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The Difference Between a Mechanic and an Automotive Technician

Jun 22, 2018 ·
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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 auto technicians 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.

Automotive Mechanic Definition: What Does an Auto Mechanic Do?

A 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.

Automotive Technician Definition: What Does an Auto Technician Do?

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 technicians. 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.

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 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.

Technician checking diagnostics on automobile

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).

Types of Mechanics and Technicians

Most mechanics and technicians specialize in a particular field, such as: 

One of the great things about pursuing a mechanic or technician career is that many of the industries you can go into are here to stay. For example, as a diesel technician, you can play an important role in keeping trucks that are carrying and delivering vital goods on the road. As a collision repair technician, you’ll help to repair damaged vehicles and restore them to their original condition.   

Automotive Mechanic vs. Technician Salary

The terms “mechanic” and “technician” are often used interchangeably in the industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) places them in one category: automotive service technicians and mechanics.

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for automotive service technicians and mechanics was $44,050 in May 2020.25 This means half of automotive technicians and mechanics earned more and half earned less.

Keep in mind that salary depends on several factors, including experience, employer, demand and cost of living in the area. To get a better idea of what technicians and mechanics are earning in different areas, check out our auto technician salary guide, ranked by state.

How to Become a Mechanic

Late-model vehicles are becoming more and more complex. This means the training to become an automotive technician or mechanic has shifted as well.

Completing a formal training program isn’t always required, but it often is. According to the BLS, many employers prefer to hire auto technicians who have completed a postsecondary program.

Having completed a training program can give you a competitive advantage over technicians who haven’t, and can also lessen the amount of time you’ll need for on-the-job training. This is seen as a plus by many employers.

UTI’s Automotive Technology program is designed to give you the knowledge and skills you need to succeed in the industry. In just 51 weeks,7 you can learn to diagnose, maintain and repair vehicles like a true automotive professional.

Your courses will cover a variety of topics, including:

  • Automotive Engines Service & Repair
  • Professional Automotive Service Writing
  • Automotive Powertrains & Transmissions
  • Vehicle Steering and Suspension Service and Repair
  • Vehicle Brake Systems
  • Vehicle Electronic Systems and Technology
  • Automotive Climate Control Systems and Repair
  • Hybrid Vehicle System Maintenance

This program is Master Certified by the ASE Education Foundation. As a graduate, you’ll be well prepared to complete ASE examinations and can substitute your training for one of the two years of work experience required to become ASE certified.

Read: How to Prep for an Auto Mechanic Position

Related Questions


Is an Automotive Service Technician a Mechanic?

The words “technician” and “mechanic” are often used interchangeably in the auto industry. Some believe that these terms mean the same thing, while others believe there are distinct differences. It is commonly believed that auto technicians focus more on the electrical side of things, while mechanics primarily do more hands-on work and conduct routine services like oil and brake-pad changes.

Is It Worth Becoming a Mechanic?

If you have an eye for detail and love working with your hands, being an auto mechanic can be a very rewarding career path. Whether you want to specialize in parts, auto body repair or work your way up to a service manager role, you can go places as a trained auto mechanic. For more information, check out this blog on why becoming an auto technician is a good career plan.

What Is the Highest Paid Mechanic?

Salary is based on many different factors, such as employer, industry and demand in the area. To get accurate, up-to-date salary information, check out the BLS website.

Can I Be a Mechanic Without Going to School?

It is possible to become a mechanic without going to school. However, completing a training program can reduce the time needed to complete on-the-job training and give you a competitive edge over other mechanics. If you decide to attend a school like UTI, you may have the opportunity to network and meet with employers looking to hire graduates.1

How Long Does It Take to Become an Automotive Technician?

The length of time it takes to become an auto technician can vary based on the route you decide to take. At UTI, the process can take as few as 51 weeks! To learn more, check out this blog on how long it takes to become an auto technician.

Train for a Technician Career at UTI

Does becoming an automotive technician sound like an exciting career path to you? UTI’s Automotive Technology program begins every three to six weeks, so you can get going and start preparing for your career sooner.

To learn more, visit our program page and request information to get in touch with an Admissions Representative today.

Updated on February 17, 2021

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