Small Engine Mechanics

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Small Engine Mechanics Do[About this section] [To Top]

Small engine mechanics inspect, service, and repair motorized power equipment. Mechanics often specialize in one type of equipment, such as motorcycles, motorboats, or outdoor power equipment.

Duties of Small Engine Mechanics

Small engine mechanics typically do the following:

  • Discuss equipment issues, maintenance plans, and work performed with customers
  • Perform routine engine maintenance, such as lubricating parts and replacing spark plugs
  • Test and inspect engines for malfunctioning parts
  • Adjust components according to specifications
  • Repair or replace worn, defective, or broken parts
  • Reassemble and reinstall components and engines following repairs
  • Keep records of inspections, test results, work performed, and parts used

Small engine mechanics work on power equipment ranging from snowmobiles to chainsaws. When equipment breaks down, mechanics use many strategies to diagnose the source and the extent of the problem. Small engine mechanics identify mechanical, electrical, and fuel system problems and make necessary repairs.

Mechanics’ tasks vary in complexity and difficulty. Maintenance inspections and repairs, for example, involve minor adjustments or the replacement of a single part. On the other hand, piston calibration and spark plug replacement may require taking an engine apart completely. Some mechanics use computerized equipment to tune racing motorcycles and motorboats.

Mechanics use a variety of hand tools, including screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers, for many common tasks. Some mechanics may also use compression gauges, ammeters, and voltmeters to test engine performance. For more complicated procedures, they commonly use pneumatic tools, which are powered by compressed air, or diagnostic equipment.

Although employers usually provide the more expensive tools and testing equipment, mechanics usually own their own hand tools. Some mechanics have thousands of dollars invested in their tool collections.

Motorboat mechanics and service technicians maintain and repair the mechanical and electrical components of boat engines. Most of their work, whether on small outboard engines or large diesel-powered inboard motors, is performed at docks and marinas where the repair shop is located. Motorboat mechanics may also work on propellers, steering mechanisms, marine plumbing, and other boat equipment.

Motorcycle mechanics specialize in working on motorcycles, scooters, mopeds, dirt bikes, and all-terrain vehicles. They service engines, transmissions, brakes, and ignition systems and make minor body repairs, among other tasks. Most work for dealerships, servicing and repairing specific makes and models.

Outdoor power equipment and other small engine mechanics service and repair outdoor power equipment, such as lawnmowers, edge trimmers, garden tractors, and portable generators. Some mechanics may work on snowblowers and snowmobiles, but this work is highly seasonal and regional.

For information about technicians and mechanics who work primarily on automobiles, see the profile on automotive service technicians and mechanics.

For information about technicians who work primarily on large trucks and buses, see the profile on diesel service technicians and mechanics.

For information about technicians and mechanics who work primarily on farm equipment, construction vehicles, and rail cars, see the profile on heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians.

Work Environment for Small Engine Mechanics[About this section] [To Top]

Small engine mechanics held about 71,700 jobs in 2014. Many of these workers—about 33 percent—were employed by other motor vehicle dealers, including motorcycle, boat, and other motor vehicle dealers. About 13 percent worked in lawn and garden equipment and supplies stores, and another 10 percent worked in personal and household goods repair and maintenance. About 1 in 10 were self-employed.

Small engine mechanics generally work in well-ventilated but noisy repair shops. They sometimes make onsite repair calls, which may require working in poor weather conditions. When repairing onboard engines, motorboat mechanics may work in cramped and uncomfortable positions.

Small Engine Mechanic Work Schedules

Most small engine mechanics work full time, although seasonal work hours often fluctuate.

Most mechanics are busiest during the spring and summer, when demand for work on equipment from lawnmowers to motorboats is the highest. During the peak seasons, some mechanics work many overtime hours. In contrast, some may only work part time during the winter, when demand for small engine work is lowest.

Many employers try to keep work more consistent by scheduling major repair work, such as engine rebuilds, during the off-season.

How to Become a Small Engine Mechanic[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Small Engine Mechanics near you!

