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Heavy Vehicle and Mobile Equipment Service Technicians and Mechanics - What They Do

Heavy vehicles and mobile equipment are indispensable to many industrial activities, from construction to railroad transportation. Various types of equipment move materials, till land, lift beams, and dig earth to pave the way for development and production. Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians and mechanics repair and maintain engines and hydraulic, transmission, and electrical systems for this equipment. Farm machinery, cranes, bulldozers, and railcars are all examples of heavy vehicles that require such service.

Service technicians perform routine maintenance checks on agricultural, industrial, construction, and rail equipment. They service fuel, brake, and transmission systems to ensure peak performance, safety, and longevity of the equipment. Maintenance checks and comments from equipment operators usually alert technicians to problems. After locating the problem, these technicians rely on their training and experience to use the best possible technique to solve it.

With many types of modern equipment, technicians can use diagnostic computers to diagnose components needing adjustment or repair. If necessary, they may partially dismantle affected components to examine parts for damage or excessive wear. Then, using hand-held tools, they repair, replace, clean, and lubricate parts as necessary. In some cases, technicians re-calibrate systems by typing codes into the onboard computer. After reassembling the component and testing it for safety, they put it back into the equipment and return the equipment to the field.

Many types of heavy and mobile equipment use hydraulic systems to raise and lower movable parts. When hydraulic components malfunction, technicians examine them for fluid leaks, ruptured hoses, or worn gaskets on fluid reservoirs. Occasionally, the equipment requires extensive repairs, as when a defective hydraulic pump needs replacing.

Service technicians diagnose electrical problems and adjust or replace defective components. They also disassemble and repair undercarriages and track assemblies. Occasionally, technicians weld broken equipment frames and structural parts, using electric or gas welders.

Technicians use a variety of tools in their work: power tools, such as pneumatic wrenches to remove bolts quickly, machine tools, like lathes and grinding machines, to rebuild brakes, welding and flame-cutting equipment to remove and repair exhaust systems, and jacks and hoists to lift and move large parts. Service technicians also use common hand tools—screwdrivers, pliers, and wrenches—to work on small parts and to get at hard-to-reach places. They may use a variety of computerized testing equipment to pinpoint and analyze malfunctions in electrical systems and other essential systems. Tachometers and dynamometers, for example, can be used to locate engine malfunctions. Service technicians also use ohmmeters, ammeters, and voltmeters when working on electrical systems. Employers typically furnish expensive power tools, computerized engine analyzers, and other diagnostic equipment, but hand tools are normally accumulated with experience, and many experienced technicians have thousands of dollars invested in them.

It is common for technicians in large shops to specialize in one or two types of repair. For example, a shop may have individual specialists in major engine repair, transmission work, electrical systems, and suspension or brake systems. Technicians in smaller shops, on the other hand, generally perform multiple functions.

Technicians also specialize in types of equipment. Mobile heavy equipment mechanics and service technicians, for example, keep construction and surface mining equipment, such as bulldozers, cranes, graders, and excavators in working order. Typically, these workers are employed by equipment wholesale distribution and leasing firms, large construction and mining companies, local and Federal governments, and other organizations operating and maintaining heavy machinery and equipment fleets. Service technicians employed by the Federal Government may work on tanks and other armored military equipment.

Farm equipment mechanics service, maintain, and repair farm equipment, as well as smaller lawn and garden tractors sold to homeowners. What once was a general repairer's job around the farm has evolved into a specialized technical career. Farmers have increasingly turned to farm equipment dealers to service and repair their equipment because the machinery has grown in complexity. Modern equipment uses more computers, electronics, and hydraulics, making it difficult to perform repairs without specialized training and tools.

Railcar repairers specialize in servicing railroad locomotives and other rolling stock, streetcars and subway cars, or mine cars. Most railcar repairers work for railroads, public and private transit companies, and railcar manufacturers.

