The Skills and Qualifications Required to Be an Automotive Engineer

The Skills and Qualifications Required to Be an Automotive Engineer

Today’s automotive engineer s fulfill a wide-ranging number of roles and responsibilities. Their job is constantly impacted by new technology, and in order to remain competent and employable they need to stay up to date. Good automotive engineers are always learning new skills and looking to improve their education and ability. 

Nevertheless, the core function of the profession remains the design and manufacture of automobiles and other motor vehicles. These may include cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles, among other vehicle types. They identify and solve engineering problems, and they modify and improve on existing designs. Some automotive engineers may work on racing cars, military vehicles, or automotive machinery designed to fulfil specialized tasks in a particular industry – for example, construction.

Automotive engineers will be concerned with both the mechanical and electronic sides of modern automotive technology and are increasingly required to pay as much attention to software as to hardware. In terms of commercial vehicle design, they must take into account the aesthetic appearance of the product as well as its technical specifications and performance. Furthermore, their work may extend beyond design and manufacture into marketing, distribution, sales, and after-sales.

an Automotive Engineer Basic skills

In addition to having a high level of technical competency and knowledge, automotive engineers need to be natural problem-solvers, with an enquiring mind and a logical, analytical approach. Attention to detail and a creative imagination are vital, as is an understanding of commercial requirements. People skills, such as communication, presentation, leadership, and the ability to work as part of a team, are also needed. Today’s automotive engineer must be one part data analyst, one part computer scientist, one part project manager, and one part hands-on mechanic, while also being capable of explaining their work to outside stakeholders.

They must have a good understanding of math, physics, and design principles, as well as engineering science and technology. They must be able to use a computer proficiently and to deploy the latest engineering software programs. An ability to maintain, modify and repair the tools and technology they use every day is also necessary.

Project management

An automotive engineer may work on one stage of a project, or they may be required to see a project through from conception to completion. In the latter case, this would begin with assessing the project requirements and calculating a budget and timescale. This would then need to be negotiated and agreed upon with the client. 

Understanding the client’s wishes and requirements, while making them aware of the challenges involved and suggesting ideas to improve and streamline the process, is an important part of beginning an automotive engineering project. This is a process of two-way communication, with the automotive engineer setting out to both manage expectations and establish a framework by which the client’s requirements can be fulfilled to the highest and most cost-effective standard.

At the other end of the project, the automotive engineer will carry out a final inspection, including taking the finished product for a final test drive. They will be alert for the slightest fault or discrepancy that might need correcting.

Initial research

An automotive engineer will research the cost, environmental impact, and safety level of any potential design idea before proceeding to create a blueprint. Testing will initially be carried out using computer simulations before moving on to physical models and, ultimately, to one or more working prototypes. The strengths and weaknesses of different components will be tested and assessed during this process, with particular attention paid to performance and safety. 

Improvements or substitutions will be made as necessary. When the design is complete then an engineer may help to plan the production run. They may redesign or recalibrate the tools and equipment to be used in order to maximize efficiency. Costs, schedules, and quality control will all be monitored by the engineer at every stage of the project.

Testing the design

Precise specifications and markers will need to be established early on—for instance, the date of completion for each stage of the project. The automotive engineer will then proceed to the design stage before building one or more prototypes and subjecting them to rigorous and comprehensive testing. These tests may reveal issues that require further work, in some cases going back to an earlier stage of the process.

To the automotive engineer, these issues are not signs of failure but anticipated results of testing. Rather than being disheartened, they should be pleased to have further information to work with. Continuous testing and redesigning enables them to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the process and the product.

Data analysis

An engineer is a scientist whose job involves interpreting and analyzing the results of tests and other forms of data. These data analysis skills are essential for many reasons, such as understanding how engines or different materials perform under certain conditions like extreme temperatures, under stress, in wind tunnels, and so forth. Using specialist computer modeling software, they will test virtual models in a variety of simulations before moving on to building the first physical prototypes.

