Automotive engineer

An automotive engineer could...

Create a new dirt bike model with faster speeds and a better suspension. Dirtbike Use computer simulations to help create cars that protect passengers during a crash. Computer simulation of test dummy sitting in a car
Design and test a new generation of hybrid cars with the latest fuel-efficiency technology. Hybrid car on display Incorporate new technologies, like LED lights, into a car's design. LED car lights
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Key Facts & Information

Overview Cars are an important part of our daily lives. We depend on them to perform everyday tasks—getting to and from school and work, sports practice, grocery shopping, and various errands—and also to keep us safe while doing so. Our cars can keep us cool or warm while we drive them, and they even help us find our way. The automobile is made up of complicated braking, steering, and electrical systems, in addition to the engine and drive train. All of these systems require a tremendous amount of engineering, which is the responsibility of automotive engineers. They develop the components and systems that make our vehicles efficient and safe.
Key Requirements Aptitude for methodical thought process, ability to visualize projects from concept to design, love for cars and bikes, ingenuity, good communication skills
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, physics, geometry, algebra II, calculus; if available, computer science, engineering drafting
Median Salary
Automotive Engineer
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)
  • Farid Ahmed-Zaid is part of the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership and looks forward to the day when cars can speak to each other.
  • The Tesla Motors Model S is an all-electric luxury sports sedan. This vehicle has the capability to go up to 300 miles per charge. Read this interview with Peter Rawlinson, Tesla Motors' chief engineer, in which he discusses the design and engineering of the Model S.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Education and Training

The minimum degree required for an entry-level position as an automotive engineer is a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or related engineering field. However, due to the complexity of the various electrical systems of cars, many employers prefer applicants with a master's degree. Applicants with a PhD teach at the university level or conduct high-level research.

Most engineering programs involve a concentration of study in an engineering specialty, along with courses in both mathematics and the physical and life sciences. Many programs also include courses in general engineering. A design course, sometimes accompanied by a computer or laboratory class or both, is part of the curriculum of most programs. Often, general courses not directly related to engineering, such as those in the social sciences or humanities, also are required.

Admissions requirements for undergraduate engineering schools include a solid background in mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus) and science (biology, chemistry, and physics), in addition to courses in English, social studies, and humanities. Bachelor's degree programs in engineering typically are designed to last four years, but many students find that it takes between four and five years to complete their studies. In a typical four-year college curriculum, the first two years are spent studying mathematics, basic sciences, introductory engineering, humanities, and social sciences. In the last two years, most courses are in engineering, usually with a concentration in one specialty. Some programs offer a general engineering curriculum; students then specialize on the job or in graduate school.

Other Qualifications

Automotive engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail oriented. They need a basic familiarity with engines, drive trains, and the other systems of a car or motorcycle. They should be able to work as part of a team and communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication abilities are becoming increasingly important as engineers interact more frequently with specialists, such as attorneys, in a wide range of fields outside engineering.

Nature of the Work

The automobile, or any motorized vehicle, is such a fixture in most of our lives that we take for granted that someone designed it for maximum efficiency and minimum cost. Automotive engineers develop components and systems for vehicles (cars, motorcycles, and heavy vehicles) that provide great customer value and satisfaction at an affordable price while increasing their employers' profitability. Automotive engineers create new or improved designs for all parts of a vehicle using computer-aided design technology. They are responsible for analyzing and providing creative and technically-feasible solutions to all problems that are encountered during the production of the vehicle.

Automotive engineers can be involved in the entire process of creating a car, from initial concept to testing of the finished product. They are concerned with the safety, fuel efficiency, and comfort of their designs. Automotive engineers can specialize in a particular area, such as structural design, exhaust systems, and engines, and they can also work with focus groups and market specialists to determine what customers would like in their vehicles.

If customers return cars or motorcycles due to some kind of failure, automotive engineers work on failure-analysis teams to figure out the root cause of the problem and develop solutions. Some engineers work exclusively on testing vehicles and components to ensure safety and efficiency.

Work Environment

Automotive engineers work for engineering consulting firms, automobile companies, and in the manufacturing and transportation industries. The average workweek for an automotive engineer is between 40 and 55 hours, but it can be longer as deadlines approach.

Automotive engineers generally work in offices on computers, but they also travel to manufacturing plants to conduct experiments or collect data.

On the Job

  • Conduct or direct system-level automotive testing.
  • Design control systems or algorithms for such purposes as automotive energy management, emissions management, and increased operational safety or performance.
  • Design or analyze automobile systems in areas such as aerodynamics, alternate fuels, ergonomics, hybrid power, brakes, transmissions, steering, calibration, safety, and diagnostics.
  • Alter or modify designs to obtain specified functional and operational performance.
  • Build models for algorithms and control-feature verification testing.
  • Calibrate vehicle systems, including control algorithms and other software systems.
  • Conduct automotive design reviews.
  • Develop calibration and test methodologies or tools.
  • Develop engineering specifications and cost estimates for automotive design concepts.
  • Develop or integrate control-feature requirements.
  • Perform failure, variation, or root-cause analyses.
  • Provide technical direction to other engineers or engineering support personnel.
  • Write, review, or maintain engineering documentation.
  • Conduct research studies to develop new concepts in the field of automotive engineering.
  • Coordinate production activities with other functional units such as procurement, maintenance, and quality control.
  • Develop or implement operating methods and procedures.
  • Establish production or quality-control standards.
  • Prepare and present technical or project status reports.
  • Read current literature, attend meetings or conferences, and network with colleagues to stay abreast of new technology and competitive products.

Companies That Hire Automotive Engineers

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