Automotive engineering is a branch of mechanical engineering that concerns the design, development and manufacture of cars, trucks, motorcycles and other motor vehicles. Automotive engineers also design and test the many subsystems or components that comprise a motorized vehicle.
Very few universities offer a bachelor's degree in automotive engineering. Consequently, many prospective automotive engineers earn a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from a university that also offers specialized courses in automotive engineering. However, there are plenty of universities offer master's degrees in automotive engineering.
High School Preparation
High school students aspiring to become automotive engineers should develop a solid foundation in algebra, geometry, trigonometry and pre-calculus, physics and chemistry. These subjects are central to understanding the core concepts of any engineering discipline. Automotive engineering students need effective oral and written communications skills. Therefore, high school students should strive to do well in language arts classes, such as writing and speech. High school students should take available advanced placement or college classes to help prepare them for university engineering coursework and get a head start on building college credits.
Choosing an Engineering School
Engineering students should choose a college or university that is recognized by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). In evaluating an automotive engineer job applicant, some employers consider the reputation of the engineering school that the undergraduate attended more than any other factor. However, most employers focus more on the undergraduate's grades and amount of his or her hands-on experience. Consequently, any college or university that promotes national design and racing competitions in which the student gains hands-on experience would be a good choice. Students should also look for internships or other opportunities that will force them to apply coursework to real-life situations. Over time, the school will not be as important as the experience and skills the engineering the undergraduate offers.
Automotive Engineering Degrees
Because not many schools offer a bachelor’s degree program in automotive engineering, most aspiring automotive students enter a mechanical engineering program. This is because automotive engineering is an offshoot of mechanical engineering and therefore, many of the classes are the same. However, some schools offer mechanical engineering programs that include automotive engineering courses such as:
- Automobile dynamics
- Automotive electronics
- Engine parts
- Diesel engine theory
- Alternative energy sources
- Fuel cell systems
- Powertrain dynamics
It usually takes four years to complete a bachelor's degree in engineering. During the last year, the student must finish a design project, either alone or with other students. After graduation, the new engineer must work under the supervision of a licensed professional engineer for a certain number of years, depending on the state, and pass and Engineer-In-Training exam and Professional Engineers exam to become a licensed professional engineer.
A master's degree in automotive engineering is not necessary to work in the field, but such a degree will give students specialized automotive engineering knowledge and skills. Moreover, master's degree programs offer research opportunities for students. It takes about two years to complete a master's degree program in automotive engineering.
- Design and manufacturing
- Energy and environment
- Noise and vibration
- Dynamics and control
- Electronics and computer software
To earn a master's degree, the student must satisfy the university's thesis requirements and/or complete a final project.
The few universities that offer online automotive engineering degrees do so only at the master’s degree level. The student gains only theoretical knowledge from an online master's degree. The student does not receive any hands-on experience, which can be important to landing a job in automotive engineering. The online programs assume that the student received hands-on experience while obtaining the bachelor's degree. Therefore, online master's degree programs in automotive engineering are meant for the working automotive engineer.
Average Automotive Engineering Salary
In 2011, automotive engineers earned an average income of $117,600 in 2011. This was a 10 percent increase from the 2010 median salary of $107,000, according to SAE International.
Associations for Automotive Engineers
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) provide helpful information about scholarships and financial aid, design and racing competitions and networking opportunities. Automotive engineering students should consider participating in SAE’s “Collegiate Design Series.” These competitions are great opportunities for students to apply their book knowledge to the design, building and testing of an actual motor vehicle. Additionally, students can show off their talents to recruiters for prospective employers.