Automotive Engineer Salary: Entry-Level to Experienced

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Automotive engineering is a dream job for many car enthusiasts. But what's the average automotive engineer salary, and how do you become one?

The average salary for an automotive engineer is $84,250 per year in 2022. Experienced auto engineers earn upwards of $120,000 annually, and entry-level professionals earn a salary of between $60,000 and $80,000 per year.

Automotive engineering can be a very lucrative career, especially with specialization. There are many kinds of automotive engineers, and some have starting salaries in excess of $90,000 at many companies. But how much can you make, and how do you become an automotive engineer?

In this article, we'll cover the basics of automotive engineering, including job types, average salaries, and a rough idea of what to expect in the position. Each job varies widely, but we hope to provide a basic understanding of what this career path holds.

Table of Contents


What is an Automotive Engineer?

Automotive engineers design vehicle systems and complete a whole host of other technical tasks related to the production and development of automobiles. As a result, they're sometimes called automobile engineers or car engineers.

In the simplest terms, an automotive engineer is a professional who solves problems and innovates in the auto industry.

What do Automotive Engineers Do?

Virtually every part in a car was designed by, troubleshot by, or improved by an automotive engineer. Many don't start their careers as automotive engineers but end up working in the auto industry due to their experience in separate fields.

Automotive engineering itself is a combination of many kinds of engineering. Modern cars contain mechanical systems, electrical systems, hydraulic systems, and thousands of other components that require specialized skills to create. And don't forget, somebody has to figure out how to put it all together and make it work.

Types of Automotive Engineers

Automotive engineering itself is a broad term that describes several specialized career subtypes. These are necessary, as modern cars are some of the most complex appliances on the market today. Here are a few examples.

Automotive Design Engineer

The role of an automotive design engineer should be fairly self-explanatory. While automotive design engineers may not craft each complex design cue of a new vehicle, they're certainly responsible for making sure it all fits together right. Automotive design engineers often utilize artist renderings and turn them into real, functioning cars.

Automotive Safety Engineer

Modern cars are safer than they've ever been. And they're WAY safer than they used to be, all thanks to the work of thousands of automotive safety engineers. 

Systems like seatbelts and airbags are enormously complex and cannot be allowed to fail. The responsibility of ensuring these systems work (and work well) typically falls on the shoulders of automotive safety engineers.

Automotive Electronics Engineer

Cars and computers are inseparable these days, and it seems like digitization has made driving easier and more comfortable than ever. Not to mention safer—sometimes. 

Automotive electronics engineers design and test the systems that control everything from your air conditioning to the fuel injectors. These engineers typically have an electronics engineering or computer science background.

Automotive Powertrain Engineer

Automotive powertrain engineers are responsible for designing and improving engines, transmissions, dry lines, and components that make the car "go." Automotive powertrain engineers create more efficient and powerful Engines, along with more reliable transmissions.

Automotive Engineer Education Requirements

Many careers in the automotive field don't require a college degree. After all, you can either do the work or you can't—formal education usually doesn't play a big part. However, this isn't the case for automotive engineers. Virtually all individuals employed in this field have one (or several) college degrees.

Most universities don't offer a specialized automotive engineering degree. Typically, students start in mechanical engineering and participate in additional programs that specialize in the automotive industry.

Formula SAE is a popular choice, as it gives students hands-on experience developing innovative race if technology. Plus, it looks fantastic on any automotive engineer's résumé.

How Much do Automotive Engineers Make?

Like most STEM professionals, automotive engineers are well paid across the board. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for an automotive engineer in the United States is $84,250 per year.

However, salaries vary based on several factors, including location and specialization. For example, automotive design engineers make an average of $93,037 per year, whereas some lead engineers make in excess of $120,000 per year. Here are the factors that influence average pay.

Factors that Influence Salary

What factors influence how much you'll make as an automotive engineer? Typically, your location and relevant work experience have the biggest effect on your paycheck, at least initially. Different companies offer different salaries and benefits as well, so working for a large corporation is likely to net a higher starting salary.

If you're interested in making more, you can always move to an area with a higher salary average. However, this typically comes with a higher cost of living, and it's often disproportionate, especially when you're just starting out.

Entry-Level Automotive Engineer Salary

Entry-level automotive engineers make the lowest salary in their field, though it's still quite good compared to other careers in the automotive industry. According to average estimates, an entry-level automotive engineer earns between $60,000 and $80,000 per year.

Mid-Level Automotive Engineer Salary

An automotive engineer with mid-level experience has typically been in the industry for several years and should have a fairly solid work portfolio along with a good standing reputation. This is the hardest salary to calculate, as everybody's definition of experience varies.

On average, an automotive engineer with between three and five years of experience can often make between $85,000 per year and $95,000 per year. Of course, this varies between companies and locations.

Senior Automotive Engineer Salary

Senior automotive engineers enjoy some of the highest salaries in the industry. These professionals consistently make in excess of $100,000 per year, and the highest earners take home over $120,000 per year. With additional responsibilities, such as project management, automotive engineers can earn much more.

Self-Employed Automotive Engineer

With everybody working from home these days, it's easy to wonder if automotive engineers can be freelance or self-employed. Generally speaking, most automotive engineers work for a larger company and are rarely self-employed except in consulting roles.

However, recent events have led many large companies to allow workers to work from home. Automotive engineers can take care of many responsibilities from a laptop, which opens up the possibility of home-based work.

However, this field is very collaborative, which can make remote work challenging. If you're interested in working from home, talk to your potential employer directly and see if it's an option going forward.

How to Become an Automotive Engineer

So, is it easy to become an automotive engineer? And what are the steps involved? Each person's path differs, but here are the basic steps that are typically required to enter the automotive field as an engineer.

1. Get an Engineering Degree

The first step is to get a bachelor's degree in engineering. Some engineers begin with another degree (such as design computer science), but the quickest path to a career in this field is through a mechanical engineering degree. Some schools offer dedicated automotive engineering programs, which are tailored specifically to the field.

2. Find a Relevant Internship

Finding an internship in the automotive industry may be challenging, but it's more than worth it if you intend to work as an automobile engineer. Many large automakers offer internships and work programs to prospective future employees, so it's worth investigating what companies like Toyota, Ford, and General Motors have to offer.

3. Participate in Car Programs

Practical experience neighborhoods, especially for the high modem industry. Automotive engineers are lucky, as there are thousands of organizations dedicated entirely to cars and trucks. Many offer student programs, such as Formula SAE.

Some universities offer in-house car programs and exciting opportunities. After all, many automotive clubs and programs originate at colleges, such as Greenspeed. This former Boise State University club developed a 219.4 MPH diesel-powered pickup that broke land speed records at the Bonneville Speedway.

4. Find a Job

Wish it were that easy, right? Automotive engineering is a competitive field, but with the right experience and résumé, You should be able to find a great entry-level position before too long. And as your career advances, so will your opportunities— and after a while, that dream job will be just around the corner.