Engineer vs Mechanic

Many people wonder why a mechanical engineer can’t fix his own car? Or a civil engineer building his own house (physically)? There are valid reasons behind this conundrum. Mainly, it’s because of the nature of specialization. A car mechanic and an automotive engineer may sound the same to a layman, however they both work in different industries. Different industries? Yes, different industries. A car mechanic usually works in maintenance and servicing industry. Whereas an automotive engineer usually work in either design industry or in manufacturing. It’s logical to raise the point here that a mechanic is as important for the society as an engineer and vice versa. There is no distinction between the value of either.

Aircraft mechanic, car mechanic or a mechanic, is a person who is hands-on and understands the basic operation of the machinery he/she specialized in. He/she knows which part will fit, which part will not fit, which part is of high quality and which part is of low quality, tools required to undertake a repair job, repair to a standard of safe operation, how to service the part/machinery, etc. In summary, a mechanic knows how to repair/service a piece of machinery and he/she has the experience and skills of working with parts of that machinery.

Engineer, on the other hand, is a person who is strong in theoretical knowledge but he also understands the basic operation of the machinery he/she specialised in. He/she knows how to design a part, which material to use for the part so it can withstand the required stresses and temperatures, which manufacturing method will produce the required strength for the part, how to increase the efficiency of the part/machine, etc. In summary, an engineer knows how a specific machine is made and what constraints apply to it.

Without a mechanic, a car cannot be repaired and without an engineer, you will never have new model car. Both professions go hand in hand, similar but different.

A mechanic can easily build a new car!

Yes, a mechanic can easily build a new car and they probably do it daily in performance car industry such as installing body kits, installing turbos, building the car from ground up, using parts and modifying it to fit the existing car and more such things. If you call this building a new car, then why don’t we have Toyota Supra 2017 model on sale? Instead we have Toyota 86.

The thing that you need to understand here is whatever is done in the performance car industry has nothing to do with engineering. The mechanics can buy parts, install parts and modify parts but they can’t manufacture parts. When it comes to manufacturing and material selection, engineers are required to do this. If engineers stopped manufacturing body kits for cars and other car components, mechanics will struggle trying to manufacture their own.

Mechanics can never do what engineers do!

Can mechanics do what engineers do and vice versa? Yes, of course. It requires a learning curve for either case but once they grasp the fundamentals, they can do either work. As a matter of fact, engineers are encouraged to learn and build their mechanical aptitude because when they understand the maintenance and service (hands-on) side of things, they can design better parts and ultimately a better machine.

So, why can’t automotive engineers fix their own cars?

Any graduate who have been through university or technical institute without getting his/her hands dirty, they will not be able to diagnose a fault in the car even with the plethora of automotive knowledge they possess. However, a young professional or any experienced automotive engineer would have been exposed to hands-on work at some point during his career, there is a good chance he/she may find and even solve the car fault. In other words, the answer to this question depends on an engineer’s professional experience.

In conclusion, I would like to say that don’t put a value on a mechanic or an engineer, they both have their values in their respective industries. And don’t belittle new graduates or young professionals who may not possess the mechanical aptitude they should have had, they will learn with time.

I also urge all mechanics to attend university and get degrees, not because they are not educated enough, rather to develop even better understanding of their field. Create even better opportunities such as a chance to work for large corporations or even change the field completely i.e. project management in an automotive company.

I also urge all engineers to get their hands dirty, if you haven’t done so already. Hands-on work gives an amazing feeling of achievement – just like Sheldon trying to rebuild the train engine in the popular TV series called ‘The Big Bang Theory’.


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