Outdoor Power Equipment Mechanic

CAREER PROFILE

Duties: Service and repair outdoor power equipment such as lawn mowers, garden tractors, edge trimmers, chain saws, portable generators, go-karts, snow blowers, and snowmobiles
Alternate Title(s): None
Salary Range: $15,290 to $37,910+
Employment Prospects: Fair
Advancement Prospects: Fair
Best Geographical Location(s): All locations throughout the country have job possibilities for well-trained, experienced Outdoor Power Equipment Mechanics
Prerequisites:
Education or Training--High school or postsecondary vocational school small engine technician training program
Experience--Experience in small engine repairs
Special Skills and Personality Traits--Good diagnostic skills; attention to detail; mechanical ability; mathematics and computer skills

CAREER LADDER
Shop Supervisor
Outdoor Power Equipment Mechanic
Outdoor Power Equipment Technician Assistant

Position Description
Outdoor power equipment and other small engine mechanics service and repair outdoor power equipment such as lawnmowers, garden tractors, edge trimmers, chain saws, portable generators and go-carts. In addition, small engine mechanics in northern parts of the country may work on snow blowers and snowmobiles, but demand for this type of repair is seasonal. Outdoor power equipment requires periodic service to minimize the chance of breakdowns and to keep them operating at peak performance. During routine equipment maintenance, mechanics follow a checklist including the inspection and cleaning of brakes, electrical systems, fuel injection systems, plugs, carburetors, blades, and other parts. Following inspection, mechanics usually repair or adjust parts that do not work properly, or replace unfixable parts.       
Routine maintenance is normally a major part of the mechanic's work. When equipment breakdowns occur, mechanics use various techniques to diagnose the source and extent of the problem. The mark of a skilled mechanic is the ability to diagnose mechanical, fuel, and electrical problems, and to make repairs in a minimal amount of time. Quick and accurate diagnosis requires problem-solving ability and a thorough knowledge of the equipment's operation.       
After pinpointing the problem, the mechanic makes the needed adjustments, repairs, or replacements. Some jobs require minor adjustments or the replacement of a single item, such as a carburetor or fuel pump. In contrast, a complete engine overhaul requires a number of hours to disassemble the engine and replace worn valves, pistons, bearings, and other internal parts.       
Electronic components control engine performance, instrument displays, and a variety of other functions of outdoor power equipment. To recognize and fix potential problems, mechanics should be familiar with the basic principles of electronics.        
The most important work possessions of mechanics are their hand tools. Outdoor Power Equipment Mechanics use common hand tools such as wrenches, pliers, and screwdrivers, or power tools, such as drills and grinders. Computerized engine analyzers, compression gauges, ammeters and voltmeters, and other testing devices help mechanics locate faulty parts and tune engines. Mechanics usually provide their own tools, and many experienced mechanics have invested thousands of dollars in them. Employers typically furnish expensive power tools, computerized engine analyzers, and other diagnostic equipment, but mechanics accumulate hand tools with experience.       
Mechanics often refer to service manuals for detailed directions and specifications while performing repairs. They usually work in repair shops that are well lit and ventilated, but are sometimes noisy when testing engines.

Salaries
Average annual salaries for Outdoor Power Equipment Mechanics range between $24,820 and $25,920. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $15,290, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $37,910.       
Small engine mechanics tend to receive few benefits in small shops, but those employed in larger shops often receive paid vacations, sick leave, and health insurance. Some employers also pay for work-related training and provide uniforms. Top-paying states include Vermont (average $12.36/hour), Montana ($11.87), and Maine ($12.20).

