If you’ve ever visited an automotive show and marveled at the concept cars (or even just the features of the next minivan headed to market), you may have wondered about the people behind the concepts who brainstormed to create such innovations. These are known as automotive engineers, and by their side are automotive engineering technicians, who assist the engineers with tests and inspections that measure the safety, reliability, and functionality of these vehicles. The tech job is a data-intensive one, so if you’re good with spreadsheets, instructions, and numbers and interested in helping to create these cars of tomorrow, this could be a path to pursue.
What do automotive engineering tech majors work on in school?
Although a degree isn’t necessarily required for this job, employers look more favorably on candidates who have some schooling. An associate’s degree or certificate from a trade school or community college is usually the entry-level minimum needed to make inroads in this career. Your technician coursework will likely focus on both theory and hands-on work, featuring classes on vehicle electronics, braking, automotive parts, design, and manufacturing processes, among others. Because automotive engineering techs typically become immersed in blueprints and other schematics, it would also be helpful, if not included in the degree program, for you to take a computer drafting or AutoCAD class to learn the ins and outs of computer-assisted design.
While working during school (as it’s practical to gain some real-world experience while you’re studying), you may decide you want to eventually become a full-fledged automotive engineer. In that case, you’ll go on for a bachelor’s or even a master’s in mechanical engineering or design.
So what benefits can you expect from studies that lead to a job as an automotive engineering technician?
Pay is solid for a two-year degree.
This career obviously isn’t as lucrative as putting in the extra work and becoming a mechanical/automotive engineer, but you can earn a decent salary as an automotive engineering tech. The median pay for 2016 after receiving an associate’s was a little more than $54,000. If you do decide to advance to the actual engineer’s position, pay with a bachelor’s degree under your belt jumps significantly, to a median of $84,000.
You’ll be helping ensure tomorrow’s vehicles are efficient and safe.
A major part of your job as an automotive engineering tech will be to make sure vehicles adhere to safety and design specifications. You may even get to take part in setting up crash tests—fun to watch, but with a more serious underpinning: keeping drivers and passengers safe. You’ll also play a part in keeping costs to the original budget, which can earn you major kudos with your boss and solidify your value to your company. That’s never a bad thing come review time!
You’ll get to indulge your passion for cars.
If you’ve been obsessed with Matchboxes since you were small, not only won’t you mind being surrounded by motor grease, transmissions, and car blueprints all day—you’ll love it. If you also enjoy figuring out puzzles and putting together all the various pieces involved in crafting a modern-day driving experience that’s both enjoyable and safe for the consumer, this is the job that lets you put those skills to work.
There’s a tangible final product to show off.
At the end of a day’s work (or, in this case, likely many days’ work), you’ll get to see the culmination of all of your numbers-crunching and blueprint analysis in the form of a brand-new vehicle. It’s satisfying to have a results-oriented job where you have an end product that you can show off to those who say, “So, what do you do?”
You’ll stay on the cutting edge of the newest innovations in automotive technology.
It will be a necessity to be knowledgeable in the processes and systems that help automotive engineers churn out well-made models—and the more knowledge you have as a tech, the more helpful you’ll prove to the engineers you’re assisting, and to the companies you work for. Plus you can impress your friends the next time you go to a car show when you’re able to explain the mechanics behind all of the vehicles they’re oohing and aahing at.