Small engine mechanics typically enter the occupation with a high school diploma or postsecondary nondegree award and learn their trade through on-the-job training. As motorized power equipment becomes more sophisticated, employers increasingly prefer to hire mechanics who have completed postsecondary education programs.

Small Engine Mechanic Education

Motorboat and outdoor power equipment mechanics typically begin work with a high school diploma and learn on the job, although some of them seek postsecondary education. High school or vocational school courses in small engine repair and automobile mechanics are often beneficial.

Motorcycle mechanics typically complete postsecondary education programs in motorcycle repair, and employers prefer to hire these workers because they usually require significantly less on-the-job training.

Small Engine Mechanic Training

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 anywhere 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 motorboat mechanics who do not complete postsecondary education 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, which teach mechanics the most up-to-date technology and techniques. Often, these courses are a prerequisite to performing warranty and manufacturer-specific work.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Many motorboat and motorcycle manufacturers offer certification specific to their own models, and certification from the Equipment & Engine Training Council is the recognized industry credential for outdoor power equipment mechanics. Although not required, certification can demonstrate a mechanic’s competence and usually brings higher pay.

Motorcycle mechanics usually need a driver’s license with a motorcycle endorsement.

Important Qualities for Small Engine Mechanics

Customer-service skills. Small engine mechanics frequently discuss problems and necessary repairs with their customers. They must be courteous, good listeners, and ready to answer customers’ questions.

Detail oriented. Small engine mechanics must be aware of small details when inspecting or repairing engines and components, because mechanical and electronic malfunctions are often due to misalignments and other easy-to-miss causes.

Dexterity. Small engine mechanics need a steady hand and good hand-eye coordination for many tasks, such as disassembling engine parts, connecting or attaching components, and using hand tools.

Mechanical skills. Small engine mechanics must be familiar with engine components and systems and know how they interact with each other. They often disassemble major parts for repairs, and they must be able to put them back together properly.

Organizational skills. Small engine mechanics keep workspaces clean and organized in order to maintain safety and ensure accountability for parts.

Troubleshooting skills. Small engine mechanics must be able to use diagnostic equipment on engine systems and components in order to identify and fix problems. They must be familiar with electronic control systems and the appropriate tools needed to fix and maintain them.

Small Engine Mechanic Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for small engine mechanics was $34,650 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,610, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $54,880.

Median annual wages for small engine mechanics in May 2015 were as follows:

Motorboat mechanics and service technicians $38,280
Motorcycle mechanics 34,220
Outdoor power equipment and other small engine mechanics 32,710

Most small engine mechanics work full time, although seasonal work hours often fluctuate.

Most mechanics are busiest during the spring and summer, when demand for work on equipment from lawnmowers to boats is the highest. During the peak seasons, some mechanics work many overtime hours. In contrast, some mechanics may only work part time during the winter, when demand for small engine work is lowest.

Many employers try to keep work more consistent by scheduling major repair work, such as engine rebuilds, during the off-season.

Job Outlook for Small Engine Mechanics[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of small engine mechanics is projected to grow 4 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. Growth rates will vary by specialty.

Since the number of registered motorcycles has increased steadily in recent years, there will continue to be a need for motorcycle repair services. As a result, employment of motorcycle mechanics is projected to grow 6 percent over the next 10 years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Because boat engines and engines and parts for outdoor power equipment have become more sophisticated and efficient, there will continue to be demand for repair services as people are less able to repair and service their own equipment. Employment of motorboat mechanics and service technicians is projected to grow 3 percent, slower than the average, while employment of outdoor power equipment and all other small engine mechanics is projected to grow 5 percent, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Small Engine Mechanics Job Prospects

Job opportunities are expected to be best for candidates with postsecondary education. Those without postsecondary education can expect to face strong competition for jobs.

Employment projections data for Small Engine Mechanics, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Small engine mechanics 71,700 74,900 4 3,200
  Motorboat mechanics and service technicians 22,500 23,100 3 600
  Motorcycle mechanics 17,000 18,000 6 1,000
  Outdoor power equipment and other small engine mechanics 32,300 33,800 5 1,500


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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