Employment Prospects
Outdoor power equipment and other small engine mechanics held about 30,000 jobs in 2002; about half worked for retail hardware and garden stores or retail dealers of miscellaneous vehicles. Most of the rest were employed by independent repair shops, equipment rental companies, wholesale distributors, and landscaping services. About 15 percent were self-employed.      
Employment of small engine mechanics is expected to grow about as fast the average for all occupations through the year 2012. Most job openings are expected to be replacement jobs because many experienced small engine mechanics leave each year to transfer to other occupations, retire, or stop working for other reasons. Job prospects should be especially favorable for persons who complete mechanic training programs.       
Growth of personal disposable income over the 2000–2012 period should provide consumers with more discretionary dollars to buy garden power equipment, which will require more mechanics to keep the growing amount of equipment in operation. In addition, routine service will always be a significant source of work for mechanics. While advancements in technology will lengthen the interval between checkups, the need for qualified mechanics to perform this service will increase.       
Construction of new single-family houses will result in an increase in lawn and garden equipment in operation, increasing the need for mechanics. However, equipment growth will be slowed by trends toward smaller lawns and contracting out their maintenance to lawn service firms. Growth also will be tempered by the tendency of many consumers to dispose of and replace relatively inexpensive items rather than have them repaired.       
During the winter months in the northern United States, Outdoor Power Equipment Mechanics may work fewer than 40 hours a week because the amount of repair and service work declines when lawnmowers and other types of outdoor equipment are not in use. Many of these mechanics work only during the busy spring and summer seasons, although others schedule time-consuming engine overhauls and work on snowmobiles and snow blowers during winter downtime. Mechanics may work considerably more than 40 hours a week when demand is strong.

Advancement Prospects
The skills used as a small engine mechanic generally transfer to other occupations such as automobile, diesel, or heavy vehicle and mobile equipment mechanics. Experienced mechanics with leadership ability may advance to shop supervisor or service manager jobs. Mechanics with sales ability sometimes become sales representatives or open their own repair shops.

Education and Training
Most employers prefer to hire Outdoor Power Equipment Mechanics who graduate from formal training programs for small engine mechanics. Because the number of these specialized postsecondary programs is limited, most mechanics learn their skills on the job or while working in related occupations. For trainee jobs, employers hire persons with mechanical aptitude who are knowledgeable about small engine fundamentals.     
Many trainees develop an interest in mechanics and acquire some basic skills through working on outdoor power equipment as a hobby. Others may be introduced to mechanics through vocational automotive training in high school or postsecondary institution.       
Trainees learn routine service tasks under the guidance of experienced mechanics by replacing ignition points and spark plugs or by taking apart, assembling, and testing new equipment. As trainees gain experience and proficiency, they progress to more difficult tasks such as engine overhauls.       
Employers often send mechanics and trainees to special training courses conducted by outdoor power equipment manufacturers or distributors. These courses, which can last as long as two weeks, upgrade the worker's skills and provide information on repairing new models. They are usually a prerequisite for any mechanic who performs warranty work for manufacturers.       
Most employers prefer to hire high school graduates for trainee mechanic positions, but will accept applicants with less education if they possess adequate reading, writing, and arithmetic skills. Many equipment dealers employ students part time and during the summer to help assemble new equipment and perform minor repairs. Helpful high school courses include small engine repair, automobile mechanics, science, and business arithmetic. Knowledge of basic electronics is essential for small engine mechanics.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Small engine mechanics should have mechanical aptitude, strong analytical abilities, and an understanding of how outdoor power equipment works, in addition to good reading, mathematics, and computer skills. Persistence and attention to detail is important. Service mechanics usually work indoors in clean, well-ventilated, well-lit repair shops, but some shops are drafty and noisy, so a high tolerance to noisy, dirty environments is important. Although mechanics can fix some problems with simple adjustments, they often work with dirty and greasy parts or in awkward positions, lifting heavy parts and tools. Minor cuts, burns, and bruises are common, but mechanics usually avoid serious accidents when the shop is kept clean and orderly and safety practices are observed.

Unions and Associations
Outdoor Power Equipment Mechanics may belong to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association; and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Tips for Entry
1. Try to obtain skills by working on small engines and power equipment, and by taking every relevant course available during high school or vocational school.
2. An internship or summer job at a dealer, hardware store, or repair shop can provide invaluable experience.
3. Check Web sites of local dealers and repair shops to spot job openings.
4. Positions should be advertised in the newspaper classified ad section.
5. Send your résumé and a cover letter to all the local dealers, hardware stores, and repair shops in your area. Because there is always a demand for well-trained mechanics, you may get called for an interview even if the job has not been advertised in the paper.
6. If you graduated from vocational or postsecondary school, find out if the school has a job placement service and work with them to land a position.

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