Whether assembly workers are adding a headliner, an instrument panel or a radio, a graduate of a bachelor's or master's degree program in automotive engineering likely had a hand in its concept, design and production. Potential career options include automotive engineering technician and fabricator.
The prerequisites for the bachelor's degree programs vary but typically include a high school diploma or GED and 30 credit hours completed or sophomore standing at a university. A bachelor's degree in a related field and experience in engineering technology is needed for admission into a master's degree.
Bachelor's Degree in Automotive Engineering
Degree candidates in an automotive engineering technology program learn to improve upon existing design concepts or create new ones, whether in vehicle design or parts manufacturing. Design courses cover every automotive component, from electrical systems that operate headlights to federal regulations that determine a bumper's shape. Students learn to design these components and to choose materials that will stand up to manufacturing strains, as well as meeting federal regulations and drivers' needs. Courses in geometry and calculus give automotive engineering technology students the skills they need to operate computer-aided drafting technology and to master the physics of materials specifications.
Automotive engineering technology coursework typically begins with computer-aided drafting and design classes, followed by discussions of materials, systems diagnoses and design strategies. Most programs culminate with students designing their own vehicle components or completing an internship with an automotive engineer. Possible course offerings include:
- Computer-aided drafting
- Computer-aided design
- Design materials
- Manufacturing design
Master's Degree in Automotive Engineering
Master's degree programs are intended for students interested in automotive engineering research and development. Students explore possibilities for improving the manufacturing process by streamlining assembly or introducing new materials. Elective coursework allows students to focus on a particular component, such as a vehicle's computer or safety systems. Management topics, such as staffing and cost effectiveness, are also discussed.
In addition to core courses in design materials and manufacturing methods, special topics might include environmentally sustainable manufacturing techniques and vehicle aerodynamics. Degree requirements typically are completed with an internship or capstone course, where students carry out their own design projects under the supervision of faculty. Coursework may include the following:
- Chassis design
- Suspension design
- Engine design
- Vehicle assembly
- Vehicle testing
Popular Career Options
Graduates of bachelor's degree programs typically enter the automotive design field as assistants to professional engineers. Positions can be found at almost any stage of the design process, whether in an engineer's office during the initial planning stages or at an automotive plant performing diagnostic tests on engine components. Career options might include the following:
- Automotive engineering technician
- Mechanical engineering technician
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) reports that in 2015, mechanical engineers, a related engineering field, earned a median annual wage of $83,590. Job growth of 5% was projected in the decade spanning 2014 to 2024 for mechanical engineers. Engineers can find career resources and continuing education opportunities through professional organizations, such as the Society of Automotive Engineers International (www.sae.org).
Continuing Education Information
Students who want to add to their credentials can take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam upon graduating. After gaining four years of work experience, they are further qualified to take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, which indicates professional status as an engineer. Automotive engineering technology programs also are available at the graduate level.
Students with an interest in the design of all the aspects of a vehicle can pursue a bachelor's or master's degree in automotive engineering, which can lead to a career in motor vehicle mechanical engineering.