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How to Become a Small Engine Mechanic

As motorized power equipment becomes more sophisticated, employers increasingly prefer to hire mechanics who have completed formal training programs. However, many mechanics learn their trade informally on the job.

Education and Training

A growing number of motorcycle and marine equipment mechanics complete formal postsecondary programs in small engine repair. Employers 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. 

As a result, many mechanics begin work with a high school degree 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.

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 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.

Important 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, therefore, account for those 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.

Technical skills. Mechanics, especially marine equipment and motorcycle specialists, often use computerized diagnostic equipment on engines, systems, and components. They must be familiar with electronic control systems and the tools needed to fix and maintain them.

Troubleshooting skills. Mechanics must be able to identify and diagnose engine problems. They also should be able to repair increasingly complicated mechanical and electronic systems.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition