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Light-Duty vs. Heavy-Duty Diesel Training: Which Is Right for Me?

Oct 11, 2019 ·

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If you’re interested in a career as a diesel technician, you may be wondering what type of technical education program would best prepare you for your career.

On one hand, an automotive program with a Manufacturer-Specific Advanced Training program (MSAT) such as Ford or GM can set you up for a career as a technician in a dealership, where you could specialize on diesel vehicles.1 On the other hand, you can attend a diesel technician program and focus on heavy equipment.

When considering a career in the diesel industry, it’s important to understand the different types of diesel technicians and the specific kinds of equipment they work on. Keep reading to learn all about the differences between light-duty and heavy-duty diesel technicians and what type of career path may be right for you:

Light-Duty vs. Heavy-Duty Diesel Technicians

Before moving further down the path toward a decision about which type of technician career to pursue, it may help to define some of the terms. Definitions for light-duty vs. heavy-duty diesel may vary slightly, but for the purposes of deciding on which program best lines up with your goals, the following is a good starting point:

  • A light-duty diesel vehicle is generally a passenger vehicle with a diesel drivetrain. This could include anything from a small fuel-efficient sedan up to a full size pickup truck with a GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) of 10,000 pounds.
  • A heavy-duty diesel vehicle is generally a commercial vehicle with GVWR of 10,000 pounds or more. Heavy-duty diesel vehicles also include industrial equipment powered by diesel engines such as construction or agricultural equipment.

Automotive dealerships often have technicians that specialize in one service area or another. For example, you may have a technician who is an expert in electrical diagnosis or you may have someone who is the drivetrain specialist.

If your goal is to work on diesel pickups like Ford F-Series or Ram Trucks in a dealership or aftermarket shop, that is quite different than someone who has the goal to work on big rigs, buses or industrial power generation equipment.

Choosing the Diesel Technician Career Path That Is Right for You

Choosing an educational path is a big decision, and not one to be taken lightly. Asking yourself the following questions may help you decide what will work best for you:

What type of repair work do you enjoy?

While some technicians desire to work bumper to bumper on light-duty diesel vehicles, others prefer working on over the road trucks or heavy equipment. The daily tasks are different, and the education is different as well. Do you have a preference? What setting do you see yourself being most comfortable in and most satisfied with?

Power generation engines and heavy-duty industrial equipment may have the same engine internals as diesel powered passenger vehicles, but the daily tasks for the technicians that service these items varies greatly. Take the time to investigate your preferences and goals is before enrolling in a training program.

What is the demand like for technicians in your area?

Depending where you live, the demand for diesel technicians may lean more heavily toward light-duty rather than heavy-duty work.

For example, urban areas may have fewer drivers with diesel powered pickup trucks, but they may be closer to industrial opportunities for big rig and heavy equipment technicians such as truck stops or shipping ports. On the other hand, suburban and rural areas can have a higher ratio of light-duty diesel trucks on the road, but may not have the same opportunities for heavy equipment technicians.

Not everyone is interested in or able to explore relocation for their careers. Family or other commitments may restrict the flexibility for moving. If that is the case for you, consider your immediate area and research the demand for technicians.

Demand for diesel technicians can be high due to the various settings in which a technician may be needed. Heavy-duty diesel technicians may be needed to work on heavy equipment, big rigs, marine applications, power generation and more.

Maintaining fleet vehicles such as buses or tractor trailers is one avenue to pursue. Another avenue is a field service technician who travels to customer locations to diagnose and repair heavy equipment for farming or agricultural needs.

What are your long-term goals?

As with any career, automotive and diesel technicians must consider their long-term goals and whether or not they align with their chosen industry. 

Is your goal to work your way up to lead technician, or maybe become a service manager? Perhaps you see yourself owning a small business repair shop after gaining experience in the field.

Most Universal Technical Institute (UTI) grads start out working as entry-level technicians or in other entry-level roles. As with any industry, over time, you may be able to advance in your career with hard work. Some other advanced career options that experienced technicians often pursue include:77

  • Fleet Manager
  • Mobile Diesel Mechanic
  • Master Technician
  • Shop owner

Depending on your long-term career goals, try to select a training program that will best put you in a position to achieve them. For example, a diesel training program is more specialized and can prepare you for a career working on heavy-duty equipment, while an automotive program with a diesel specialized training program is a bit broader and can lead to a career in a dealership working on light-duty equipment.

One route isn’t better than the other—they both have advantages that are specific to certain career paths. It’s all about choosing a program that aligns with the career path you envision for yourself!

Explore an Education From UTI

Do you dream of pursuing a career in the automotive or diesel industry? Universal Technical Institute offers a variety of core and specialized training programs that can prepare you for a career you love. Visit our trade school programs page to explore all we offer at UTI, and request more information to get in touch with one of our Admissions Representatives today!

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1) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

2) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit

77) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary. UTI prepares graduates for entry-level careers using the provided training. UTI graduates’ achievements may vary. Some UTI graduates get jobs within their field of study in positions other than those listed.

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


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