If you’re the type who hates to be stuck behind a desk and loves tinkering around on cars and trucks, you might have a future as a heavy duty diesel tech. It’s no 9 to 5 office job. There are basic duties, but you could find yourself doing something different almost every day. Working as a mechanic is one of the few remaining professions where you can start with little experience and get on-the-job-training. However, more employers are looking for techs who have experience or who are certified. Experience is just one of the issues that affect what you can earn with a heavy duty diesel mechanic salary.
Ways You’ll Get Paid
Different shops pay their techs in different ways. Some pay hourly and others pay an annual wage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual heavy duty diesel mechanic salary is $47,350. On the other hand, the median hourly pay is $19.93/hour. Salary might sound like the better deal, but it depends on how busy the shop is. Salaried mechanics are exempt from overtime pay in some circumstances. That means salaried techs in an extremely busy shop can end up working for much less than those who take an hourly wage and work typical hours. On the other hand, some shops might calculate your paycheck based on how many hours you actually spend working on trucks in any given pay period.
Then again, more and more shops are implementing incentivized pay structures. They pay techs an hourly wage plus bonuses for high-efficiency. If you can multitask, dropping oil on one truck while replacing the brakes on another one, for example, hourly-plus-bonuses can be lucrative.
Where You Work Determines Your Heavy Duty Diesel Mechanic Salary
Where you end up working can affect how much you make as a diesel tech. You’ll make a higher heavy duty diesel mechanic salary in some states than others. The top paying states are pretty evenly spread throughout the country. Therefore, you should be able to earn a good living whether you want to live in the North, South, or Midwest. The top five states that pay diesel mechanics best are:
- North Dakota
Hawaii, Vermont, and Rhode Island rank as the states with the lowest salaries for diesel techs. Heavy duty mechanics in the Aloha State, for instance, earn just over $33,000 per year.
It’s Not All Big Rigs
If you work in a dealership, for a fleet, or in a shop that specializes in semis, you’ll be doing a lot of work on class 7 and 8 vehicles. However, you can get training to branch out and specialize in working on other types of large equipment. Plus, being able to offer services on less common equipment often means commanding a higher heavy duty diesel mechanic salary.
Farm and road construction equipment are just one example of diesel tech specialty areas. Cranes, bulldozers, tractors, harvesters, and even irrigation gear are some of the types of equipment you might work on for farmers or road crews. If you have an interest in boats, you might want to get a certification in yachts, ships, and marine equipment. That kind of experience opens doors for many opportunities. For instance, you could work for boat owners, private companies, and even the government repairing and maintaining all sizes of vessels. You could also find work as a mechanic for a commercial fishing fleet keeping their boats running. And don’t forget the possibility of working on aircraft. You can get certified to work on airplanes and avionics equipment and wind up working at an airport, for the government, or even start your own fixed-base operator service.
You Might Get Paid to Go Mobile
Many techs earn their heavy duty diesel mechanic salary clocking in to work at a shop all day. However, some shops offer mobile service, sending techs to the customer. If you land a position as a mobile mechanic, you’ll be doing a tech’s job. But you’ll work out of the back of your truck on location. That could mean meeting a customer roadside to do a repair or going to a fleet yard to perform multiple PMs. Both scenarios save the customer time, making mobile mechanics a valuable option for shops and customers. However, keep in mind that mobile techs often end up working outside of regular business hours. Roadside breakdowns don’t always happen between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Plus, having a tech come in after hours to do oil changes and other maintenance typically fits clients’ schedules better.
The More You Learn, the More You’ll Earn
We mentioned that it’s possible to start at the bottom and learn the heavy duty repair business on the job. However, training an inexperienced tech takes time, and time is money. That’s why more and more shops look for techs who are already experienced, whether they went to school or learned their trade apprenticing at another shop. Managers and owners are willing to pay a higher heavy duty diesel mechanic salary for experienced techs because #1, they know what they’re doing and #2, the shop won’t have to spend time (and money) training them.
Whatever experience you already have, it’s never a bad idea to get more. Continuing education for diesel techs is where you’ll find the specialty certification programs we mentioned above. Any areas you specialize in beyond the basics like engines and fuel, electrical, and brake systems put you in higher demand and increase your earning potential.
The job outlook for skilled heavy duty techs is good. While most occupations in the U.S. have a projected growth rate of 7 percent over the next decade, diesel techs are expected to grow by 9 percent. That’s because not only is the shipping industry expected to grow, but diesel vehicles, including light trucks and passenger cars, are increasing in popularity. More diesel equipment on the road means a growing demand for mechanics. And, naturally, if enough techs aren’t available, shops will offer a higher heavy duty diesel mechanic salary to attract the best ones.
With positive expectations on the horizon, you might consider opening your own shop. It would require at least a minimal investment. If your shop is successful, though, you should be able to make that money back within a couple of years. Plus, you’ll be on track to make a better income, as a shop owner’s salary is typically much higher than the techs’.
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