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Diesel/Automotive Techs - Who Makes More Money?

Johnathan CokerCommon Questions

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So you want to know which field makes more money, huh? Well, in my experience, diesel mechanics always make more than automotive guys but don’t take my word for it. I can show you the numbers. So before you get all “torqued” up and buy $10k worth of Snap-On tools to start your new job at the Ford dealership, let me show you what you may not have considered. Grab your pro wrench and come with me.

Diesel mechanic salary vs Auto mechanic salary. Who makes more? Diesel Mechanics. Hands down! 1. Salary. Diesel mechanics make on average $3.20 an hour more. 2. Benefits. Most diesel shops have better benefits. 3. Opportunity. Automotive guys only work on gas engines. 4. Job security. Diesel technology is going to outlast gas engines. 5. Advancement. Diesel mechanics have more opportunities to grow their knowledge and career.

1. Diesel salary means “mucho dinero”

 So, who is it going to be? Who makes more dinero? These are the hard facts. Not your uncle’s opinion. Diesel mechanics make an average of $47,350 per year or $22.76 per hour, auto mechanics make an average of $40,710 per year or $19.57 per hour. Source

There you go. End of the argument. Diesel mechanics make more. If you do the math, it comes to $3.20 an hour more money. That’s a lot of cheese over a 40 hour week. Like, $128 more a week! That’s $556 extra a month more as a diesel mechanic!

“But John, I really like working on cars!” Ok. So, go to work on cars for a living. I guarantee you will not be as enthusiastic about other people’s vehicles as you are your own. Especially, when it is not a cool one like a 1980’s Honda. It’s not near as much fun as a classic mustang. Besides, think of the Benjamin’s you are turning down as an auto mechanic.

Bottom line, you can use the extra dough that you make as a diesel mechanic to support your automotive “projects”. Like working on your personal racecar, buggy, motorcycle, or whatever you’re into. That will keep your love for cars from turning into just another “honey-do” sitting in your yard. “Babe, when are you gonna fix that piece of junk and get it out of our yard?” Yeah, we’ve heard that before, haven’t we?

2. Diesel shops have better benefits

When you think about “pay” you have to consider benefits. In most cases, diesel mechanics are gonna have better options for insurance and retirement. This may not seem important when you are young, but as you age in the workforce you will realize how important those two are. I can say this because I’m old now. Haha.

If you chose to be an auto mechanic, chances are you’re gonna have to work for a dealership to have any chance at benefits to speak of. What’s worse, most dealers heavily regulate their benefits pretty well across the board. A shame really. I have a friend who worked for a dealer for years and never got much out of it but a paycheck.

That’s the thing you have to keep in mind about dealers. You work for the dealer, not a car manufacture. I think that’s a big misconception among younger mechanics. Just because you work at a Ford dealer doesn’t mean Ford is signing your paycheck every week.

That’s right, Mr. Ford doesn’t sign your check. “Mr. Borrow a bunch of money to buy my cars!” owns the dealership. You better make sure you read the fine print of your job contract as carefully as your car purchase contract. Simple question. If you don’t trust a car salesman, why would you trust a dealership owner who used to be a car salesman? Just asking.

Now look, I don’t think all these guys are bad. There are honest ones out there. However, unlike the Ford motor company, which has great pay and benefits, the car dealership is just another small business. Like “Uncle Bob’s Car Garage” down the street from your house.

That means your benefits will be limited, your paycheck will be less, and you will likely be paid a flat rate. No one wants that. That means the more you work the less you make. That’s not to say that working at a dealership is all negative. It’s just not where you should set your sites. Set your bar a bit higher. After all, you are a talented mechanic!

Diesel mechanics, on the other hand, are usually in a “fleet” environment or work for a company that works on big equipment. These are more expensive vehicles and equipment. That means bigger customers, bigger companies, and more stable income for whatever business you’re in. That means better pay and benefits for you.

