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Published: Friday, 5/11/2012 - Updated: 3 years ago

Mechanics from Whitmer join elite search for 'bugs'

Owens hosts Ford-AAA Auto Skills competition

Whitmer High School seniors Josiah Meiring, left, and Mike Stockdale II consult an online serice manual while diagnosing trouble with a new Ford Fusion during the Ford-AAA Auto Skills State Competition. Whitmer High School seniors Josiah Meiring, left, and Mike Stockdale II consult an online serice manual while diagnosing trouble with a new Ford Fusion during the Ford-AAA Auto Skills State Competition.
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If 10 brand-new Ford Fusion sedans showed up anywhere else exhibiting seven identical problems, it might prompt a recall.

Thursday at Owens Community College, Ford Motor Co. was in on it, and it was all part of a test.

Two-student teams from 10 Ohio schools, including Whitmer's Career and Technology Center, were at the Perrysburg Township campus for the Ford-AAA Auto Skills State Competition.

AAA and Ford officials place identical "bugs" in each of cars, which were donated by Hertz Corp. The student mechanics have 90 minutes to diagnose and fix the trouble. Speed is part of it, but they're also judged on the accuracy and quality of their work.

"It gives your top students the opportunity to excel, and it gives them a little bit of extra recognition," said Paul Kruthaup, who teaches second-year automotive students at Whitmer. "Traditionally, automotive students, especially at a comprehensive school, are not valedictorians, but they're extremely bright. They are hands-on people. They have to have a lot of technical understanding and knowledge. Cars are so computer-driven today."

The competition, in its 63rd year, is aimed at encouraging students to pursue careers in automotive repair.

Elizabeth Tarquinto, the technical programs marketing manager for Ford, said, "Our real goal is to get them involved early and kind of help develop them. One of the things that results from these programs is scholarship opportunities with our career-entry schools."

Ms. Tarquinto, who oversees the national Auto Skills program, said organizers try to make it as realistic as possible.

Students are given a work order -- essentially a write-up of what a customer would describe upon dropping off his or her car at a repair shop. The air conditioning might not work. The car may be running rough. Warning lights may light up the dash.

Paul Kruthhaup, automotive technology instructor at Whitmer High School. Paul Kruthhaup, automotive technology instructor at Whitmer High School.
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Said Whitmer senior Josiah Meiring, "We have to go from there and diagnose the bugs. That deals with a lot of electrical diagnosis. We have no guidelines. Fix it 100 percent, fix it brand new."

He was paired with fellow senior Mike Stockdale II. Both work at Tireman locations in Toledo. Young Meiring said he likes the challenge and sees it as a good career opportunity. But fixing cars has gone high-tech. "It's no longer just picking up a wrench and changing a gasket. It's getting into a computer, collecting data to tell you what the problem is with the vehicle," he said.

Whitmer placed eighth. First place went to Trumbull Career and Technical Center in Warren, although two northwest Ohio schools also had good showings. A team from Apollo Career Center in Lima made up of Sebastian Moneer of Spencerville and Zach Cozadd of Bluffton finished second. Third went to the Sentinel Career and Technology Center team from Tiffin, made up of Ricardo Galvan of Fostoria and Brandon Seasly of Republic.

AAA spokesman April Cochran said that between Ford scholarships and others, about $30,000 would be awarded to Thursday's competitors. No matter their finishing order, the students are among the most talented in the state. Students first submit written tests online. The two highest-scoring students at each school become a team, and the top 10 teams competed in Thursday's state final.

"These are the best of the best in the state of Ohio, and Ohio's the most aggressive state in the nation for this competition," Ms. Cochran said.

Mr. Kruthaup, who has taught automotive students at Whitmer for two decades, said things have changed drastically in the industry, but for those who keep up, it's a healthy field to get into.

"If you don't go to school, if you don't upgrade yourself constantly, you'll get passed up in this business. You cannot survive in this business if you're not going to continue to learn," he said. "It has changed drastically. It changes daily almost sometimes. The equipment and technology you have to have for this is pricey if you want to do it right, but for those who master it and understand it, the opportunities are almost endless."

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.

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