and loans (which you will have to pay back, by the way, so factor that in when weighing your options).

The total price tag on your diesel education will depend on whether you receive a certification or opt for a two-year degree. You might pay just under $4,000 for a certification, all the way up into the mid-five digits if you’re attending a two-year program. It all depends on where you live and what course you choose to pursue, so do your due diligence before applying.

How long does it take?

Course duration depends on what program you’re in. Universal Technical Institute’s Diesel Technology Program is designed to be completed in 45 weeks. That’s about ten months if you’re attending school full-time. Two-year degree programs will take — you guessed it — two years if you attend full-time.

Some schools can get you out in as few as ten weeks if you attend full-time. Others will let part-time students finish up their degrees over the course of several years. There is a lot of flexibility in modern education, so choose the school that works best for you.

What should I look for in a school?

Whether you’re at a two-year school or a short certification program, look for some of the following qualities in your selected campus.

Class size: The smaller the better — you’ll get in more hands-on time and be able to work closely with your instructors. When we selected schools for our list below, we looked for average class sizes of 30 and under (several of the ones we featured are far beneath that).

Partnerships: A good school will have existing relationships with repair shops, dealers, manufacturers, and other companies likely to hire diesel mechanics. A partnership means students at this particular school may well find themselves at the front of the line when it comes to applying at these businesses.

On-the-job experience: If you want to go diesel, you’ve got to work on diesel. Make sure any school you attend has the shop space and equipment — as well as ample training time — for its students.

Can I take it online?

You can, though most online programs are quick to point out that you’ll need an additional hands-on component. Penn-Foster’s program bills itself as a “first step” toward becoming a diesel technician, indicating there will be more work down the road.

Online education is appealing because you can usually take the course at your own pace, often from the comfort of your own home. Study materials and simulations will help you get the basics down, though your eventual hiring will likely be contingent on taking hands-on certifications or learning on the job.

Some schools allow the “bookwork” study to be done online, while hands-on learning comes in the school shop. Investigate any program you consider enrolling in carefully to ensure you’re getting the best education you can.

While we acknowledge that online learning is useful and bound to get even bigger, we believe a mixture of the two or an in-person school is your bet at getting started at a career as a diesel mechanic.

Will I meet potential employers?

Yup! Some schools even partner with shops and heavy-duty brands to provide them with an employment funnel. UTI’s Arizona campus has an Early Employment Program, which pairs eligible diesel students up with an employer. That’s actual paid work, along with the potential of employment after you graduate. Think of it as an internship with maybe a little less hazing.

UTI will be rolling out its program nationwide, and other schools have similar offerings. Scout out websites, talk to admissions staff, and see what you can find!

Can I get help paying for diesel school?

As we mentioned up top, you can often apply for scholarships, loans, and grants the same way you might for a four-year university. Some that you qualify for might cover your entire education while some will only pay for a portion of it.

Another angle to take is through potential employers. The same partnerships some schools develop with local shops to provide a path to employment can also include some form of tuition reimbursement while you’re working at their shop as a student or after you graduate.

What are some of the top diesel mechanic schools?

There are hundreds of diesel schools around the country. Some have locations in multiple states, some are individual schools, and some are community colleges. What you look for in a school will depend on what type of diploma, degree, or certification you’re after, as well as other elements like class size. We’re working on putting together a comprehensive list for you to explore, but in the meantime, here are some of the better-known top diesel mechanic schools in the country.

One thing to keep in mind: We did not include pricing in this list because most schools want to know your financial status before providing you with a quote and — if possible — financial aid resources. All of these schools have a page for applications and financial questions; you can head there yourself and work out what your pricing might be.

Universal Technical Institute
Locations: Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas
Length: 45 weeks
Cost: Use their tuition estimator
UTI’s Diesel Technology Program puts you in an excellent position to become a diesel mechanic. Graduation from their core module makes you eligible for advanced training modules that have been designed with manufacturers like Peterbilt, Cummins, and Daimler.

Locations: Colorado, Connecticut, Texas, Indiana, Tennessee, New Jersey
Length: Varies by program; average graduation time is just over one year
Cost: Try their price calculator
LincolnTech’s Diesel Technology Training provides the hands-on training you need to become a diesel mechanic, along with courses in specializations like A/C and electrical systems. Classes are taught by ASE-certified instructors.

American Diesel Training Centers
Location: Ohio, Texas, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana, South Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia
Length: 12 weeks
Cost: Get their info packet
American Diesel Training Centers puts students through a rigorous, 300-hour training that is 90% hands-on. Can you learn to be a mechanic in just 12 weeks? These guys have a 100% placement rate, so it sure seems possible.

University of Northwestern Ohio
Location: Lima, Ohio
Length: 22 months (diploma) or 26 months (associate degree)
Cost: Try their tuition calculator
UNOH’s diploma course and associate degree (these are PDFs) are nearly identical in terms of the diesel work — you’ll get over 1400 hours of instructional coursework in areas like Hydraulic Brake Systems and Diesel Engine Diagnosis & Repair. The associate degree comes with additional course requirements like psychology and earth science.

Fox Valley Technical College
Location: Appleton and Oshkosh, Wisconsin (for the diesel programs)
Length: Varies by option
Cost: Check out their tuition & fees page
FVTC’s diesel program offers technical diplomas for Diesel Construction Equipment Service Technician, Diesel Engine Service Technician, and Diesel Equipment Mechanic, as well as an associate degree in Diesel Equipment Technology. You can optionally pick up a specialty in Diesel Power Generation & Marine Service Tech.

Obviously this is just a sampling of the better-known diesel mechanic schools in the country. If any of them are near you and look interesting, we suggest scouting their website and then arranging an on-site visit so you can see their programs in action.

There’s one thing becoming a diesel mechanic has in common with any other sort of educational program: you’ll get out of it what you put into it. If you head to school intending to work hard and make a career for yourself, you’ll find a whole new skill set and money well-spent.

So if becoming a mechanic is right for you, pack up your lunch, head to school, and get educated. The industry needs you!

Suz Baldwin