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An automotive engineer can be involved in almost any aspect of the production of automobiles. Most engineers specialize in a particular area, but regularly make notable contributions at all stages of development. These include design of the auto body as well as improvements and changes in the chassis, engine and operating systems.
It is common for a person in this position to specialize in a particular area, especially as his career develops and his particular talents emerge. These specialties include thermodynamics and aerodynamics and electronics. Other areas commonly specialized in include control systems, fuel technologies and emissions, and fluid mechanics. The engineer sometimes switches among specialties during his career as innovations or advancements in a particular sector pique his interest.
In an industry commonly viewed as visionary and willing to take risks, the automotive engineer is usually a forward-thinking person. He normally has exemplary knowledge of engineering principles that he applies to new technologies introduced by peers as well as competitors. His job is generally performed as part of a team, although the ideas he brings to the table may have been personally and independently developed.
Before his ideas are considered for implementation, the automotive engineer commonly creates a visual presentation of his concept. He utilizes computer-aided design software to create schematics of parts and components. It is important that his ideas address issues central to the industry. These generally include environmental effects, safety, economical factors and reliability.
After his idea is presented, the automotive engineer usually addresses the material options that could be used in production. After the best material is chosen, testing procedures are decided upon, and a prototype is constructed. If the testing proves the idea or concept viable, it is scheduled for more in-depth testing before being introduced to the manufacturing team.
Besides product and process development, an automotive engineer is often consulted by the sales and marketing departments to advise on technical issues. Before presenting a new concept to the public, the sales staff normally tries to anticipate what questions may arise. They rely on information provided by automotive engineers to give them solid answers that satisfy industry watchdogs and critics.
A successful automotive engineer is typically required to have technical expertise as well as excellent communication skills. He must be able to clearly share his ideas with colleagues and effectively communicate the details of his thoughts to technical personnel. He is also normally required to contribute to meetings and briefings and present his views in a clear and concise manner.
This position requires a minimum bachelor’s degree in engineering and advanced degrees in mechanical engineering or similar industries are strongly preferred. Many automotive engineers enter their fields at the bottom and get promoted through the ranks with on-the-job experience. Many also begin their careers as specialty engineers and expand their knowledge through exposure to other facets of engineering in the course of the company's work.
Engineers are also hired by race teams to analyze specific aspects of the car's overall performance, like a tire engineer or engine builder or tuner.
These people present their findings to the crew chief and are often consulted in the course of a race to adapt to the unfolding race conditions.
Jobs are also readily available for automotive engineers in various forms of auto racing.
Race teams are constantly striving to find the newest information and automotive breakthroughs that can give them even a slight advantage over the others.
In the top levels of racing, it is more and more common for engineers to be hired as crew chiefs, instead of hiring mechanics as in the past.
As a crew chief, the engineer uses factors such as weather, constantly changing track conditions and technical aspects of each car's make-up to try to determine how to get the optimum amount of speed from the vehicle.