What Does an Auto Engineer Do? And How to Become One

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 19 January 2023

Published 23 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An auto engineer works with a team of designers and engineers to develop brake technologies, engines, fuel systems, transmissions and other vehicle parts. Auto engineers, or automotive engineers, combine mechanical engineering, aerodynamics and fluid dynamics to make vehicles more efficient.

Discovering the answer to "what does an auto engineer do?" can help those passionate about cars and mechanical systems choose to pursue a career in the field. In this article, we discuss what automotive engineers do, how to become one, the skills they use, their average salary and the environment they work in.

What does an auto engineer do?

Automotive engineers use computer programs and software to design and test vehicle components to enhance efficiency, reduce operating costs and improve performance. They're responsible for incorporating new technologies into mobility machines and vehicles. Through research and development, automotive engineers focus on improving many areas such as safety, security and visual appearance.

Some automotive engineers work for luxury and performance car brands and focus on improving speed and safety, and other modern engineers consider sustainability and efficiency. The work of automotive engineers can be categorised into three segments: design, research and development and production. Typical responsibilities for automotive engineers include:

  • Researching, developing and producing vehicle and mobility components

  • Understanding project scopes and producing cost estimates

  • Performing vehicle analysis on vehicle characteristics and performance

  • Creating prototypes of vehicles and their components and implementing alterations as necessary

  • Collaborating with other engineers and designers and communicating with clients on concerns

  • Evaluating the sustainability of developments

  • Enhancing environmental and safety features of projects

  • Delivering reports and presentations on research and final concepts

  • Developing both conventional and innovative test procedures

  • Assisting in bringing new products to market

  • Modelling vehicle components on computer programs and studying the behaviour in different conditions

  • Analysing and interpreting technical data to develop solutions from the insights.

How to become an automotive engineer

Automotive engineering is a technical field where professionals have completed work experience and have advanced education in engineering. Many automotive engineers have a Bachelor of Engineering degree, and others further their studies with a postgraduate degree. Automotive engineers are required to undertake a work experience placement before they enter the field. Below you can find a step-by-step guide to becoming an automotive engineer:

1. Complete a bachelor's degree

Aspiring automotive engineers can complete a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) or a Bachelor of Engineering (Automotive Engineering), offered at many universities. This degree may include an initial year of foundational engineering knowledge, providing general engineering principle knowledge. The remainder of the course may then focus on mechanical engineering topics relevant to automotive engineering. This course typically takes four years of full-time study to complete, including a required work experience placement of up to 12 weeks.

Through your work experience, you can work for an automotive company, assisting them with their research and development projects. It provides you with the opportunity to apply your theoretical knowledge in practice on real-life projects. Industry leaders may also supervise you, which provides the chance to develop connections and build a professional network, possibly even securing a job after graduating.

2. Consider a master's degree

Many automotive engineers complete a master's degree in addition to their undergraduate to advance their knowledge or specialise in their expertise. Consider completing a Master of Engineering (Automotive Engineering) at university to learn about advanced automotive design and manufacturing methods. You can learn how to develop innovative solutions using advanced computer-aided programs and experimental tools.

A master's course can also help you develop your understanding of the product life cycle of vehicle components and focus on sustainable design and production processes. You might learn how to incorporate recycled materials, use alternative fuels and light systems, and conduct life cycle assessments. A master's degree offers you a chance to specialise in an area of interest and is a great addition to your resume to increase your job prospects.

3. Become a member of Engineers Australia and IMechE

Engineers Australia is an organisation that supports engineers with training, development and community and promotes engineering. Your university course may require you to become a member of Engineers Australia. If not, joining the department in your respective state or territory can be a great option to support your career development.

Automotive engineers can also become members of The Institute of Mechanical Engineering (IMechE) to gain support and assistance from a specialised community. IMechE works to help mechanical engineers develop their careers and provide networking and training opportunities.

4. Apply for an automotive engineering role

Candidates with an undergraduate or additional postgraduate degree may now be in an excellent position to start applying for automotive engineering positions. Graduate roles can be a great first job in the field as they offer career development, mentoring and supervision while working on real projects and earning a salary. Explore career opportunities in your area using the Indeed job board and searching for automotive engineering positions in your desired location.

Read through the job descriptions and experience levels required by the positions, and alter your resume in accordance with the roles that appeal to you. Include your work experience, studies and achievements in your resume to highlight your suitability for the position. It's also a great idea to explain your career goals and desire to work for the company in a cover letter attached to your application.

What skills does an auto engineer need?

Automotive engineers use a range of hard and soft skills to perform their duties effectively, including:

Problem-solving skills

Engineers generally solve client and industry problems, so they benefit from practical problem-solving skills to achieve their goals. For example, this may include developing a fuel application solution that uses a more sustainable, alternative fuel source. Knowledge of engineering principles can help them overcome these challenges, and critical thinking can help them solve problems more effectively.

Computer skills

Automotive engineers use highly technical and specialised computer programs to model, test and design vehicle components. These engineers can develop these computer skills and knowledge of particular software to succeed in their careers. Often, they also need basic computer literacy to help communicate with others and conduct research for work.

Time management

Automotive engineers might have to meet strict deadlines on their projects and handle multiple tasks simultaneously. Learning how to manage a varied workload and prioritise their time to ensure they complete their assignments efficiently is crucial to their success. Strong organisation and time management skills help them perform their duties and allow other team members to continue working on the project while they manage their own workload.

Creativity and innovation

Designing and creating mechanical components for vehicle machinery requires creativity and innovation. Innovation enables them to develop ideas that help create new efficiencies, performance, safety and appearance. Pairing creative thinking with their industry knowledge puts automotive engineers in an excellent position for a successful career.

Maths and physics skills

Designing components for mobility requires analysing their functionality, and mathematics and physics help them create this analysis. Automotive engineers can build these areas through their university studies, developing their knowledge in calculus, statistics and fluid dynamics, among other areas.

Mechanical skills

Mechanical principles play a key part in creating vehicle components, so automotive engineers rely on their mechanical skills to complete their projects. These skills also help them communicate with their broader team working on other aspects of mobility development. Automotive engineers may frequently rely on mechanical terminology when ordering specific parts or liaising with other mechanics.

Related: What Is a Servicing Engineer? (Including Career Tips)

The average salary of automotive engineers

The national average salary for automotive engineers is $125,528 per year. Their salary depends on their experience level, job position, education and location. Additionally, larger or more profound manufacturing companies may pay a higher salary than smaller or independent organisations.

Auto engineers working for luxury car brands or sports racing can expect to earn a larger than average salary due to the needs of these companies. Those working in the mining and resource industries, developing components for machinery may also make a salary towards the high range for automotive engineers. Others may work with businesses to build more environmentally friendly and sustainable vehicles, where there may be less investment, but the role can offer a rewarding career.

The work environment for automotive engineers

Most automotive engineers work in a combination of work sites, offices and production facilities. They typically work full-time hours, Monday to Friday and primarily work at their desk on a computer. They can visit laboratories to perform tests and work sites to construct prototypes. Automotive engineers working in production may often visit manufacturing plants to oversee production and solve problems.

Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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