Developing an idea

Computer-aided design programs such as AutoCAD are the basic software used to develop automotive engineering projects, and any engineer will need to be confident in using these. They’ll need to be able to select materials, taking into account cost and technical considerations, and will apply classic engineering principles to solve any problems they encounter. Mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, thermodynamic, and pneumatic principles are all applicable to automotive engineering.

Taking responsibility for the design, development, manufacturing and testing of automotive vehicles and their subsystems, automotive engineers increase vehicle efficiency, improve environmental performance, and create new technologies that go on to have a direct impact on peoples’ lives. As a branch of vehicle engineering focusing on automotive design, maintenance, and improvement, automotive engineering is a vital part of the automotive and vehicle industry, and demand for new engineers is expected to continue increasing in coming years.

Automotive engineers use 3D modeling software, design programs, and project management tools on a day-to-day basis as part of their work. AutoCAD, Corel Sketch Pad, Trello, and JIRA are among the standard apps and programs used within the industry. 

Commercial awareness

Besides technical understanding and skills, automotive engineers need to have a high level of awareness of commercial requirements and the expectations of the market. Unlike pure research scientists, they are engaged with designing and producing vehicles and systems for commercial use. As a result, factors like cost, customer taste, aesthetics, style, and practical applications must be considered alongside technical specifications. Presentation and the communication of ideas in non-technical language is as important as solving mechanical problems.

Meeting standards

Any vehicle designed by an automotive engineer must conform with current safety requirements and environmental standards, as well as the standards set by the client and the engineer themselves. Indeed, a good automotive engineer will attempt to future-proof any vehicle they design by anticipating more stringent safety and environmental measures to come, and going above and beyond the standards required by present legislation.

Responding to feedback

The engineer will keep the client informed about progress while also providing technical advice and answering any questions that come. They will respond to feedback and make changes accordingly. Despite a high degree of testing and modeling, some issues and problems may not come to light until the product is on the market. The automotive engineer must therefore be prepared to return to a design in order to investigate the causes of any problems and correct them.

Working closely with suppliers on one side of the supply chain and automotive dealers on the other, the engineer may also supervise a team of employees working on specific tasks. A senior automotive engineer needs to be a manager as well as a technician, with excellent people skills. They will need to be comfortable with responsibility as they are ultimately responsible for the successful completion of every stage of the process.


Obviously, any budding automotive engineer needs to be interested in motor vehicle engineering and design. They’ll have a high level of numeracy, be able to think in an analytical way, and have a good memory for technical concepts. As well as being prepared to work hard, they’ll need to be good at trouble shooting and be happy to try new approaches to a problem.

At high school, anyone hoping to become an automotive engineer should demonstrate capability in advanced calculus, physics, chemistry, and computer science. It’s also never too soon to get some engineering experience in an automotive area, even if that just means helping out at a local auto mechanic.  

Some companies have their own automotive engineering training schemes which may admit those who did not finish school. There are also a number of professional certifications that can be pursued. However, because of the high level of skill involved, most automotive engineers today come from an academic background. Unfortunately, automotive engineering is not widely taught at the undergraduate level in US or Canadian colleges and universities. A bachelor’s degree in a relevant field like mechanical engineering or electrical engineering is usually sufficient to obtain an entry-level position in the industry. 

Once you’ve obtained a relevant bachelor’s degree and gained experience working in the industry, you can study for a graduate qualification to improve your career prospects, such as a Master of Engineering Management degree. The University of Ottawa offers a fully-online master’s degree program aimed at engineering and STEM professionals who want to develop leadership and management skills alongside engineering. The course combines human resources, finance, and technology in a flexible course designed specifically for the modern engineering workplace. 

Employment options

Automotive engineers may work for vehicle manufacturers or be self-employed either as independent engineers, contractors, or consultants. Other potential employers include automotive suppliers, oil and fuel companies, research laboratories, specialist design firms, tire manufacturers, and motor sports teams.

The different areas of automotive engineering include working on body, chassis, engine systems, fuel technology, electronic control systems and instrumentation, thermodynamics, aerodynamics, and fluid mechanics. 

