Small engine mechanics inspect, service, and repair motorized power equipment. Mechanics often specialize in one type of equipment, such as motorcycles, motorboats, or outdoor power equipment.

Duties

Small engine mechanics typically do the following:

  • Discuss equipment issues, maintenance plans, and work performed with customers
  • Perform routine engine maintenance, such as lubricating parts and replacing spark plugs
  • Test and inspect engines for malfunctioning parts
  • Repair or replace worn, defective, or broken parts
  • Reassemble and reinstall components and engines following repairs
  • Keep records of inspections, test results, work performed, and parts used

Small engine mechanics regularly work on power equipment ranging from snowmobiles to chainsaws. When equipment breaks down, mechanics use many strategies to diagnose the source and the extent of the problem. Small engine mechanics determine mechanical, electrical, and fuel problems and make necessary repairs.

Mechanics’ tasks vary in complexity and difficulty. Many jobs, such as maintenance inspections and repairs, involve minor adjustments or the replacement of a single part. Others, including piston calibration and spark plug replacement, may require taking an engine apart completely. Some highly skilled mechanics use computerized equipment for tasks, such as customizing and tuning racing motorcycles and motorboats.

Mechanics use a variety of hand tools, including screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers, for many common tasks. Some mechanics also may regularly use compression gauges, ammeters, and voltmeters to test engine performance. For more complicated procedures, they commonly use pneumatic power tools or diagnostic equipment. A pneumatic tool such as an impact wrench is an air tool powered by compressed air.

Although employers usually provide the more expensive tools and testing equipment, mechanics are often expected to buy their own hand tools. Some mechanics have thousands of dollars invested in their tool collections.

The following are types of small engine mechanics:

Motorcycle mechanics specialize in working on motorcycles, scooters, mopeds, dirt bikes, and all-terrain vehicles. They service engines, transmissions, brakes, and ignition systems and make minor body repairs, among other tasks. Most work is for individual dealers, servicing and repairing specific makes and models.

Motorboat mechanics and service technicians maintain and repair the mechanical and electrical components of boat engines. Most of their work, whether on small outboard engines or large diesel-powered inboard motors, is performed at docks and marinas where the repair shop is located. Motorboat mechanics also may work on propellers, steering mechanisms, marine plumbing, and other boat equipment.

Outdoor power equipment and other small engine mechanics service and repair outdoor power equipment, such as lawnmowers, edge trimmers, garden tractors, and portable generators. In certain parts of the country, mechanics may work on snowblowers and snowmobiles, but this work is both highly seasonal and regional.

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

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

For information about technicians and mechanics who work primarily on farm equipment, construction vehicles, and rail cars, see the profile on heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians.

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Work Environment

Small engine mechanics held about 68,200 jobs in 2012. Although the majority worked for equipment dealers and repair shops, about 11 percent were self-employed.

Industries that employed the most small engine mechanics in 2012 were as follows:

Motor vehicle and parts dealers 34%
Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers 16
Amusement, gambling, and recreation industries 12
Personal and household goods repair and maintenance 10
Merchant wholesalers, durable goods 4

Small engine mechanics generally work in well-ventilated but noisy repair shops. They sometimes make onsite repair calls, which may require working in poor weather conditions. When repairing onboard engines, motorboat mechanics may work in cramped and uncomfortable positions.

Work Schedules

Most small engine mechanics work full time during regular business hours. However, seasonal work hours often fluctuate. 

Most mechanics are busiest during the spring and summer, when demand for work on equipment from lawnmowers to boats is the highest. During the peak seasons, some mechanics work considerable overtime hours. In contrast, some mechanics are not busy during the winter, when demand for small engine work is low. As a result, during these months they work only part time. 

Many employers schedule major repair work such as an engine rebuild to be performed during the off-season, to try to keep work consistent.

Education and Training

Small engine mechanics typically enter the occupation with a high school diploma and learn their trade through on-the-job training. As motorized power equipment becomes more sophisticated, employers increasingly prefer to hire mechanics who have completed postsecondary education programs.

Education

Small engine mechanics typically begin work with a high school diploma and learn on the job. Generally, employers look for candidates who have completed courses in small engine repair, automobile mechanics, and science. Some employers may hire applicants with less education if they have adequate reading, writing, and math skills.

