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Diesel/Truck Technicians and Other Technicians Working in Automotive Industries

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Trucks haul the nation's freight from seaports, rail yards, and airports to the point of use. One of the most complex impressive mechanisms on the road is the Class 8 tractor-trailer rig. The diesel engine and drive train that powers this vehicle has to pull thirty-three thousand pounds and more along the highway, over the mountains, and through the desert if called on to do so. If it's going to last the five hundred thousand miles or more that its owners expect from it, it's going to need to be in good repair. Keeping the nation's truck fleets running is a full-time job in this era of just-in-time inventory and national distribution of merchandise. For those who are up to the challenge, it can be a good career, and demand is high. (For an inside look at the business of trucking and truck maintenance, take a look at VGM's Opportunities in Trucking Careers, by Ken Scharnberg, himself a trucker/teacher.)


Truck and bus technicians who work for truck fleet operations spend much of their time doing maintenance and routine services to ensure that the vehicles do not break down on the road. Maintenance checks usually involve inspection of fluids, steering mechanisms, brakes, wheel bearings, and other important parts. Items that cannot be adjusted or repaired are replaced.

Most truck and bus mechanics are generalists, but in some of the larger fleet shops they may specialize. Sometimes the technicians work as teams.

Since parts on trucks and buses are usually quite a bit larger than similar parts found on cars, the work is harder and takes a bit more muscle. But technicians often can work in teams or with apprentices to get the job done.

Most jobs for truck and bus technicians are found in large metropolitan areas, but there is a great need to staff the numerous truck stops and dealer-ships across the country.

Almost all fleet vehicles are built to the company's specifications, and it is usually the job of the head mechanic to select engine, transmission lights, and even the type of bolts to be used. The head mechanic also determines how the various parts should be installed to make the servicing job faster and easier and to keep downtime to a minimum. The truck manufacturer builds the vehicles to this person's specifications.

There were 255,000 diesel mechanics in 1998. Most ply their trade as truck and bus mechanics. The majority of the truck mechanics work for fleet shops that serve companies large and small, from over-the-road trucking firms, to bakeries and delivery services. Other options are municipal fleets, with their plows, forestry, and streets and sanitation vehicles; distributors; wholesalers; and so on. Of the estimated twenty-five thousand bus mechanics, most work for local transit companies and school bus companies. School bus technicians are a special segment of the craft, and starting in 1996, they were recognized by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) with a separate certification.


Almost everything about the diesel engine is the same as a gasoline engine except for the ignition system. There are no spark plugs, but there are glow plugs. There is no ignition distributor, but there is a fuel distributor.

Diesel specialists use all the same basic hand tools as any other type of technician, but they also will employ different diagnostic equipment for service.

They use jacks and hoists, which help them cope with heavy parts. Machinists will use lathes and grinding equipment to rebuild engines, brakes, and other systems. Welding and flame-cutting tools help with metal work, such as replacing exhaust systems.


There are plenty of opportunities for good exhaust specialists. You need only consider all the independent and franchise muffler shops to recognize the growth in this field.

Exhaust specialists use basic hand tools to remove worn or defective exhaust pipes and replace them. In addition, they must learn to use an acetylene torch and hydraulic pipe bender to fashion exhaust pipes from instructions or to make some custom pipes for special applications.

Exhaust work is dirty and grimy. However, employment as an exhaust specialist is relatively secure. Most exhaust shops also offer some other services like brake and shock absorber replacement, so you can get additional experience. Advancement opportunities are rather limited. The one logical advancement is to shop manager, or in the case of muffler shop chains, to a regional management position. It is also a good training ground and an easy entry-level position to obtain.


There are more than five million motorcycles registered in America. Although many motorcycle enthusiasts service their own bikes, many rely on the eleven thousand plus professional motorcycle technicians nationwide.

The professional motorcycle technician must diagnose and repair all the systems. Specialized equipment and tools as well as basic hand tools are used to diagnose, adjust, and repair the bike. Although bike technicians may specialize in some special aspect of the vehicle in larger shops, most have to be able to fix all the systems. Some technicians work on one make of motorcycle while others will repair all makes. The demand for motorcycle technicians is very high at the present.


The air-conditioning specialist uses gauges and specialized leak-detecting tools to diagnose problems in the system. Often a recharge of refrigerant is all that may be needed. Other common jobs include replacing weak or damaged hoses and lines, replacing compressor seals, or rebuilding the compressor. In addition to basic hand tools, the air-conditioning specialist spends several hundred dollars for special tools and equipment.

Air-conditioning service requires special training. It helps to understand the physics and laws of evaporation, condensation, and latent heat of evaporation. Mathematics is important, since measurements taken must be adjusted for atmospheric pressure adjusted to sea level and the level of humidity of the air.
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