Automotive engineers design, develop and manufacture vehicles such as cars, motorbikes, buses and trucks, and their engineering systems

Working as an automotive engineer, you'll design, test and develop new products, and in some cases modify those currently in use. You'll also identify and solve engineering problems to improve performance, safety, efficiency and sustainability.

You'll need to have a combination of engineering and commercial skills to be able to deliver projects within budget. Once you've built up experience, it's likely you'll specialise in a particular area, for example, structural design, testing, exhaust systems or engines.

Typically, you'll focus on one of three main areas:

  • design
  • manufacture and maintenance
  • research and development.

The UK government has set out a path to zero emission vehicles by 2035. The automotive industry will be faced with new challenges and opportunities as they transition to designing hybrid, electric and autonomous vehicles. This makes it a particularly exciting time to be an automotive engineer.


Your tasks will depend on your specialist area of work, but you'll typically need to:

  • use computer-aided design (CAD) packages to develop ideas and produce designs
  • decide on the most appropriate materials for component production
  • solve engineering problems using mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, thermodynamic or pneumatic principles
  • build prototypes of components and test their performance, weaknesses and safety
  • take into consideration changing customer needs and government emissions regulations when developing new designs and manufacturing procedures
  • prepare material, cost and timing estimates, reports and design specifications
  • supervise and inspect the installation and adjustment of mechanical systems in industrial plants
  • investigate mechanical failures or unexpected maintenance problems
  • liaise with suppliers and handle supply chain management issues
  • manage projects, including budgets, production schedules, resources and staff, and supervise quality control
  • inspect and test drive vehicles and check for faults.


  • Starting salaries within automotive engineering are in the region of £20,000 to £28,000. They can vary depending on the type of employer you work for, your previous work experience, location, qualifications and class of degree.
  • With experience, you can expect to earn £30,000 to £45,000, depending on your role and whether you've gained chartered status.
  • Salaries can rise to over £60,000 for senior positions.

Benefits can include discounted car/motorcycle purchase schemes, pension schemes, health insurance benefits and performance-related bonuses.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll typically work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, possibly with some extra hours. Some jobs involve shift work, including evenings and weekends. Positions within the motorsport industry may require weekend and out-of-hours working to support events and deadlines.

Once you've built up significant experience, you may be able to take on contracting work and set your own hours. If you wish to take a career break you'll need to keep your technical knowledge and skills up to date as this is a rapidly-changing industry.

What to expect

  • Work is usually carried out in an office, research facility or manufacturing plant. Depending on your role, you might spend most of your time in an office using a computer, or you could work between the office and workshop.
  • Women are currently under-represented in this area of work. Initiatives are in place to help women looking to break into the industry, including the Women's Engineering Society (WES) and WISE.
  • Jobs are available across the UK in research and design, manufacturing and specialist service providers. Many of the motorsport companies have research and design facilities in Oxfordshire and the West Midlands.
  • You may have to travel to visit other factories and plants or to conduct safety tests. Opportunities for overseas travel are possible, particularly if you're based in the motorsport industry.


You usually need an engineering degree to become an automotive engineer. Relevant subjects include:

  • automotive engineering
  • electrical/electronic engineering
  • mechanical engineering
  • mechatronic engineering.

Some undergraduate engineering courses include a further year of study at Masters level to allow you develop your skills further. On successful completion of the course, you will be awarded an integrated Masters degree (MEng). Some BEng courses also offer the option to progress to an MEng. You can usually apply to transfer in your second or third year of study.

Although a pre-entry postgraduate qualification isn't essential, it can be useful, particularly if it provides specific training or knowledge for specialist roles. To see what's on offer, search for postgraduate courses in automotive engineering.

It's useful if your first degree or Masters is accredited by a relevant professional body, such as the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and/or The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) as this will help you to achieve the status of incorporated or chartered engineer at a later date. Details of accredited courses are available at Engineering Council - Accredited Course Search.

Alternatively, you can do a degree apprenticeship, which combines study for an engineering degree with paid work. Degree apprenticeships are sometimes offered by automotive companies and allow you to train on the job. Find out more about apprenticeships.

If you have an engineering foundation degree or HND only, you may be able to start in a technician post. You'll then need further qualifications to progress to engineer level. Some employers will support further study to achieve this.

Membership with IMechE or the IET is useful as it provides opportunities for networking, discounted courses and access to careers resources.


You will need to have:

  • technical creativity and an interest in motor vehicle engineering and design
  • a high level of numeracy and technical competency, with an understanding of the applications used within design and production
  • a proactive approach to problem solving
  • an eye for detail
  • the ability to analyse and interpret data
  • effective communication and presentation skills
  • the ability to work effectively in teams but also independently, and to take responsibility
  • good time-management and organisational skills to make sure design projects and production run to schedule
  • strong IT skills, particularly Microsoft Office packages, as well as an interest in technical software and data management systems
  • the ability to work within cost constraints
  • a commitment to keep up to date with design and engineering technology
  • commercial and industry awareness.

Work experience

It's important to gain experience through a work placement, internship or a year in industry, which may be part of your degree. Many of the large employers offer opportunities for a year in industry or a summer work placement. Check their websites or your careers service for details.

You can also get experience by getting involved in initiatives such as Formula Student or by volunteering. For example, if you're interested in a career in the motorsport industry, see Volunteers in Motorsport.

You could also join your university's engineering society.

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.


Typical employers of automotive engineers include:

  • car, commercial vehicle and motorcycle manufacturing companies
  • companies serving specialist markets, such as sports or luxury cars and London taxis
  • design houses and test laboratories
  • automotive component suppliers
  • tyre manufacturers, accessory and safety equipment manufacturers
  • fuel and oil companies
  • motorsport teams, preparation specialists and engineering consultancies.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist STEM recruitment agencies such as Matchtech handle vacancies, particularly for contract work.

Professional development

Many large employers offer graduate training schemes, which include placements in different departments and allow you to choose a specialist area at the end. Others will have structured training in place, which may be carried out on the job or through short courses.

It's likely that you'll work towards gaining either incorporated (IEng) or chartered (CEng) engineer status. These are internationally recognised qualifications awarded by the Engineering Council. Achieving incorporated or chartered status can improve your career prospects and earning potential.

You'll need to be a member of a professional institution, such as the IMechE or the IET so that you can apply through them for professional registration.

The process of becoming incorporated or chartered is more straightforward if you have an accredited first degree or Masters. You'll need to demonstrate that you're working at a particular level and have the required professional competences. For more information see Engineering Council - Professional Registration.

Throughout your career, you'll need to keep up to date with new developments in technology and software packages. The IMechE has an automobile division that regularly runs industry-relevant lectures, seminars and conferences. It's also a good idea to read the specialist press to keep up to date with the latest industry news.

Career prospects

As an automotive engineer, you'll be able to choose from a range of career options. It's possible to advance to supervisory engineer roles and senior positions within project team management, general management and consultancy.

If you gain IEng status, you'll tend to specialise in the day-to-day management of engineering operations. As a chartered engineer (CEng), you might have a more strategic role, planning, researching and developing new ideas, and streamlining management methods.

You could also choose to move into a related career area, for example environmental design. If you have worked a lot within creative design, you could move into the graphic design field. Teaching and lecturing at universities or colleges is a possibility if you have a Masters or PhD in mechanical or automotive engineering. There are also opportunities to work in automotive marketing.

Once you've built up several years' experience, it's possible to move into contracting work, moving between short-term projects. This type of work can provide variety, excellent financial benefits and the opportunity to work abroad. However, it generally lacks the stability and benefits associated with a permanent position with a large company.

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