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Automotive Engineer


Since the beginning of the twentieth century, automobiles have entered the lives and livelihoods of almost everyone. They are the most convenient invention since the bicycle. Ford, Toyota, BMW, Saab, Honda and General Motors are a few examples of large automobile companies that produce new vehicles annually. Cars have enabled people to do so many more things and travel around quicker than we used to. We have become so accustomed to this luxury that we sometimes take for granted that there are people who design and make cars for our efficiency, convenience and safety.

These people are automotive engineers and many of us owe our "post-license" lives to their speedy creations. Remember that when you drive a new car off a dealership lot, you are taking with you the research, design and efforts of several engineers -- the automotive engineer in particular. Automotive engineers research, design, evaluate, install, operate and maintain automotive products, equipment, systems and processes. They develop new or improved designs for automobiles including the structure, engine and transmission, to name a few. If it were not for automotive engineers, our world would have no safe or modern automobiles . . . imagine that!

An automotive engineer's primary objective is to develop components and systems that provide maximum customer value at minimum cost, thereby promoting the enterprise's profitability. Some automotive engineers focus on one area of their specialty while others have the opportunity to participate in all aspects of the product development process, playing a more general role. Sometimes, the engineer will go as far as working directly with customers, learning from focus groups and marketing specialists to develop a concept or find out what people want in an automobile. The automotive engineer will also work with suppliers, manufacturing and assembly specialists while designing the components or systems.

Most automotive engineers specialize in a particular area once they become established. Specialty areas such as structural design, exhaust systems and engines are a few different options. Nevertheless, all specialized automotive engineers perform similar duties in at least one of three general areas: research, design and testing. Researchers formulate theories and generate innovative ideas using mathematical and scientific projections and determining whether or not a plan will work. Designers take research products and put them into practice, trying to manufacture them. Testers literally test the products for safety and quality before they hit the marketplace. In smaller, independent engineering firms, automotive engineers may do all three of these tasks.

Automotive engineers meet with car manufacturers, lawyers and clients and make sure that design plans are safe and will withstand a number of conditional variables. Safety is one of the most important issues that automotive engineers must contend with. Automobile engineers must keep in mind the lives of people when designing and take into account the importance of accuracy. They create engineering plans on computers which test and predict possible errors and problems with an automobile and in this, they generate workable solutions. Although the design work takes place on the computer, many automotive engineers travel to factories or automotive plants to see their work in progress.

Automotive engineers use traditional and high-tech tools to solve problems and meet challenges such as recalled auto parts or safety features. They are required to constantly update their skills and knowledge in order to keep up with technological advancements in this quickly changing field.
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  Interests and Skills  
Automotive engineers should have a natural affinity for mechanics, cars, mathematics and electronics. Since imprecise calculations could cause major disasters, electrical problems and expensive mistakes for a company and infringe upon the safety of drivers, they must be one hundred percent accurate in their calculations. Their jobs are extremely technical therefore they should be organized and methodical in their working habits. They must be good problem solvers and be able to come up with innovative and creative solutions to potential problems and design work.

They must also have excellent communication skills. Automotive engineers constantly deal with people from both sides of the professional arena therefore they must be able to communicate ideas and give orders in a clear, concise fashion. They should be knowledgeable about cars, engines, parts, electronic and federal safety standards and laws.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Research, design and develop machinery and systems for automobiles
  • Prepare material, cost and timing estimates, reports and design specifications
  • Prepare plans and drawings of automobiles
  • Study the energy, environmental and safety aspects of the planned work
  • Supervise and inspect the installation, modification and commissioning of mechanical systems in industrial facilities or plants
  • Investigate mechanical failures or unexpected maintenance problems
  • Supervise technicians, technologists and other engineers and review and approve designs, calculations and cost estimates
  • Work closely with civil, electrical, aerospace, chemical, industrial and other engineers, resulting in job mobility between some fields of specialization in these disciplines
  • Work with professionals from other occupational fields, gaining knowledge and skills
  • Inspect and even test drive vehicles and check for faults
  • The typical workday for an automotive engineer will vary depending on the project they are working on. An average workweek will run anywhere between 40 and 55 hours, yet longer hours may be required when deadlines must be met and due to other emergency circumstances. Most automotive engineers work in large manufacturing companies or for engineering firms. They do spend a great deal of time in an office behind a desk using a computer, yet also travel to factories and plants and conduct outdoor fieldwork. Some may even spend time in and around automobiles which may be noisy and dirty.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Automotive engineers work in many different capacities for both the public and private sectors. Some work for engineering consulting firms, automobile companies and a wide range of manufacturing, processing and transportation industries and government transportation and environmental agencies. Many automotive engineers are self-employed. Some automotive engineers also own garages and workshops.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Automotive engineers can advance to supervisory and senior management positions within their companies. Some may decide to open up their own businesses or automotive design and engineering firms. Many engineering experts say that automotive engineers could work as salespeople in automobile companies since they already have strong technical backgrounds. There are many environmental issues that will keep mechanical engineers on their toes to ensure that their products are not harming the environment. For example, cars in many areas require emissions tests, therefore new fuelling ideas could be researched. Thus, they could move into environmental fields as well. Creative designers could also move into the graphic design field or cartooning.

Those with master's and PhDs in mechanical engineering can always teach at the university or college level and share their experience and knowledge with students.

  Educational Paths  
While still in high school, if this is the career path you are interested in taking, make sure you take courses in mathematics, physics, drawing and autobody shop. Many university programs will require these subject areas as prerequisites.

Automotive engineers require a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or in a related engineering field. Some engineers also get master's degrees in a specific area, such as automotives.

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