Learn About Being an Automotive Engineer

By Indeed Editorial Team

December 10, 2019

What does an automotive engineer do?

An automotive engineer works with other engineers to design and test brake systems, engines, fuel technologies and transmissions within a vehicle. Automotive engineers use software programs and other machine tools to design and test automotive systems for applicable vehicles. They have the responsibility of innovating and implementing new technology to vehicles that can be purchased by customers at their local dealerships. Daily tasks for automotive engineers include:

  • Researching and producing vehicle components

  • Generating cost estimates and vehicle descriptions

  • Evaluating environmental and safety practices of certain projects

  • Conducting vehicle analysis on vehicle behavior under specific conditions

  • Creating prototypes of vehicle parts to test before production 

  • Interacting with clients on engineering questions on an as-needed basis

  • Supervising interns and entry-level staff to ensure completion of projects 

  • Delivering presentations to internal and external stakeholders on design concepts

Average salary

Most automotive engineers work in offices and visit worksites when issues are presented to them to fix. Salaries for automotive engineers can vary depending on education, experience and geographical location. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.=

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $95,094 per year

  • Some salaries range from $27,000 to $166,000 per year.

Automotive engineer requirements

Earning a position as an automotive engineer may have particular requirements depending on the jobs you’re applying to, including:

Education

Entry-level automotive engineers should have an undergraduate degree. However, very few universities have undergraduate programs in automotive engineering. Students, therefore, usually major in mechanical engineering because automotive engineering falls under that category and the coursework is the same at this level. Some mechanical engineering programs do have automotive courses in their curriculum. Students can expect to take courses in mathematics, life and physical science, robotics, manufacturing processes, environmental science, thermodynamics and heat transfer.

Aspiring automotive engineers should earn a graduate degree if they want to pursue an advanced specialty, such as studying the functions of mechanical engineering or working with hybrid vehicles.

Training

Entry-level automotive engineers usually receive on-the-job training from senior-level employees within their company. They can also pursue internships, but they’ll need to earn a Fundamentals of Engineering license to become Engineers in Training (EIT), which is the classification for an internship in this field. 

Certifications

Certification is not a requirement to become an entry-level automotive engineer, but there are several certifications they can pursue to increase their employability:

Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) License

This license is received after passing an exam that makes you eligible for an internship or Engineer-in-Training program. Thus, it’s a different pathway for employment in engineering than in other industries, which usually don’t require certification to pursue an internship. 

Professional Engineering (PE) License

Earning this license allows you to pursue more opportunities to advance your career within this field and be promoted to a managerial level. You’ll need to meet the state requirement for work experience, which is usually four years to earn this license. With a PE license, you can manage other engineers, approve projects and render services that directly impact the public.

Certified Reliability Engineer (CRE)

This certification is for professionals who know the principles of evaluating performance within this field. Also, professionals with this certification can predict the safety of mechanical components and analysis as to how they can be maintained over time. Previous work experience is required to receive this certification and you must pass an oral or written exam.

Skills

Automotive engineers need various skills to succeed, including: 

Creativity

Automotive engineers are responsible for designing and creating mechanical frameworks for vehicle machinery, so creativity in coming up with these ideas is a valued skill for the dealership to help their sales staff communicate each model to their customers. 

Math skills

Engineers have to apply the skills they gain during their education, such as calculus, statistics and other mathematical concepts to help them design and fix problems they encounter in the projects they work on. 

Mechanical skills

Understanding mechanical processes assists automotive engineers in communicating with other engineers to complete projects, such as the developing of necessary test features and the evaluation of why products fail or meet expectations of the staff. 

Problem-solving

Engineers must have the ability to solve problems that arise when building and testing vehicles. Their knowledge of engineering principles should enable them to create and design products that solve issues in earlier models. 

Organization and time management

Engineers work on multiple projects and juggle tasks based on priority, so learning key habits such as organizing a calendar, working with a project management system and taking quality notes are essential to finishing tasks correctly and on time. Having robust time management skills enhances the possibility of having the creative freedom to focus on the design and technical aspects of the role.

Automotive engineer work environment

Automotive engineers usually work full time in an office setting and encounter factors such as:  

  • Sitting at a desk for a period of time 

  • Using computers to help work with team members, generate solutions and test product functionality

  • Working with other engineers inside and outside of the company to solve vehicle problems

How to become an automotive engineer

If you are interested in automotive engineering, consider following these steps to pursue it as a career path:

1. Pursue relevant education.

Look for programs aligned with mechanical engineering. There aren’t many schools that offer automotive engineering as a degree, but the education you get as a mechanical engineering major gives you a better chance at earning an entry-level position as an automotive engineer. Also, you should consider graduate school or a Ph.D. program if you’re interested in research and development opportunities or teaching. 

3. Obtain relevant field experience.

Internships are a great way for you to get introduced to the engineering field and learn transferable skills that can be applied to automotive engineering positions. Also, if you’re in high school, you can attend engineering summer camps to shadow them and study their field of work. 

4. Earn a Fundamentals of Engineering License (FE).

This step lays the foundation for you to begin your engineering career. Once you pass the exam, you can begin working as a mechanical engineer. Professional experience as a mechanical engineer can position you to apply to an automotive engineer position when it becomes available.

5. Earn a Professional Engineering License (PE).

After gaining four years of work experience and obtaining your FE, consider obtaining this license to gain more training that you can put on your resume. An engineer willing to take a leadership role is critical to the success of your team. 

6. Prepare your resume.

Include the highest level of education you have in addition to your Fundamentals of Engineering license. Meeting qualifications for posted jobs make you stand out when applying for these positions. For past internships or other work opportunities, know where you worked, your achievements and the dates you worked there.

7. Apply to automotive engineering positions.

Select positions that are relevant to your career goals. You should understand that starting as a mechanical engineer is a likely starting point before working in automotive engineering. Consider your years of experience and duties performed to see if you’re looking to move into this field or branch off into a different industry.

Automotive engineer job description example

Quigley Vehicles is searching for an automotive engineer to help create, design and roll out a new product line of vehicles. Engineers will be primarily responsible for outlining the presentation and testing the vehicles’ performance upon creation. You will report to a senior automotive engineer, and will also assist in determining if vehicles comply with federal environmental regulations on vehicles and cost estimates for customers purchasing vehicles at local dealerships. Engineers must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year university and a previous internship. Professional experience in mechanical engineering is preferred. Additionally, they must exhibit impeccable time management skills, have the ability to multi-task and possess a working knowledge of project management to streamline the production of department projects.

Related careers

  • Mechanical engineer

  • Project engineer

  • Systems engineer

  • Manufacturing engineer

  • Electrical engineer

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