How to Become an Automotive Engineer


Although there are other paths you can take, a very effective route for becoming an automotive engineer is to follow these general steps:


1. Excel in coursework in math, science, electronics and drafting in high school

2. Determine if this occupation is suited to your interests and qualities

3. Pursue a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering (with a concentration in Automotive Engineering Technology if it’s available)

4. Pursue a co-op or internship opportunity as a student

5. Get an entry-level automotive engineer job once you’ve graduated 

6. Get licensed as a Professional Engineer

7. Move into roles of greater pay and responsibility as you gain experience and confidence 


Below we've expanded on these points, to give you a more complete idea of what you'll need to begin a career as an automotive engineer in the United States or Canada, starting with the education you'll need.



What Education Will I Need?

The minimum education required for an entry-level position as an automotive engineer is a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering (with a concentration in automotive engineering technology if available). Some employers prefer applicants with a master's degree in mechanical engineering/automotive engineering, due to the complexity of the various electrical systems of vehicles.





What is an Automotive Engineer?

Automotive engineers apply engineering principles to the design, manufacture and operation of automobiles, motorcycles, buses, trucks and other motor vehicles. They may specialize in any stage of the motor manufacturing process, from the initial vehicle designs through to the final production stages. Here’s a closer look at what the work in these three main areas involves:


Design: Turning ideas into blueprints for development and testing, while taking into account safety, cost-effectiveness, environmental impact and aesthetics.


Development: Building and testing prototypes using computer simulations and physical models to assess the strengths, weaknesses, performance and safety of components.


Production: Involves planning the production run, which includes redesigning machine tools, equipment and processes to make new parts, monitoring costs and production schedules, and overseeing quality control.



What Do They Do?

Although their duties can vary from job to job based on a variety of factors, automotive engineers are generally responsible for performing the following tasks:


• Researching, designing and developing machinery and systems for automobiles

• Studying the environmental and energy consumption related aspects of the project

• Inspecting vehicles and arranging for tests

• Liaising with suppliers and deal with supply chain management issues

• Supervising technicians, technologists and other engineers

• Reviewing and approving designs

• Building prototypes of components

• Developing test procedures and conducting tests using software packages as well as physical testing methods

• Managing budgets and schedules for individual projects



What Courses Should I Take in High School?

You can begin preparations for this career while you’re in high school by taking advanced coursework in areas such as calculus, physics, chemistry, drafting and electronics. Excelling in these areas will help you develop necessary skills and competencies and will help you qualify for mechanical engineering degree programs.



Will I Need Work Experience to Enter This Profession?

Most “engineer-in-training” roles (entry-level engineering jobs) don’t require any work experience above what you gain as part of your internship or co-op work placement. Mid and senior-level roles however, often require 3-5 years of experience working in lower level roles, with progressive amounts of responsibility in those roles. Further advancement will also require Professional Engineer licensure. 



What Licensure/Certification Will I Need?

You will need to be licensed as a Professional Engineer (“PE” - United States; “P.Eng.” - Canada) in order to exercise direct control of a public project and to supervise other engineers and engineering technicians. You will also need to have the PE/P.Eng. designation in order to sell your own engineering services publicly. 


Please Note: You won't need to have the Professional Engineer designation to be hired on as an engineer-in-training, which involves working under the supervision of a licensed engineer.



How Do I Become Licensed as a Professional Engineer?

Licensing requirements typically involve completion of an accredited engineering degree, completion of a set number of supervised working hours, and passing an exam. However, these requirements can vary by region, so please contact your provincial/territorial/state engineering association/licensing body for the full licensing requirements.





What Traits Do I Need? 

If you have the following traits, you should be a good fit for this line of work:


• You’re creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail oriented

• You have a natural aptitude, and interest in math, physics and electronics 

• You have a basic familiarity with engines, drive trains, and the other systems of a car or motorcycle

• You’re interested in working with diverse professionals, such as attorneys, designers, marketers and others

• You have the ability to visualize 3D objects from 2D drawings

• You’re very comfortable working with machines, technology and electronics

• You enjoy doing work that involves precision, and obtaining and analyzing test results

• You’re interested in a well-paying career in a setting that combines office, lab and manufacturing floor environments



How Much Do Automotive Engineers Make?

Salary in Canada (Alberta figures only): According to the 2018 Alberta wage and salary survey, Albertans working as part of the “Mechanical Engineers” occupational group, which included automotive engineers, earn an average salary of $107,815 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories at the time of writing (June 12, 2019).


Salary in the United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans working as part of the “Mechanical Engineers” occupational group, which includes automotive engineers, earn a median salary of $84,190 per year.


Please Note: The salary level you can earn as an automotive engineer can vary based on the following factors:


• Your level of education, experience and certification

• The level of responsibility involved in your job

• The size and type of your employer

• The region in which you work

• The industry in which you work

• The type of remuneration package you’re offered 

• Many other factors 



Who Employs Them?

There are more types of possible employers for automotive engineers than you might think, including:


• Car, truck, commercial vehicle, and motorcycle manufacturing companies

• Companies serving niche markets, such as sports or luxury cars, and taxis

• Design firms and test laboratories

• Automotive component suppliers

• Tire manufacturers, accessory and safety equipment manufacturers

• Fuel and oil companies

• Motorsport teams, preparation specialists, and engineering consulting firms



Current Job Opportunities

Our job board below has a listing of current automotive engineer postings in your area (when available):




What is the Work Environment Like?

Automotive engineers are typically based out of an office, and also spend time working at a research facility and/or at a manufacturing plant. They usually work a normal, weekday working schedule, although some work in shifts. Overtime may also be required, in order to complete projects or perform other duties.



What are Similar Careers?

Listed below are careers that are in the same field, or involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities as ‘Automotive Engineer’:


• Aerodynamicist 

• Aerospace Engineer

• Aircraft Performance Engineer

• Mechanical Drafter

• Mechanical Engineer

• Transportation Engineer

• Validation Engineer



What Relevant Scholarships Are There? 

The “Relevant Fields of Study” section below lists fields of study in our system that are relevant for getting into this line of work. You can search for relevant scholarships by finding those majors on our Mechanical Engineering Scholarships page.


Success Tip: Apply for any and all scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Sources for This Guide 

Please consult the following resources to learn more about what it takes to become an automotive engineer:


• Occupational Profile: “Mechanical Engineer.” (March 31, 2018). Alberta Government - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved October 25, 2019.

• Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Mechanical Engineers.” (September 4, 2019). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved October 25, 2019.

• Job Profiles: “Automotive Engineers.” (n.d.). National Careers Service. Retrieved October 25, 2019

• Science & Engineering Career: “Automotive Engineer.” (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2019.



Relevant Fields of Study

In our database, we have over 60 university majors with guides outlining relevant careers to those fields of study. Below we've outlined those that are most relevant for this profession. Click on the link(s) to see what else you can do with these majors!


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Automotive Engineer