What is Automotive Engineering? Career Description, Salary and Requirements

Updated May 26, 2023

A man looks at a screen projecting an image of a car with boxes labeling its different parts.

Automotive engineering is an important component of the automotive industry. Automotive engineers help to design new vehicles and ensure that existing cars are up to standard and work efficiently. This field of engineering is research-intensive and requires professionals to be educated and committed in their automotive engineering specialties. In this article, we explore what an automotive engineer does, the steps you can take to pursue this career path and the most common jobs in the automotive engineering industry.

What is automotive engineering?

Automotive engineering is a branch of vehicle engineering that focuses on the application, design and manufacturing of various types of automobiles. This field of engineering involves the direct application of mathematics in the design and production of vehicles. Engineering disciplines that may be practiced in this field include safety engineering, vehicle electronics, quality management and fuel economy and emissions. Automotive engineering may also be referred to as "automobile engineering".

What do automotive engineers do?

Automotive engineers, also referred to as "automobile engineers", work with other engineers to enhance the technical performance, aesthetics and software of vehicles. Common responsibilities of an automotive engineer include designing and testing various components of vehicles, including fuel technologies and safety systems. They may also come up with and design new vehicle models or vehicle systems using engineer design software such as ThinkDesign Engineering.

Common duties of an automotive engineer include:

  • Preparing design specifications

  • Researching, developing and producing new vehicles or vehicle subsystems

  • Using computerized models to determine the behavior and efficiency of a vehicle

  • Investigating instances of product failure

  • Preparing cost estimates for current or new vehicles

  • Assessing the safety and environmental components of an automotive project

  • Creating plans and drawings for new vehicle products

Automobile engineers may choose to specialize in a specific sector of this field, such as fluid mechanics, aerodynamics or control systems. The production of an automobile often involves a team of automotive engineers who each specialize in a particular section of vehicular engineering rather than just one engineer working alone. The work of these engineers is often broken down into three components: design, research and development and production.

How to become an automotive engineer

The following are the steps you should take to pursue a career in automotive engineering:

1. Obtain a bachelor's degree

Most automotive engineering positions require a minimum of a four-year bachelor's degree. Many colleges do not offer bachelor's degrees that are specific to automotive engineering, so aspiring automotive engineers should consider majoring in mechanical engineering or a related field. Most mechanical engineering programs offer an option to concentrate on automotive engineering.

2. Get an internship

During or after the completion of a Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering, individuals are often required to participate in an internship with an automotive supplier or other employers in the automotive industry. Internships provide hands-on experience that is typically required by future employers. Many internships offer interns the opportunity to specialize in a specific area of focus such as robotics.

3. Apply for employment

After completing a degree and gaining hands-on experience, you will likely be eligible for entry-level automotive engineer positions. You may be required to complete a training program upon being hired.

4. Become licensed

Many automotive engineers will pursue licensure in their states to be eligible for more advanced positions such as government work and consulting jobs. Each state will vary in its requirements for licensure but passing one or more exams and having a set amount of work experience is often required to be eligible for an automotive engineering license.

5. Consider a graduate degree

A master's degree or higher is not required to work as an automotive engineer; however, pursuing a graduate degree can provide advanced training and knowledge and lead to further career advancement in this industry.

Related: Learn About Being a Mechanical Engineer

Types of automotive engineering jobs

Individuals who have earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering or a related field are eligible to enter the workforce as engineers. The following are common jobs that an aspiring automotive engineer may pursue:

Automotive Engineering Technician

These professionals assist automotive engineers in various ways, including by conducting vehicle-related tests, inspecting automobiles, collecting data and designing automobile prototypes. They may also test automobile parts and analyze them for efficiency and effectiveness. This position is ideal for individuals who are just completing their degree and are looking to gain hands-on experience in the automotive engineering industry.

Automotive Design Engineer

This type of engineer is primarily concerned with improving or designing various aspects of a motor vehicle. An understanding of both the aesthetic qualities of a vehicle as well as the materials and engineering needed to design it are imperative for these professionals.

Related: Learn About Being a Design Engineer

Automobile Designer

An automobile designer is a professional who researches and designs new vehicles. These individuals focus on creating new car designs that incorporate the latest safety and operation technologies, meet necessary regulations and offer consumers a comfortable and aesthetically-pleasing product. They may design any road vehicle, including cars, trucks, motorcycles and buses.

What skills are needed to work in the automotive engineering field?

To be a successful automotive engineer, you will need a number of both hard and soft skills. These include:

Data analysis skills

Automotive engineers are responsible for performing and analyzing various automobile tests. These professionals must be able to efficiently and effectively read and interpret data to improve vehicle performance and production.

Problem-solving skills

Engineers in the automotive industry must be able to think creatively and originally to solve specific vehicle-related problems and create new solutions.

Technical skills

Automobile engineers must have a variety of technical skills related to this industry, including strong working knowledge of automobile maintenance and function.

Commercial awareness

These professionals must stay abreast of industry trends as well as the latest in automobile technology and regulations.

Teamwork skills

Many automobile engineers work as a team to complete projects. This requires professionals to have strong teamwork skills and know how to effectively work with other individuals on a daily basis.

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