An Introduction to Automotive Engineering

A previous article titled “what do mechanical engineers do” touched on the sub-discipline of automotive engineering briefly, since this field is part of the wider scope of mechanical engineering. We will now take a closer, and more detailed look at the automotive discipline, what the job prospects are like, and what the work entails.


Love to tinker and figure things out? Does taking something apart get you fired up? Do you love team work, solving problems, and generally doing great work? Does developing products that break technological barriers excite you?

If you answered yes to the above questions, you are an Automotive Engineer at heart. You will be responsible for the design of autos before they are manufactured. You won’t actually be the designer (that’s the person who decides on the looks and appearance), but you will be responsible for engineering the performance aspects of the vehicle, as well as its components.

You will be responsible for developing or improving the many components of a vehicle: structural, mechanical (engines and transmission), suspensions, and perhaps electrical systems. You are going to help by estimating production costs, reducing those costs, and implement quality assurance initiatives. You are the one that makes sure the car is safe and exceeds federal regulations. You also determine drivability when focusing on new designs.

The automotive industry is currently in a slump, but don’t worry. People are still buying Ferrari, so you know that the automotive engineer will still be employed in the coming decades. The field should turn around and start growing by 2014.

There are worldwide opportunities for automotive engineers. Whether you want to work in exotic locations or good ol’ Middle America, you can do it. Most jobs are located in the USA and centered on the Midwest. You should be able to get a job with Ford, GM or Daimler-Chrysler.

The college you choose will be the most important factor in deterring future employment. All of the colleges are selective, but the best colleges are the hardest to get into by orders of magnitude.

You must be sure to choose a college with great quality of instruction. How are the classes taught? By adjuncts, assistants or true professors? Do these teachers have connections in the auto industry? Do you get real-world lab time or not? What are the internship possibilities?

The most important factor is probably finding a college with professors who have industry connections. This can be hard to determine and the best way is to simply ask.

Your GPA should be high and you should have a heavy focus in math and science to increase the chances of getting a job in engineering. Having taken some vocational studies in mechanics can also be helpful, but not required. High admissions test scores are important but the acceptance committee will focus on you in a rounded sense, not just on one aspect.

The US Department of Labor notes automotive engineering as a sub-specialty of mechanical engineering.