Work Environment
Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians usually work indoors. To repair vehicles and equipment, technicians often lift heavy parts and tools, handle greasy and dirty parts, and stand or lie in awkward positions. Minor cuts, burns, and bruises are common. However, serious accidents normally can be avoided as long as safety practices are observed. Although some shops are drafty and noisy, technicians usually work in well-lighted and ventilated areas. Many employers provide uniforms, locker rooms, and shower facilities. Mobile heavy equipment mechanics and railcar repairers generally work a standard 40-hour week.

When heavy or mobile equipment breaks down at a construction site, it may be too difficult or expensive to bring into a repair shop, so the shop will send a field service technician to the site to make repairs. Field service technicians work outdoors and spend much of their time away from the shop. Generally, more experienced service technicians specialize in field service. They drive trucks specially equipped with replacement parts and tools. On occasion, they must travel many miles to reach disabled machinery.

The hours of work for farm equipment mechanics vary according to the season of the year. During the busy planting and harvesting seasons, farm equipment mechanics often work 6 or 7 days a week, 10 to 12 hours daily. In slow winter months, however, they may work fewer than 40 hours a week.

Education & Training Required
High school courses in automobile repair, physics, chemistry, and mathematics provide a strong foundation for a career as a service technician or mechanic. After high school, those interested in heavy vehicle repair can choose to attend community colleges or vocational schools that offer programs in diesel technology. Some of these schools tailor programs to heavy equipment mechanics. These programs teach the basics of analytical and diagnostic techniques, electronics, and hydraulics. The increased use of electronics and computers makes training in electronics essential for new heavy and mobile equipment mechanics. Some 1-year to 2-year programs lead to a certificate of completion, while others lead to an associate degree in diesel or heavy equipment mechanics. Formal training programs enable trainee technicians to advance to the journey, or experienced worker, level sooner than with informal ones.

Entry-level workers with no formal background in heavy vehicle repair begin to perform routine service tasks and make minor repairs after a few months of on-the-job training. As they prove their ability and competence, workers advance to harder jobs. Generally, a service technician with at least 3 to 4 years of on-the-job experience is accepted as fully qualified.

Many employers send trainee technicians to training sessions conducted by heavy equipment manufacturers. The sessions, which typically last up to 1 week, provide intensive instruction in the repair of the manufacturer's equipment. Some sessions focus on particular components found in the equipment, such as diesel engines, transmissions, axles, or electrical systems. Other sessions focus on particular types of equipment, such as crawler-loaders and crawler-dozers. When appropriate, experienced technicians attend training sessions to gain familiarity with new technology or equipment.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)
Technicians must read and interpret service manuals, so reading ability and communication skills are both important. The technology used in heavy equipment is becoming more sophisticated, and technicians should feel comfortable with computers and electronics because hand-held diagnostic computers are often used to make engine adjustments and diagnose problems. Experience in the Armed Forces working on diesel engines and heavy equipment provides valuable background for these positions.

Heavy Vehicle and Mobile Equipment Service Technicians and Mechanics - What They Do - Page 2

Academic Programs of Interest

Agricultural Equipment Technician
An Agricultural Equipment Technician is a program that is designed to teach a person how to repair power driven farm equipment and any of the associated attachments. After completing the program a student can expect to know how to: service advanced hydraulic systems, service anti-lock brake systems, ...more
Commercial Trailer Mechanic
The Commercial Trailer Mechanic Program will teach a student how to maintain, rebuild, overhaul, recondition, and repair different kinds of commercial truck trailers. A student can expect to graduate from the Commercial Trailer Mechanic Program within 3 years. Many students expedite this process ...more
Heavy Duty Mechanic
The Heavy Duty Mechanic trade repairs heavy off-highway equipment used in the logging, mining, construction and other industries. Such equipment may include loaders, bulldozers, graders, shovels, tractors, trucks, forklifts, and other similar types of equipment. A Heavy Duty Mechanic maintains, ...more
Hydraulic Service Mechanic
The Hydraulic Service Mechanic Program teaches a student how to repair, maintain, adjust hydraulic units such as hoists, rams, jacks, lifting units and pumps. The Hydraulic Service Mechanic Program usually takes 5 years to complete. However, the program entails only work-based training. This allows ...more