Some motorcycle and marine equipment mechanics complete postsecondary education programs in small engine repair. Employers may prefer to hire these workers because they usually require significantly less on-the-job training. Because of the limited number of postsecondary programs, however, employers often have difficulty finding qualified workers. 

Training

Trainees work closely with experienced mechanics while learning basic tasks, such as replacing spark plugs or disassembling engine components. As they gain experience, trainees move on to more difficult tasks, such as advanced computerized diagnosis and engine overhauls. Achieving competency may take anywhere from several months to 3 years, depending on a mechanic’s specialization and ability. 

Because of the increased complexity of boat and motorcycle engines, motorcycle and marine equipment mechanics often need more on-the-job training than outdoor power equipment mechanics.

Employers frequently send mechanics to training courses run by motorcycle, motorboat, and outdoor power equipment manufacturers and dealers. Courses may last up to 2 weeks, teaching mechanics the most up-to-date technology and techniques. Often, these courses are a prerequisite for warranty and manufacturer-specific work.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certification from the Equipment & Engine Training Council is the recognized industry credential for small engine mechanics. 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.

Personality and Interests

Small engine mechanics typically have an interest in the Building and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a small engine mechanic, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Small engine mechanics should also possess the following specific qualities:

Customer-service skills. Mechanics must discuss equipment problems and repairs with their customers. They should be courteous, good listeners, and ready to answer customers’ questions. In addition, self-employed workers frequently depend on repeat clients for business.

Detail oriented. Mechanical and electronic malfunctions often are due to misalignments or other easy-to-miss errors. Mechanics must account for those types of problems when inspecting or repairing engines and components.

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. Mechanics must be familiar with engine components and systems and know how they interact with each other. They must frequently disassemble major parts for repairs and be able to reassemble them properly.

Troubleshooting skills. Mechanics, especially marine equipment and motorcycle specialists, must be able to identify problems in increasingly complicated mechanical and electronic systems using diagnostic equipment. They must be familiar with electronic control systems and the appropriate tools needed to fix and maintain them.

Pay

The median annual wage for small engine mechanics was $32,640 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 $20,490, and the top 10 percent earned more than $51,040.

Median annual wages for specialty occupations in May 2012 were as follows:

  • $35,530 for motorboat mechanics and service technicians
  • $33,140 for motorcycle mechanics
  • $30,510 for outdoor power equipment and other small engine mechanics

Most small engine mechanics work full time during regular business hours. However, seasonal work hours often fluctuate. 

Most mechanics are busiest during the spring and summer, when demand for work on equipment from lawnmowers to boats is the highest. During the peak seasons, some mechanics work considerable overtime hours. In contrast, some mechanics are not busy during the winter, when demand for small engine work is low. As a result, during these months they work only part time. 

Many employers schedule major repair work such as an engine rebuild to be performed during the off-season, to try to keep work consistent.

Mechanics employed in large shops often receive benefits, such as health insurance, sick leave, and paid vacation time. Conversely, those in small repair shops usually receive few benefits. Some employers pay for work-related training and help mechanics purchase new tools.

Job Outlook

Employment of small engine mechanics is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.

Small engines have become more sophisticated and now release fewer pollutants into the atmosphere. Diagnostic equipment which mechanics use to troubleshoot issues with small engines can become too costly for self-employed businesses. Employment of self-employed small engine mechanics is projected to decline from 2012 to 2022, contributing to the slower-than-average growth for employment of small engine mechanics.

Since the number of registered motorcycles has increased steadily in recent years, there will continue to be a need for motorcycle repair services. Most new jobs will be in the motorcycle dealer industry, as service operations are an important aspect of business for many firms in this industry. In addition, as boat engines and engines and parts for outdoor power equipment have become more sophisticated and efficient, there will continue to be demand for repair services as people are less able to repair and service their own equipment.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities are expected to be better for candidates with postsecondary education. Those without postsecondary education can expect to face strong competition for jobs.

For More Information

For more information on motorboat mechanics and training programs, visit

Association of Marine Technicians

For more information on outdoor power equipment and other small engine mechanics and training programs, visit

Equipment & Engine Training Council

To learn about job opportunities for small engine mechanics, contact local motorcycle, motorboat, and lawn and garden equipment dealers; boatyards; and marinas. Local offices of the state employment service also may have information about employment and training opportunities.

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. We recommend the Career Personality Profiler assessment ($29), the Holland Code assessment ($19), or the Photo Career Quiz (free).