Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians, also called mechanics, inspect, maintain, and repair vehicles and machinery used in construction, farming, rail transportation, and other industries.

Duties

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

  • Read and understand 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

Heavy vehicles and mobile equipment are critical to many industrial activities, including construction and railroad transportation. Various types of equipment, such as tractors, cranes, and bulldozers, are used to haul materials, till land, lift beams, and dig earth to pave the way for development and construction.

Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians repair and maintain engines, hydraulic systems, transmissions, and electrical systems of agricultural, industrial, construction, and rail equipment. They ensure the performance and safety of fuel lines, brakes, transmissions, and other systems.

Service technicians use diagnostic computers and equipment to identify problems and make adjustments or repairs. For example, technicians may use an oscilloscope to measure the voltage produced by electronic components. Technicians also use many different power and machine tools, including pneumatic wrenches, lathes, and welding equipment. A pneumatic tool such as an impact wrench is an air tool powered by compressed air.

Service technicians also use many different hand tools, such as screwdrivers, pliers, and wrenches, to work on small parts and in hard-to-reach areas. They generally purchase these tools over the course of their careers, often investing thousands of dollars in their collections.

After locating malfunctions, service technicians repair, replace, and recalibrate components such as hydraulic pumps or spark plugs. This may involve disassembling and reassembling major equipment or making adjustments through an onboard computer program.

The following are types of heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians:

Farm equipment mechanics and service technicians service and repair farm equipment, such as tractors and harvesters. They also work on smaller consumer-grade lawn and garden tractors. Most work for dealer repair shops, where farmers increasingly send their equipment for maintenance.   

Mobile heavy equipment mechanics repair and maintain construction and surface mining equipment, such as bulldozers, cranes, graders, and excavators. Many work for equipment wholesale and distribution shops and large construction and mining companies. Those working for the federal government may work on tanks and other military equipment.

Rail car repairers specialize in servicing railroad locomotives, subway cars, and other rolling stock. They usually work for railroad, public and private transit companies, and rail car manufacturers.

For information about technicians and mechanics who work primarily on automobiles, see the profile on automotive service technicians and mechanics.

For information about technicians and mechanics who work primarily on large trucks and buses, see the profile on diesel service technicians and mechanics.

For information about technicians and mechanics who primarily work on motorboats, motorcycles, and small all-terrain vehicles, see the profile on small engine mechanics.

Work Environment: 

Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians held about 176,300 jobs in 2012. Most technicians worked for private companies, but about 7 percent worked for state and local government. Industries employing the largest numbers of heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians in 2012 were as follows:

Farm and garden machinery and equipment merchant wholesalers 14%
Government 11
Rail transportation 7
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 6
Heavy and civil engineering construction 6

Service technicians usually work indoors in noisy repair shops. They often lift heavy parts and tools, handle greasy and dirty equipment, and stand or lie in awkward positions.

It is often too expensive to transport heavy or mobile equipment to a repair shop. As a result, some service technicians travel to worksites to make repairs, often driving long distances. Generally, more experienced service technicians specialize in field service. They drive trucks that are specially equipped with replacement parts and tools. These workers spend considerable time outdoors.

Work Schedules

Most heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians work full time, and many work evenings or weekends. Overtime is common.

Farm equipment mechanics’ work varies by time of the year. During busy planting and harvesting seasons, for example, mechanics often work six or seven 12-hour days per week. In the slower winter months, however, they may work less than full time.

Education and Training: 

Although a high school diploma is the typical education needed for entry, employers increasingly prefer to hire heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians who have some postsecondary education. The majority of workers, however, still learn informally on the job.

Education

High school or postsecondary courses in automobile repair, mathematics, and physics provide a strong foundation for a service technician’s career.

Postsecondary programs and degrees in diesel technology or heavy equipment mechanics provide the most comprehensive training for new service technicians. Offered by vocational schools and community colleges, these programs cover the basics of diagnostic techniques, electronics, and other related subjects.

Most programs last 1 to 2 years and lead to certificates of completion. Other programs, which lead to associate’s degrees, generally take 2 years to complete.

Education significantly reduces the amount of on-the-job training new service technicians need.

Training

Entry-level workers with no formal background in heavy vehicle repair often receive a few months of on-the-job training before they begin doing routine service tasks and minor repairs. Trainees advance to more complex work as they show competence, and usually become fully qualified after 3 to 4 years of work.

Many employers send new technicians to training sessions conducted by equipment manufacturers. Training sessions may focus on particular components and technologies or types of equipment.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some manufacturers offer certification in specific repair methods or equipment. Although not required, certification can demonstrate a mechanic’s competence and usually brings higher pay.

Important Qualities

Dexterity. Many tasks, such as disassembling engine parts, connecting or attaching components, and using hand tools, require a steady hand and good hand-eye coordination.

Mechanical skills. Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians must be familiar with engine components and systems and know how they interact with each other. They must often disassemble major parts for repairs and be able to reassemble them.

Physical strength. Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians must be able to lift and move heavy equipment, tools, and parts without risking injury.

Troubleshooting skills. Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians must be familiar with diagnostic equipment, which can help find the source of malfunctions when they are difficult to identify.

Pay: 

The median annual wage for heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians was $43,820 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,730, and the top 10 percent earned more than $62,960.

In May 2012, median annual wages for heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technician occupations were as follows:

  • $48,500 for rail car repairers
  • $46,050 for mobile heavy equipment mechanics
  • $34,760 for farm equipment mechanics and service technicians

Most heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians work full time, and many work evenings or weekends. Overtime is common.

Farm equipment mechanics’ work varies by time of the year. During busy planting and harvesting seasons, for example, mechanics often work six or seven 12-hour days per week. In the slower winter months, however, they may work less than full time.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012.

Job Outlook: 

Employment of heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians is projected to grow 9 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.  

As the stock of heavy vehicles and mobile equipment continues to increase, more service technicians will be needed to maintain them. In particular, demand for heavy equipment used in construction, mining, and energy exploration will result in employment growth for service technicians. Growth rates will vary by specialty. 

Employment of farm equipment mechanics and service technicians is projected to grow 10 percent, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for farm equipment repairers will be primarily driven by the need for agricultural products to feed a growing population. Demand for other products, such as biofuels, will also increase repairer employment. 

Employment of mobile heavy equipment mechanics is projected to grow 10 percent, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment growth of mobile heavy equipment mechanics will be spurred by increased construction activity. Population and business growth will result in the construction of more houses, office buildings, roads, bridges, and other structures.

Employment of rail car repairers is projected to show little to no change. However, rail car repairers will continue to be needed to repair rail cars used for freight shipping and transportation.

Job Prospects

Most job opportunities will come from the need to replace workers who retire or leave the occupation. Those with certificates from vocational schools or 2-year degrees from community colleges should have very good job opportunities, as employers strongly prefer these candidates. Those without formal training will have difficulty finding jobs.

The majority of job openings are expected to be in sectors that sell, rent, or lease heavy vehicles and mobile equipment, where a large proportion of service technicians are employed.

The construction and mining industries, which use large numbers of heavy equipment, are sensitive to fluctuations in the economy. As a result, job opportunities for service technicians in these sectors will vary with overall economic conditions.

Job opportunities for farm equipment mechanics are seasonal, and are generally best during warmer months.

For More Information: 

For more details about job openings for heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians, consult local heavy and mobile equipment dealers and distributors, construction contractors, and government agencies. Local offices of the state employment service also may have information on job openings and training programs.

For general information about careers and training programs, visit

Associated Equipment Distributors

National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation

National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

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