What is automotive engineering? (With career info)

Updated 4 May 2023

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

The transport sector relies heavily on automotive engineering. Automotive engineers assist in the development of new vehicles and ensure that existing vehicles remain safe and efficient. This remains a research-intensive discipline of engineering that demands individuals develop into well-educated people who remain devoted to improving their automotive engineering expertise. In this article, we answer what is automotive engineering, explore how to begin your career as an automotive engineer and the most popular occupations in the sector.

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What is automotive engineering?

If you're looking at a potential career in the car industry, you may be wondering 'What is automotive engineering?'. Automotive engineering is a subset of vehicle engineering that involves applying, manufacturing and constructing many types of vehicles. This branch of engineering entails the use of mathematics in the development and manufacturing of automobiles. Safety engineering, car electronics, quality assurance and fuel emissions make up some of the technical disciplines in this industry.

Related: Engineering skills: definition and examples

What to expect as an automotive engineer

Automotive engineers collaborate with other technicians to improve a vehicle's mechanical performance, looks and software. Developing and testing different components of cars, such as fuel technologies and security systems, make up some of the common tasks of an automotive engineer. They also use engineering design technology to come up with and develop new car models or systems.

How to become an automotive engineer?

If you're considering becoming an automotive engineer it's useful to understand the requirements of the career, to determine whether or not the role is suitable for you. Steps to become an automotive engineer include:

1. Complete your education

You require a degree in automotive engineering or production and manufacturing engineering to work as an automotive engineer. Choosing a degree that a professional organisation approves of can assist you in becoming an associated or chartered engineer later on. If you hold a foundation degree or an HND (Higher National Diploma), you're able to work your way up the job ladder. You're likely to start as a technician and then advance by obtaining further credentials. Some businesses even provide financial assistance to help you pay for your study.

2. Apply for internships

Consider enrolling in an apprenticeship, which refers to a programme that allows you to get hands-on experience while learning to fulfil your qualifications. Many apprenticeships span a year or longer, and their goal includes teaching you new skills and information helping you towards the next stage of your profession. As an intern, you can expect to complete a nationally recognised curriculum.

3. Apply for roles

Look for automotive engineering positions where you possess the necessary qualifications and experience. Consider starting your career in automotive engineering with an entry-level role, as these positions frequently have lower requirements while you build your skills. If you completed a few years of an automotive engineering internship, you're able to move into a full-time career through that route. Consider talking with professors and mentors at your university and use online job boards to discover an automotive engineer position that accommodates your needs.

Related: How To Become an Automotive Engineer

Types of automotive engineering careers

Have you ever examined a car closely enough to see the real intricacy of each component that goes into making one? From the car's sleek, aerodynamic shape to the semiconductor within the electronics that control the vehicle and the profusion of pieces in between, it's a great illustration of every practice of engineering in action. The automobile business provides a wide range of prospects for engineers. Types of automotive engineering careers include the following:

1. Test engineer

National average salary: £36,686 per year

Primary duties: During the development process, test engineers collaborate with all departments of engineering. Working with design engineers throughout the initial stages of development helps to test whether early prototypes perform correctly. As the product nears completion, test engineers collaborate with the designers to ensure it meets all of the demanding standards for release. From the finest components to the whole car assembly, test engineers collaborate with process line engineers to check if the items they manufacture function as planned. Test engineers and quality engineers also collaborate to review the results ensuring that they fulfil the necessary quality standards.

Related: What are hard skills and how do they differ from soft skills?

2. Robotics engineers

National average salary: £39,005 per year

Primary duties: Robotics engineers work on the initial design and manufacturing processes, while also supporting everyday manufacturing operations by debugging robots that malfunction or perform poorly. Engineers in robotics examine design drawings and evaluate how robots develop to complete the assembly process. Robotics engineers go through the pick-up and handling locations that new components have and any special tooling that's necessary to handle a part successfully. They also develop the computer software that directs the robot on how to complete the assembly procedure after designing the components.

Related: How to become a robotics engineer (duties, skills and salary)

3. Measurement lab technician

Average salary: £22,218 per year

Primary duties: In the field of automotive engineering people sometimes overlook the job of measurement lab technicians until engineers are certifying a part, at which point everyone requires their help. When an automotive engineer qualifies a new part for distribution or a production engineer validates a new process, they may measure the final part to ensure that it meets the design and tolerance standards on the print. The measurement lab technician's responsibilities include conducting measurements on the sample components, computing the statistical process capability index (Cpk) and reporting the results to the designer for approval.

Related: How To Become a Lab Technician

Important skills to help you become a successful automotive engineer

Automobile engineers create automobiles, motorbikes and other motorised vehicles. They're in charge of developing, testing and supervising the manufacture of these cars and their subsystems, and apply their expertise to the creation of safe, dependable and functioning cars. The skills you require to become a successful automotive engineer are:

1. Mathematical skills

Automotive engineers work under the supervision of certified professional engineers for a few years after graduation. They put their academic knowledge to use while also honing the technical skills they learned in school through lab work, internships and creative projects. A key talent for careers in automobile engineering is the ability to do maths. They apply mathematics, for example, to estimate the stresses that power trains and other systems can endure. To effectively develop engines, electrical components and other automotive parts it's important for them to comprehend and apply chemistry and physics concepts also.

Related: How to highlight math skills on your CV (with examples)

2. Communication skills

Since they regularly interact with other members of the team, great listening skills and an ability to work effectively with others is vital. Effective communication skills remain particularly necessary for automotive engineers since they communicate knowledge to colleagues and managers through presentations and official reports. An automotive engineer in charge of a production plant, for instance, efficiently organises and directs the work of a team of people, so the ability to manage colleagues is crucial.

Related: How To Improve Your Communication Skills

3. Creativity

It's important for automotive engineers to draw upon their creative skills while working with the functional aspects of car engineering. Creativity leads to invention, allowing them to create new vehicles by thinking imaginatively about qualities such as shape and engine. Consumers value a vehicle's aesthetic appeal, thus it's important for an automotive engineer to design aesthetically acceptable designs. It's also vital for them to know how to calculate the exact dimensions of their imaginative concepts and keep up with current automobile trends.

Related: Why Creativity Skills are Important and How to Develop Them

4. Technical knowledge

As an automotive engineer, you need a strong understanding of technical principles to help you solve problems and utilise data to come up with new solutions when a problem develops throughout the development process. Since car engineers remain in charge of creating and testing the safety elements of their products, they understand how all of the technological components operate.

What are the working hours of an automotive engineer?

You're likely to work Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, with the possibility of occasional overtime. Shift work, involving nights and weekends may sometimes be required. To accommodate meetings and deadlines, positions in the racing sector demand weekend and after-hours labour. Once you've gained enough experience, you're able to work on a contract basis and establish your hours.

Career outlook

The majority of work is performed in an office, a research institute, or a manufacturing factory. Based on your position, you may be able to alternate between desk and workshop. Although the Midlands still have the majority of jobs, there remain numerous enterprises that provide specialised services to the automobile sector.

In southern England, several motorsport businesses operate research and development centres. During your business day, you travel to different factories or perform outside fieldwork. This sector may also offer the opportunity to travel internationally.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌


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