Automotive engineering salaries in the US start at around $78,000 per year but can rise to an average of around $90,000-$100,000. A senior salary is expected to reach $125,000 or more. A freelance automotive engineer in 2022 could charge between $75 and $92 per hour, with an average of $82 per hour. An experienced, highly-qualified engineer can earn more than one who has been in the business for less time and has less impressive credentials.

Specialist roles

After gaining experience in all the different areas outlined above, an automotive engineer may choose to specialize in either design, development, or production. 

A designer would typically use AutoCAD software and other design programs to create draughts and blueprints that take into account environmental, safety, aesthetic, and budgetary considerations alongside technical parameters.

A developer will build and test prototypes using a combination of computer and physical modeling.

An automotive engineer working in production will be concerned with making sure the right tools and machinery are available and optimized for every part of the manufacturing process. Staying on schedule and under budget, while exercising rigorous quality control, is the senior automotive engineer’s responsibility.

Designing the future

Today’s automotive engineers are fully aware of the need to conserve natural resources, cut pollution and waste, and utilize alternative fuel sources where possible. Designing electrical drive systems and hybrid systems for automobiles is now standard practice, and engineers are anticipating the phasing out of traditional gasoline and diesel-based engines by working hard to make alternative models as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

Lighter and more fuel-efficient automobiles that use materials like aluminum, magnesium alloy, and environmentally-sustainable plastics, are among the projects today’s automotive engineers can be found working on. Recycled materials and materials that can be recycled easily are also being looked into, alongside renewable natural resources. Utilizing green technology alongside smart systems and artificial intelligence that can monitor and adjust fuel consumption, engineers work to design vehicles for the more environmentally-conscious motor industry of tomorrow.

Intelligent transportation

Creating a safe, effective, self-driving car remains one of the key goals of automotive engineering in the present age. But even if driverless automobiles won’t become the norm for a while yet, modern cars increasingly use smart technology that works alongside the driver, alerting them to issues and assisting them in every way. From satellite navigation to intelligent braking systems and AI-assisted steering, automotive engineers are working to incorporate the latest digital smart technology into our cars.

The future may yet see a connected infrastructure where automobile navigation systems can communicate with traffic lights and monitoring systems to plot the safest, quickest, and most effective route through busy city streets. Meanwhile, the onboard computer will constantly monitor performance, recalibrating and rerouting resources where needed and advising driver intervention if needed. 

Staying informed

An automotive engineer will keep up to date with all the latest news in their field, including technological innovations that will find a practical application in the future. By anticipating emerging trends they can start to design vehicles and systems that can turn pure science into practical engineering solutions. They may carry out their own research studies in order to develop and test new concepts and ideas. 

Reading professional periodicals, scientific journals, reports, and textbooks are ways for an automotive engineer to stay informed. They should also attend meetings and conferences, read up online, and discuss innovations and insights with like-minded colleagues. Testing ideas in this way is a parallel approach to testing prototypes, which is a core part of an automotive engineer’s daily work.


An automotive engineer must maintain comprehensive paperwork and digital records, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of their colleagues. Writing and reviewing engineering documentation is an important part of their job which should not be neglected in pursuit of more immediate tasks. Conducting automotive design reviews, preparing and presenting technical reports, and documenting their designs and drawings in a secure database are all functions which an automotive engineer must be prepared to fulfil. 

They will also need to be capable of studying, comprehending, and even commenting on or editing technical documentation and data sheets. Automotive engineering is a collaborative process in which the work of each engineer is reviewed by their peers so that better and more accurate results may be obtained. As well as working alongside other engineers, managers, manufacturers, and ultimately customers all have viewpoints which must be integrated into the work.

A changing world

Being an automotive engineer is a demanding and fulfilling role in a fast-changing industry. Although much is changing in automotive design and construction in response to factors like digital technology and climate change, automotive engineering as a profession is in no danger of becoming redundant. Instead, engineers are becoming more essential even as the nature of their responsibilities changes and expands. For those with the necessary skills, vision, knowledge, and drive, automotive engineering remains a job with a future.