Before the event, each team submits design and cost reports to SAE officials. The design reports are judged on originality and innovation, particularly on improvements to previously entered cars. In addition, the quality of engineering design is judged for the: suspension and brake system, power train, structural design, craftsmanship, operator comfort, feasibility for mass production, serviceability, and flotation and water propulsion. The cost reports are judged on prototype cost, manufacturing cost, documentation, and an optional overview. SAE officials in addition look for optimization of cost on this report. 

After the reports are submitted, the cars are subjected to a plethora of tests designed to push the vehicles to their limit. The cars are first thoroughly inspected for safety concerns, and then are evaluated in a number of qualifying tests. These tests include: top speed, acceleration, braking, lane maneuverability, water maneuverability, tractor pull, hill climb, mud bog, rock crawl and suspension. 

The centerpiece of the competition is the four hour endurance race. The cars race on the rough-terrain of the endurance track, competing to see who can complete the most laps in four hours, or to simply see how long the cars can last. It is therefore important to have a car built long before the competition, to completely tweak the components and prevent any part failures

Link to SAE Website: