Bus and Truck Mechanics
Bus and Truck Mechanics are Diesel Service Technicians and Mechanics who specialize in the diagnosis, repair, and maintenance of diesel engines. These powerful engines are more durable and efficient than its gasoline-burning counterpart and come standard in busses, trucks, and locomotives in the United States. Over the years, these powerful engines have become more popular in lighter vehicles such as cars and work and pick-up trucks. In addition to busses and trucks, some Mechanics also work on other heavy, diesel-powered vehicles and equipment including cranes, bulldozers, farm tractors, and road graders. Others perform repairs on diesel-powered boats, light trucks, and passenger cars.
Mechanics who are employed by companies that maintain their own vehicles spend the majority of their time performing preventive maintenance (using a standard inspection checklist) that ultimately saves the company money and mitigates future breakdowns. Some tasks include examining and adjusting a vehicle's protective/safety features and checking for loose bolts. These Mechanics also perform other tasks such as oil changes; battery checks; and greasing, cleaning, or repairing parts, pistons, gears, wheel bearings, and valves.
Bus and Truck Mechanics also perform repairs on vehicles that are not functioning properly. To perform a diagnosis and analysis, the Mechanic may use a hand-held computer (e.g., chassis charts, motor analyzers, and pressure gauges) that they attach to specific parts in the vehicle. The gauges from the computer identify the problem areas that require attention.
The tools, which a Mechanic uses, vary greatly and may include:
- lathes and grinding machines - used to rebuild brakes
- pneumatic wrenches - used to rapidly remove bolts
- welding and flame-cutting equipment - used to remove and repair exhaust systems
- jacks and hoists - used to lift and move large parts
To work on small parts and difficult-to-reach areas, Mechanics use hand tools that they typically purchase on their own and accumulate over time (e.g., pliers, wrenches, screwdrivers). The employer typically provides the more expensive computerized engine analyzers, diagnostic equipment, and power tools.
For the most part, a Mechanic works a standard 40-hour workweek. However, some, especially those who are self-employed, may work more hours. As a service and convenience to customers, a large number of repair shops offer expanded hours. Mechanics who are employed by bus and truck companies that provide round-the-clock service may also work nights and weekends.
While some shops can be both noisy and drafty, the environments in which Mechanics work are generally well lit and ventilated. Unless a repair is done on the road or outside (in all kinds of weather), Mechanics will typically work indoors. At times, the lifting of heavy parts and tools may be required, along with handling dirty, greasy parts. During the course of their work, a Mechanic will often stand for periods of time, stoop, kneel, or lie in a difficult position. When performing heavy repair work (e.g., removing transmissions or engines), a Mechanic may have assistance or work as part of a team. While minor bruises, cuts, and burns are fairly common, the more serious injuries can be mitigated by following safety procedures and precautions.
In general, employers look to hire Mechanics who are 18 years of age or older and in good physical condition. A Mechanic must also possess a state commercial driver's license in order to test-drive busses and/or trucks on public roadways. Some companies also require candidates to pass a drug test. Employers consider hands-on/practical auto repair experience derived from the Armed Forces, an automotive service station, or even as a hobby, to be a valuable asset. Some sought after skills and attributes include:
- strong mechanical aptitude
- manual dexterity
- propensity for deductive reasoning
- sound judgment and decision-making abilities
- effective interpersonal and communications skills
- sensitivity to recognizing potential problems
- attention to detail
Mechanics are expected to adapt to increasing new technologies being implemented in their workplace. Diesel maintenance has become, and will continue to be, more and more complex as electronic components are being used in the operation of engines. Additionally, new emissions standards require Mechanics to modify engines with emissions control systems in order to meet pollution requirements and regulations.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS), employment for Bus and Truck Mechanics (or Diesel Service Technicians and Mechanics) is anticipated to "grow 11 percent from 2006 to 2016, about as fast as the average for all occupations." The need for trucks and truck repairers will increase in order to keep up with the growing volume of nationwide, freight shipments. Due to the greater durability and economy provided by diesel engines over gasoline engines, the number of busses, trucks, and other diesel-powered vehicles is expected to grow. Because the cleaner-burning and more efficient diesel engine complies with environmental and emissions standards, passenger vehicle production will continue and thereby foster the demand for these professionals for the long-term. A great many of the older diesel-powered engines used in trucks will continue to require retrofitting to comply with emissions standards and regulations. This will, for the short-term, foster more employment opportunities for diesel engine Mechanics.
Bus and Truck Mechanic Education and Certification
Many high schools offer training programs that provide a solid education background for a career in this profession. Program courses include automotive repair, electronics, mathematics, physics, and English. After completing a program, a large number of Mechanics tend to further their education.
Another avenue to consider are the many trade and vocational schools and community colleges that offer programs in diesel engine repair. These programs generally run from six months to two years and lead to an associate degree or certificate of completion. Some programs include 30 hours/week of hands-on training with equipment, while others focus more on classroom or lab instruction. Formal training affords an individual the most up-to-date instruction in diesel technology and the equipment service and repair that Mechanics will encounter in their vocation. These programs also expose students to learning how to interpret technical manuals and interface with customers and colleagues. Individuals who complete formal training will typically secure the best jobs.
Some Mechanics and Technicians learn their profession while on-the-job. Because these individuals are unskilled in the profession, they are typically tasked with duties such as driving vehicles in and out of the repair shop, fueling and lubricating vehicles, and cleaning parts. Only as they learn the profession and gain and prove their abilities and aptitude over time are they able to secure a promotion. Most individuals who train while on-the-job can perform standard/routine service duties and make minor repairs after a few months. Over time, a Mechanic will master diesel engine repairs and servicing and then move on to other components (e.g., transmissions, brakes, and electrical systems).
Often times, an employer will send the more experienced Mechanic or Technician to special training classes that are offered by vendors and manufacturers. In these classes, individuals gain specialized knowledge in the latest repair techniques and technologies.
While certification is not a requirement for employment, most Mechanics find that it bodes well for career advancement. Those who seek national certification look to the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) - the industry recognized credential for all automotive and diesel service Technicians and Mechanics. Diesel Mechanics may seek certification as master school bus technicians, master truck equipment technicians, or master medium/heavy truck technicians. Other certifications include truck repair specialty areas such as brakes, suspension and steering, drivetrains, electronic and electrical systems, and preventive maintenance and inspection. Regardless of the certification type, a candidate is required to provide proof of two years of related work experience and pass one or more ASE-administered exams. In order to maintain their certification status, Mechanics must be retested every five years.
- National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)
- Association of Diesel Specialists
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT)
- National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF)
If not self-employed, a Mechanic will generally find employment opportunities in almost every area of the country. However, most opportunities are more easily found in cities and towns where bus lines, trucking companies, and various fleet companies have established large operations. The largest employer is the truck transportation industry. Other areas in which opportunities may be found include, but are not limited to, automotive repair and service shops, local government agencies (primarily for repair of road equipment, waste removal trucks, and school busses), manufacturing, construction, and automotive leasing facilities.
Schools for Bus And Truck Mechanics are listed in the column to the left.