Generally, an automotive engineer is one who works on the design or manufacture of automobiles. The word design is slightly misleading since an automotive designer is a stylist basically concerned with the appearance of the automobile while the engineer specializes in the performance of the automobile and its components.
The engineer works on developing new or improved structural parts, engines, transmissions and suspension systems. The engineer is involved in production cost estimation, reduction of production costs and implementing cost/quality control improvements. The engineer must be sure that the product meets all federal regulations. In the case of new designs, it is the engineer who determines driveability.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Dictionary of Occupational Titles, automotive engineering is a sub-specialty of mechanical engineering.
Even though the automotive manufacturing industry is in a slump at this time, there is still a demand for engineers due to the current focus on fuel economy and alternate fueled vehicles. The field is expected to grow as fast as average through 2014.
While there are global opportunities for automotive engineers in countries as far flung as Malaysia and the United Kingdom, most jobs within the US are centered in the Midwest since that is the major location of the auto industry. The big three employers in the United States are Ford, General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler.
The working environment is a combination of office and on site. The entry-level salary starts at around $48,000 annually and a Bachelor of Science degree is required. In addition to the degree, the engineer should have excellent communication skills, strong troubleshooting skills and the ability to work as part of a team.
As with any engineering degree, the choice of a college is crucial. While all engineering colleges are selective, the better and the best are even more so.
One characteristic you need to look for in a college is the quality of instruction. Are all the classes taught by professional teachers and not graduate assistants? Do these teachers have industry connections? Is simulation and hands-on an integral part of the program?
Does the college offer internships or work study opportunities? Internships and work-study are very important as they offer a path to instant employment upon graduation. The same is true of having instructors with industry connections. It also doesn't hurt to consider a college that offers advanced degrees in the event you decide to go further than a bachelor's degree.
To ensure admission to the college of choice, a high school graduate should have a high GPA with a strong background in calculus, advanced math, statistics, physics, chemistry and geometry. Vocational classes in automotive mechanics are also helpful. It will also be necessary to score high on whatever college admissions test the school requires as the admissions committee will base their decision on both your high school record and admissions test scores.