If you hate being stuck behind a desk and love tinkering around on cars and trucks, you might have a future as a heavy-duty diesel tech.
This is no 9-to-5 office job. There are basic duties, but you could find yourself doing something different almost every day. Even better, 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 with experience.
Experience, by the way, is just one of the issues that affect what you can earn with a heavy-duty diesel mechanic salary.
Ways You’ll Get Paid
It’s impossible to take into account all the potential things that affect how much you’ll make at any given shop. Experience and excelling at the job definitely help. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual heavy-duty diesel mechanic salary is $48,690, which works out to about $23.41 per hour. However, those numbers are simply the middle of the pay scale. Some heavy-duty techs make as much as $72,000 to $93,000 per year.
On paper, a salary might sound like a better deal than an hourly wage, but it’s going to come down to 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, rather than hours you’re clocked in (and possibly waiting for work).
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 earn more in some states than others. In the 2022 edition of our State of Heavy-Duty Repair, we determined that the highest average hourly rate for heavy-duty techs tends to be in the Southeast—techs there earn an average of $31.61 per hour. The runner-up is the Western states in general, at $30.42.
Want to narrow it down even more? ZipRecruiter has compiled a list of the highest-paying states for diesel techs in 2022. Here are the top five:
Something else to keep in mind is the ongoing technician shortage. More and more shop owners are realizing that this shortage means they need to do their best to keep the techs they already have. In many cases, this has led to pay raises; we found that in 2021, more than 73% of the shops we surveyed had provided a wage increase. The size of the increase ranged from $1 to $25, but the average jump was $13.88.
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 service less common equipment often means commanding a higher salary.
Farm and road construction equipment are just two examples 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, or 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.
By the way, don’t forget 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 directly 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.
Just keep in mind that mobile techs often end up working outside regular business hours—sometimes way outside regular business hours! After all, roadside breakdowns don’t always happen between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
As an added perk, customers tend to love it when a tech can come in after hours to do oil changes and other preventive maintenance. Why? Because they can get necessary work done without downing a vehicle during what might otherwise be a busy workday.
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. If you’re just starting out, understand that training an inexperienced tech takes time, and time is money. Managers and owners are willing to pay a rate 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, with 8% growth expected through 2030. 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 will require an investment, but if your shop is successful, you should be able to make that money back within a few years. Plus, you’ll be on track to make a better income, as a shop owner’s salary is typically much higher than a tech’s salary.
Who knows—maybe in a few years you’ll be running your own operation! May we recommend some great shop management software to help you out? 🙂