Automotive Engineers


Exploring this Job

Participation in science and engineering fairs can be an invaluable experience for a high school student interested in automotive engineering. Through these fairs, students learn to do their own research and applications in a variety of engineering fields. Too often, students leave high school with a strong academic background in mathematics and science, but have never applied their knowledge to the real world. By developing a project for a fair, students begin to learn how to think like an engineer by creatively using their academic knowledge to solve real-life problems.

Talk with an automotive engineer or automotive technician about his or her career. Ask your school counselor to help arrange an interview.

The Job

Fresh off the assembly line, new car models are faster, more powerful, sleeker, and loaded with every imaginable upgrade option. These new designs and improvements are made possible through the work of automotive engineers. Automotive engineers are responsible for the design, development and manufacturing of automotive vehicles. They have been trained in a variety of engineering specialties, including mechanical, industrial, safety, materials, chemical, and electrical engineering. Automotive engineers are involved in the direct building, modification, and testing of vehicles or components. Automotive engineers further specialize in a specific area of automotive production. 

Production engineers and technicians design and test entire systems or single components needed for cars to function. Engineers and technicians at Ford Motor Company, for example, may be responsible for designing a better suspension system for a new sports utility model that allows for a smoother ride comparable to that of a sedan. Production engineers and technicians often work for large automotive manufacturers, but may also find employment with independent engineering firms specializing in automotive components or systems. Hunter Engineering Company, for example, has had great success in designing and patenting many under-car service equipment and systems used by automotive giants such as Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors.

Once a specific system or part is designed, production engineers and technicians must test and validate the design, often using a prototype. They coordinate a team of other engineers, technicians, and suppliers to make necessary alterations in the original plan or material. Identifying cost and manufacturing feasibility is another responsibility of production engineers.

Development engineers and technicians coordinate delivery of a complete automobile to meet the standards of the manufacturer, government, and consumer. They run a battery of tests to ensure the safe and reliable interaction of all systems and components, and implement any needed changes in the design, structure, or materials used. For example, development engineers and technicians working at Nissan may test and tweak the design of a new engine so it gives the driver power and quick acceleration, while at the same time delivering good mileage and fuel efficiency. Development engineers and technicians may also work on the vehicle's attributes such as its weight, aerodynamic drag, transmission systems, and more. They are also concerned with the car's ergonomic design. For example, heating and cooling systems must work efficiently, and have controls that are easy to use and well placed on the instrument panel. Development engineers are also responsible for many of the alternative fuel cars available on the market today, such as hybrid vehicles. Honda is working on a new "clean diesel" engine design that meets EPA restrictions, to be released in the United States within the next few years.

Engineers and technicians working for automotive manufacturers plan and implement the assembly of the entire vehicle. Engineers working for automotive suppliers have the same responsibility for individual parts or systems. Manufacturing engineers oversee the design and layout of the equipment, including the workers assigned to the assembly line. Utilizing the expertise of manufacturing technicians, they also run tests to ensure the systems and components stay true to quality and are able to stand up to normal wear and tear, and make adjustments as needed. The manufacturing and installation of parts—including interior and exterior trim, materials for seats, and body panels—are just some items that fall under the responsibility of manufacturing engineers. They often collaborate with a team of other engineers, technicians, and test drivers.

Today, all types of automotive engineers and technicians use analytic or scientific software, computer-aided CAD software, development environment software, graphics or photo imaging, and robotics to collaborate with automotive designers to produce new and enhanced designs for vehicle structural members, battery-powered electrical and internal combustion engines, transmissions, and other vehicle systems.