Complete Guide: How To Become an Automotive Engineer

Updated 25 July 2023

Automotive engineers are professionals who help to create automobiles and vehicles that people use in their daily lives. It's through their innovative designs and deep understanding of complex engineering concepts that automobiles are safe, reliable and long-lasting. Working as an automotive engineer may be a viable career path to choose if you are someone who likes the idea of designing and developing new vehicles. In this article, we discuss what automotive engineers do, explore four steps on how to become an automotive engineer and review some FAQs about the profession.

What does an automotive engineer do?

An automotive engineer, sometimes called a car engineer or motor vehicle engineer, is a type of vehicle engineer who designs, develops and sets the standards for producing automotive vehicles. They help to create a wide variety of vehicles, like cars, buses, vans, motorbikes and mopeds. When it comes to developing a new automotive project, auto engineers often take on the responsibility of fulfilling just one part of the engineering process and may have a specialisation that they focus on. Some may specialise in designing the components and parts, while others focus on conducting research and testing.

Auto engineers work on the development of mechanical systems and use computer-aided design methods to help them determine the best materials to use for a vehicle and how they can improve the speed, safety and durability of vehicles. Before reaching a final design, they generally create prototypes to test their ideas on.

Related: What is automotive engineering?

How to become an automotive engineer in 4 steps

Follow these four steps to becoming an automotive engineer:

1. Get a degree

Getting a degree is the first step to becoming an automotive engineer. A university degree teaches you the fundamental knowledge you need about automotive engineering concepts, practices and technologies. As you research schools and university programs, try to consider the subjects and courses that they offer. Some of the most useful degree programs are automotive engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, physics, computer science and any other related engineering-focused degree. Most entry-level engineering positions require at least a Bachelor's degree.

2. Join an apprenticeship

Consider joining an apprenticeship, which is a programme where you can gain practical experience by working with an employer while also studying to complete your qualifications. Many apprenticeships last for a year or more, and their purpose is to provide you with new skills and knowledge to help you succeed into the next stage of the apprentice or as you continue towards your career. As an apprentice, you can expect to follow a programme that is nationally recognised. Aside from using this opportunity to earn your university degree, you might also use it to gain GCSE and A-level equivalent qualifications.

Related: Mechanic Apprentice Job Profile

3. Create or update your CV

Create or update a CV that clearly illustrates why you are qualified for the automotive engineer position. You can do this by writing a CV that details your university education, apprenticeships and work history. Try to ensure that the information in your CV correlates to automotive engineering. When you include your skills, consider diversifying them by including soft and hard skills. Soft skills are personal traits like teamwork, communication and being detail-oriented. Hard skills are learned capabilities that have practical applications, such as computer engineering and model design.

Related: ​Is the automotive aftermarket a good career path? (With jobs)

4. Apply to an automotive engineer position

Apply for automotive engineering roles that you believe you have the qualifications and capability to succeed in. Consider an entry-level automotive engineering job to begin your career, as these positions often have simpler expectations as you continue to develop your capabilities. If you participated in an automotive engineering apprenticeship for a few years, then you may be able to transition into a full-time position through that programme. Also, consider speaking with lecturers and counsellors at your university and using online job platforms to help you find the auto engineer position that's suitable to your career goals.

Important skills for an automotive engineer

Here are some essential skills that automotive engineers need:

Technical knowledge and problem solving

As an automotive engineer, having advanced knowledge of technical concepts is essential for helping to solve problems that arise and use data to make new solutions when an issue arises during the development process. For example, since auto engineers are generally responsible for designing and testing out the safety features of their creations, they should know how all the technical components work so they can make accurate adjustments to their designs in case the safety measures put in place are not sufficient.

Having technical knowledge also means that they can prioritise their work to ensure they meet their deadlines. Auto engineers can also use their technical expertise and problem-solving skills to help their colleagues overcome challenges and optimise their work performance as well.

Related: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples


Aside from understanding the functional aspects of automotive engineering, these professionals must have creativity as well. Creativity leads to innovation, which allows them to develop new vehicles and then design them by creatively thinking about their properties, like the shape, size, materials and engine. The physical appeal of a vehicle is important to consumers, so an automotive engineer should be able to create aesthetically pleasing designs. They should also be able to determine the specific measurements of their creative designs and stay updated on current automotive trends.

Related: Best Practices To Boost Your Creative Thinking Skills


Communication is an important skill for automotive engineers because they often work with many other professionals on a project and it's essential for them to be able to communicate with these individuals professionally and accurately. Not only do they need to communicate verbally, but written communication is just as important since they need to share their design notes, technical guidelines and other forms of information about the vehicle. They also have to know the best way to effectively translate and simplify their complex engineering material for their colleagues who may not understand it as well as they do.

Related: What Are Communication Skills?

Product development

Product development is the complete process of conceptualising a product and ensuring that it goes through every stage until completed. Automotive engineers need to know relevant product development practices so they can accurately track the progress of their work. They have to know how to create and follow the steps of their automotive designs and ensure that they create designs in a way that other professionals can understand them as well. It's important they know how to support all phases of the automotive development process and can create quick solutions to optimise the workflow.

FAQS about how to become an automotive engineer

Here are some frequently asked questions about how to become an automotive engineer:

What is the work environment of an automotive engineer?

Automotive engineers primarily work in the manufacturing and transportation industries. They often find employment with businesses like automobile companies, engineering consulting firms and vehicular manufacturers. The majority of their complex technical work is done on computers, so they mostly work in offices, but may occasionally travel to manufacturing sites to perform automotive experiments or collect important data for their work. They typically work in teams on the development of a new automotive product and can expect to work 40 hours per day, though overtime may be necessary to meet deadlines.

How long does it take to become an automotive engineer?

The time it takes to become an automotive engineer can vary based on your personal circumstances, like the time you have to commit to your education. While there is no set amount of time required, it can generally take two to four years to become an automotive engineer. The sooner you get through university and other learning pursuits like certifications and apprenticeships, the more likely you are to begin working as an auto engineer.

What are the advancement opportunities for an automotive engineer?

Once you have established yourself as an automotive engineer, there are some growth opportunities to consider. If you want to stay in auto engineering, then you may be able to advance to a consultant, automotive design specialist or some other kind of hybrid engineering role. There are also options outside of auto engineering and you may want to pursue a managerial role in your company, which is a viable option as well. You can also transition into freelance or self-employment auto engineering work.


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