Automotive engineering involves a combination of different engineering fields, which are applied in the design, development and production of automotive vehicles, such as cars, motorbikes, mopeds, lorries, vans and buses.
When it comes to building ‘sweet new rides’ or ‘gnarly hogs’ (sorry, it seems that I turned into a stereotypical character from an American teen movie for a second there), various engineering disciplines play an integral role in the process, including electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, structural engineering, materials science, software engineering, hardware engineering and safety engineering.
Automotive engineers tend to specialise in a particular aspect of the entire engineering process. Some people focus on the design of individual components; some concentrate on testing and research; some focus on the development of mechanical systems and the others oversee the final production activity.
You might be designing and modelling different car parts using computer aided design (CAD) techniques, making vital decisions about what materials should be used to enhance durability, speed and safety, and putting together prototypes for the testing phase.
Following the testing process, you will be tweaking designs, making amendments and developing mechanical systems based on your scientific knowledge and technical nous.
Once the design has been finalised and optimised, you might oversee the production cycle, making vital adjustments where necessary.
Primary employers in this line of work are:
- Automobile companies
- Manufacturers of individual car components
- Companies that produce automotive accessories and consumables such as tyres, electronic/digital dashboard makers
- Concept automobile design firms
- Motorsport teams
- Automotive consultancy firms.
Salary & benefits
Graduate trainee salaries start at around £25,000, increasing to around £35,000 with an additional four to five years of experience.
Automotive engineers with five to ten years of experience can earn between £35,000 and £50,000, whilst senior professionals can earn up to £70,000.
The design and development stage usually involves working regular office hours, while testing and building the first concept car or model may involve working extra hours from time to time, irrespective of the time or day of the week.
Automotive engineers employed in the motorsport industry usually work long hours over weekends during the racing season, whilst the rest of the year is spent engaging in constant development and testing activities.
To break into the automotive engineering profession, you will usually need a degree in mechanical, automotive, motorsport, structural or electrical engineering, computer science, physics or another relevant engineering subject.
Candidates may also enter this line of work at a lower technician level via an apprenticeship or with a relevant HND or foundation degree.
Previous work experience, a genuine interest in automotive engineering and an aptitude for design, innovation and analytical reasoning are also vital if you want to be successful.
Training & progression
Graduate training programmes are the main point of entry for graduates. These tend to last approximately one to two years, depending on the employer.
These schemes provide new recruits with on-the-job training and help them work towards achieving incorporated or chartered engineer status.
Once you’re established in the automotive engineering industry, you could move into consulting, specialist automotive design or new hybrid engineering roles.
Alternatively, you might look to take on a managerial role within your organisation. Self-employment or freelance work is also a viable alternative.