The Difference Between a Mechanic and An Automotive Technician

UTI Profile Image Universal Technical Institute Jun 22, 2018 ·

Walk into any dealership service area or automotive repair shop and ask if there’s a difference between a 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 or shade-tree mechanics.

Others think the difference is nothing more than perception. Sure, it’s about branding technicians and mechanics at a level of professionalism that honors the skill level it takes to work on modern vehicles, but at the end of the day, they think that the terms are synonymous.

There’s another set of people who don’t care at all.

So, who’s right?

The Use of Technician and Mechanic in the Real World

Eric Cook, better known as “Eric the Car Guy,” 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 technicians. Others specialize in the 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 between automotive technicians and mechanics comes in.

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 if the vast array of electronics and computer systems. 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.

Mechanic working on engine

Similarities Between 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 one hundred percent 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 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.”

Automotive Instructor, Antonio Cardoso 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 People Hiring New Technicians and Mechanics Think About the 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, 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, shop foreman for 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.”

Technician checking diagnostics on automobile

How a Universal Technical Institute Instructor Differentiates Between Mechanic and Technician

“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.”

Yet, like Wetterneck, Cardosa 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.”

At the end of the day, 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 modern cars and trucks, and we believe that the term “technician” honors that level of professionalism.

But 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).

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