To explore face specificity in visual processing, we compared the role of task-associated strategies and expertise on the N170 event-related potential (ERP) component elicited by human faces with the ERPs elicited by cars, birds, items of furniture, and ape faces. In Experiment 1, participants performed a car monitoring task and an animacy decision task. In Experiment 2, participants monitored human faces while faces of apes were the distracters. Faces elicited an equally conspicuous N170, significantly larger than the ERPs elicited by non-face categories regardless of whether they were ignored or had an equal status with other categories (Experiment 1), or were the targets (in Experiment 2). In contrast, the negative component elicited by cars during the same time range was larger if they were targets than if they were not. Furthermore, unlike the posterior-temporal distribution of the N170, the negative component elicited by cars and its modulation by task were more conspicuous at occipital sites. Faces of apes elicited an N170 that was similar in amplitude to that elicited by the human face targets, albeit peaking 10 ms later. As our participants were not ape experts, this pattern indicates that the N170 is face-specific, but not specie-specific, i.e. it is elicited by particular face features regardless of expertise. Overall, these results demonstrate the domain specificity of the visual mechanism implicated in processing faces, a mechanism which is not influenced by either task or expertise. The processing of other objects is probably accomplished by a more general visual processor, which is sensitive to strategic manipulations and attention.