Automotive engineering technology programs prepare people to help engineers design vehicles such as cars and trucks. Students learn how to help build and test vehicles. They also learn to maintain and repair tools and instruments.
Next time you are vegging out in front of the TV, try counting car and truck commercials. Think about how much the commercials cost. That may help give you an idea of how vast the automotive business is. Next, pay attention to the new features being advertised: side airbags, disappearing fold-down seats, gas-electric hybrids. Somebody had to do the engineering to create these features.
The breakthrough concepts come from engineers. But as an engineering technologist, you make the concepts work. You construct models and full-scale prototypes of new components and test them in the lab. You run crash tests, assess the damage done to the vehicle body, and analyze the data gathered by the dummies. You create reports on the data from road tests, recommending changes to vehicle designs.
When you study automotive engineering technology, you start with a good foundation in science and math. This helps you understand the scientific method so that you can do the experimentation needed in this field. Physics is particularly important, because motion, heat, and electricity are all relevant to automotive technology. You have to understand the forces at work in a car crash. You have to know what makes a combustion engine perform. You have to understand how the ignition system and controls operate.
You also study the properties of materials. Like all engineering technologists, you're interested in the practical applications of what you learn. How does plastic absorb impact, compared to steel or fiberglass? What temperatures are needed when a certain kind of plastic is being molded in the production plant? What kinds of paint are best at retarding rust?
You study all the systems of cars and trucks, with special attention to how they are manufactured. It's no good to perfect a brilliant design in a way that can't be manufactured at a reasonable cost.
There are many two-year programs of automotive technology, but these are designed to train car and truck mechanics. To work in engineering technology, you need a four-year program that earns you a bachelor's degree. A handful of 30 colleges offer this program, and only a few of those are approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Another route might be to study manufacturing engineering. In that case, you'd try to take courses that are relevant to vehicle design.