Walk into any dealership service area or automotive repair shop and ask if there’s a difference between an automotive mechanic and an automotive technician. Then stand back and listen.
Some think the distinction is critical — they want to be looked at as skilled professionals, not grease monkeys. Others think the difference is nothing more than perception and the terms can be used synonymously. And there’s another set of people who don’t care at all … so who’s right?
A key difference between mechanics and technicians is that mechanics specialize in more hands-on work, like changing oil and brake pads. Automotive technicians do this as well, but they also deal more with electrical diagnosis and identification of drivability complaints.
Keep reading to learn all about how mechanics differ from technicians, as well as some important topics related to the career, such as requirements, job outlook and salary.
The Difference Between Auto Mechanics and Auto Technicians: Breaking It Down
As you’ll see, the difference between auto mechanics and an auto technician is a commonly debated topic in the transportation industry — and people have different opinions. Those who believe there is a distinction tend to see these as differing factors.
What Do Automotive Mechanics Do? The Definition of a Mechanic
An automotive mechanic is defined as “a person who repairs and maintains machinery, motors, etc.,” according to Dictionary.com. You’ll often hear the term used to describe vehicle mechanics. There are also other types of mechanics, including marine mechanics, motorcycle mechanics and diesel mechanics.
What Do Automotive Technicians Do? The Definition of a Technician
A technician is defined as “a person who is trained or skilled in the technicalities of a subject,” according to Dictionary.com. This term is often used to describe computer or laboratory technicians; however it’s also used in the automotive industry to refer to automotive technicians. Technicians specialize in technology, and like mechanics there are also marine, motorcycle and diesel technicians.
Technician vs Mechanic vs. Engineer
Sometimes, technicians and mechanics are confused with engineers — but there are distinct differences. By definition, an engineer is “a person trained and skilled in the design, construction and use of engines or machines.” Engineers are more involved on the design and development side of things and not so much the hands-on aspect of working on vehicles, which is the specialty of mechanics and technicians.
What an Automotive Influencer Has to Say on the Topic
Eric Cook, better known as “Eric the Car Guy,” has addressed the question on his ETCG1 YouTube channel. He started by holding up a power drill in his right hand to represent mechanics, and a diagnostic tablet in his left hand to represent technicians.
Of course, it’s not that simple, and he recognized the crossover between automotive technicians and mechanics. But it was a good visual tool to start the conversation.
Cook went on to say that, similar to the medical profession, there are specialists in automotive repair. Some specialize in electronics and performance diagnosis, and he refers to those specialists as a car technician. Others specialize in mechanical systems, and those specialists are the mechanics.
He is careful not to equate intelligence with one camp or the other. Working on both electronic systems and mechanical systems require a great deal of intelligence and skill.
In fact, the electronics and mechanical systems in a vehicle interact, and that’s where the crossover comes in between automotive technicians and mechanics.
So, what is Cook’s conclusion?
Despite the specialization, he believes that everyone working professionally in the mechanical field should be considered a technician because of the vast array of electronics and computer systems involved. But he isn’t dogmatic about his view. In fact, he asked his viewers how they would differentiate between an automotive technician and a mechanic.
Similarities Between Automotive Mechanics and Technicians
Charles Sanville, another popular YouTuber better known as “The Humble Mechanic,” understands why there is a perception by some when they hear the term “technician” or “mechanic.” Still, he believes if you’re working on cars or trucks today, you have to do it all.
“I think the terms are 100% interchangeable,” Sanville said when he addressed the question on one of his videos. “I know a lot of you guys don’t think that, and that’s cool.”
Sanville goes on to list skills some associate with automotive technicians, like reading scan tools and diagnosing issues. Then he lists tasks typically associated with mechanics, like changing oil and brake pads.
“A technician and a mechanic in today’s world, it doesn’t matter. You have to be able to do all of that, otherwise all you are is a parts changer,” Sanville says.
Antonio Cardoso, an automotive instructor at UTI, differs slightly from Sanville’s view. He believes there is a difference between being a mechanic and an automotive technician, but he also addresses the similarities.
“A technician is solving more electronic concerns,” Cardoso states. “But just like a mechanic, the hands-on portion is still there. We still have to remove and install components. Therefore, that’s where the similarities come into play.”
What the Industry Says About the Mechanic vs. Technician Debate
We asked leading professionals in the industry if they think there is a distinction between the two terms. Do mechanics need to become automotive technicians, or at the very least start referring to themselves as automotive technicians?
Some think the difference is about how advanced someone is in their skill level. So, does earning ASE certifications or “Master Automotive Technician” status make a difference?
“For me, ‘mechanic’ denotes a lower level of skill than a technician,” says Tim Martino, former vice president of fixed operations at Mercedes-Benz of Burlington in Massachusetts.
“While a technician does handle mechanical concerns, a lot of what they do is not mechanical, it’s electrical or software or other,” Martino continues. “I’ve been referring to my technicians as technicians for a good 30 years. I feel the technician deserves the recognition that the title implies.”
“A ‘mechanic’ deals more with driveline and suspension component replacement, while a ‘technician’ deals more with electrical diagnosis and identification of drivability complaints,” says Matt Wetterneck, a technician at BMW of Peabody in Massachusetts.
Still, Wetterneck doesn’t get bothered when people use the words “technician” and “mechanic” interchangeably. “I personally do not take offense to being called a mechanic. Whether a person identifies as a mechanic or technician might give an insight into what kind of work [they] enjoy,” he says.
Is a Technician the Same as a Mechanic? A UTI Instructor Answers
“The word ‘mechanic’ refers to someone who works with his or her hands, this day and age we have to do both. Although, now we require more technology use which relies on scan tools and database,” Cardoso says. “ ‘Technician’ is the term used nowadays because of it.”
And like Wetterneck, Cardoso isn’t bothered when someone calls him a mechanic. “I don’t react differently whether someone considers me a mechanic or a technician. The word ‘technician’ sounds more professional for what we do, but ‘mechanic’ is a word still used by the older generation,” Cardoso says.
At Universal Technical Institute, we prefer the term “automotive technician” for those with the goal of becoming an auto tech. We recognize the level of knowledge and skill it takes to work on late-model cars and trucks, and we believe that the term “technician” honors that level of professionalism.
Wherever you stand in the debate, know that we are here to help people prepare for an exciting, in-demand career as an automotive technician (or mechanic).