Not to mention, good diesel mechanics are hard to find and harder to keep. Because of this, most “fleet” shops are willing to spend a little more in pay and benefits to keep you around. That will compound in your favor. The more money they spend on you, the more valuable you become to the company you work for.

3. More to work on than just cars and pickups

As an auto mechanic, you are limited to just that. While you can work on vehicles in many different capacities, by in large, you will be working on just cars and pickups. In the diesel world, you have so many more other opportunities to choose from. More opportunities equal more experience.

Some of the different applications for diesel include:

  • Marine
  • Generators
  • Government fleets
  • Semi-truck fleets
  • Fire apparatus and suppression
  • Heavy equipment
  • Farm equipment
  • and others

Once you become familiar with the components of a diesel engine, you will open yourself up to many options as to what you can work on. If you grow tired of working on one type of heavy equipment, you simply move to something else if you want. Sick of working on Semis? Go and work on a cruise ship. Tired of working on bulldozers? Go check out diesel generators.

Your diesel experience will expose you to opportunities to grow your experience that you may never get as an automotive mechanic. More experience typically means a higher salary for you. It’s hard to put a price tag on versatility and interesting career, but more money is always nice, right?

4. Diesel will be around a long time

Job security is important. We all want to know that our job isn’t constantly in jeopardy and that it is expected to be in demand years from now. If you are banking on a career in diesel mechanics, I think you are making a good decision. Even in 2020.

There are a couple of reasons I believe this,

  • This may be controversial, but I see the diesel market having longer viability than gas engines in the future. There are lots of reasons for this. Diesel is used in the industrial and heavy-duty markets, something that is going to stay that way for years to come. While gas engines are having somewhat of a threat from electric vehicles, diesels are adapting using natural gas and other alternative fuels.
  • There is also more security with a diesel mechanic position because of the size or type of company you work for. Most diesel jobs are going to be with large companies or municipalities. This work will be done on fleets of things like heavy equipment, fire apparatus, semi-trucks, generators, and others. For this reason, these companies become more stable. These industries are more stable and more reliable. This is not a guarantee, but very likely that your job as a diesel mechanic will be safe.

In the car world (dealership) your job is heavily dependent on the salespersons where you are working. If they don’t sell enough cars, the dealership can fail. If you are in a small regular car shop, then you are heavily dependent on the management of that small business for your income. Unless you are working in an automotive “fleet” garage or municipality, such as a city or county, your job is highly volatile.

5. Diesel mechanics become lead techs

The last thing we will talk about that can affect your pay is, advancement. This may be an important factor to you as you pursue your career. Do you have goals to be the shop foremen? Maybe even an upper management position? Well, in a diesel environment like a “fleet” garage, there will be plenty of opportunities.

In a diesel shop there is often a supervisor, a fleet manager, and then depending on your company a regional manager, or a “field engineer.” In the trucking world, there is also a “VP of maintenance”. Perhaps you want to work at a diesel dealer like CAT or Cummins. In that case, the sky is the limit.

This will not typically be the case for a normal auto mechanic.

Most of the time in a dealership the highest position you can aspire to is the shop manager. This may not be where you want to end up in that stressful environment. In the case of the small shop, the owner is likely the only person over you. So unless you start your own car shop, the ceiling is pretty low.

As you progress upward in your career as a diesel mechanic, the opportunity for salary increases will be in your favor. Not to mention, the amount of experience you will be accumulating as you learn new positions and job roles. Always remember, more experience typically equals more money.

Who wins when it comes to earnings potential? Diesel, Hands Down! Tons more benefits, opportunity for experience, and advancement. And don’t forget, an average of $556 more a month starting pay! **If you want a durable career, chose diesel. **

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Learn Diesels

Johnathan Coker is a ASE and EVT Certified Mechanic. He is married with two kids and lives in sunny Florida. He loves taking stuff apart and teaching others how he messed it up.

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