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Dover Post
  • Automotive skills challenge puts local students to the test

  • Shiny new cars were lined up outside a garage at Dover International Speedway on Tuesday, but it wasn’t the sleek stock cars that typically take up shop in the infield of the Monster Mile. Instead, it was a group of Ford Fiestas being serviced by students from tech schools up and down the state.
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  • Shiny new cars were lined up outside a garage at Dover International Speedway on Tuesday, but it wasn’t the sleek stock cars that typically take up shop in the infield of the Monster Mile. Instead, it was a group of Ford Fiestas being serviced by students from tech schools up and down the state.  
    The Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition put students’ knowledge of car repair to the test. To qualify for Tuesday’s hands-on competition, juniors and seniors in the state’s high school automotive programs  first took an online exam. Teams were formed, each made up of the two highest-scoring students from the respective school.
    On Tuesday, two-man teams popped the hoods on Ford Fiestas and set out to find “bugs” that had been placed in the cars. Each car had the same bugs and students had an hour and a half to find them all. Bugs ranged from a blown fuse or turn signal bulb to a disconnected sensor on the gas pedal.
    Each team was assigned a line judge who held a box containing all the working parts that students needed to replace the bugs in their cars. Judges couldn’t speak to students. If a student walked up to them with the proper broken part the judge would exchange it for the working one. Once they’ve fixed all of the bugs the students hopped in the cars and drove them around to have them inspected by mechanics.
    The competition is meant to give students a taste of the real world, said Jim Lardear, director of public affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
    “It mimics the real world. Although some bugs are pretty tricky, if they were working in the real world they’d have no idea what’s wrong and an auto tech needs to figure out problems in a timely manner,” Lardear said.
     
     
    The competition showcases students’ abilities to work with modern cars, said David Borrelli, instructor for Polytech’s team.
    “A lot of cars have multiple on-board computers,” Borelli said. “They’re entire mini networks. All the computers talk to each other and share data. What [the students are] doing is showcasing their troubleshooting skills to be able to diagnose the complex electrical systems on modern vehicles.”
    Aside from real-world experience, placing in the competition also carries a real world bonus. Students were eligible for scholarships, tool kits and shop manuals. The first-place team at the state level moves on to the national competition, which is held at Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. A team’s test scores and performance on Tuesday are factored together to determine ranking, said Jana Tidwell, public affairs specialist with AAA.
    Page 2 of 2 - Polytech was the only Kent County team represented at the competition. They’ve been participating on and off since 2008 and made it into the national round of the competition two years ago. Polytech students are prepared for the competition with basic and advanced mechanical knowledge, Borelli said.
    “We rig up electrical problems on school cars,” he said. “We provide them with a work order and say, ‘this is what the customer complaint is. Now you need to fix it.’ I’ve guided them with the repairs but let them make their own decisions.”
    Once students start to master fixing Borrelli’s rigged problems, students will rig up problems on school cars and give them to another team to diagnose. Jeffery Pardee and Zach Hall were the top scoring students at Polytech and represented their school on Tuesday. Participating in the competition on Tuesday offered students rea- life experience, said Pardee, a senior.
    “It gave me some practice to work on the newer cars and on electrical stuff,” Pardee said.
    The team from St. George’s Technical High School, located near Middletown, was the only team to get their car up and running within the time limit. They did so with five minutes to spare. The Polytech team wasn’t able to get their car fixed before time ran out, but they still did well, said Hall.
    “I think the pressure got to us a little bit so we didn’t do too well, but I don’t think we did terrible either,” Hall said. “I learned that cars are advancing technologically and that technicians are going to need to be ready for the future of electronics in cars.”

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