In an auto repair test so tough that most state champions never even managed to get their intentionally sabotaged cars moving, two Utah youths finished 16th best nationally.
That's especially good since one just broke his arm - and couldn't use a wrench or screwdriver. The pair originally was not even supposed to be in a preliminary Utah contest they won to qualify but were added when another team was disqualified.Still, Kevin Wood and Nick Cluff, both 18, who just graduated from Viewmont High School, said they hoped to do better Monday in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skill National Quality Care Challenge in front of the U.S. Capitol.
But they said the judges were especially tricky with how they bugged 51 identical Ford Taurus cars.
"They gave us a bad replacement part, but we found that and asked for another one," Wood said.
But they didn't find that judges had poked a small hole in a PCV hose that made the on-board computer give them false readings. "We couldn't figure that one out. The only way to find that was to listen for it," Cluff said.
Cluff, who is left-handed, had also just broken his left arm last week in a motorcycle accident, so he could not twist wrenches or screwdrivers.
Other problems they did find were bad fuses that had been rigged so that fuse testers would say they were all right. The only way to see they were bad was to pull them out and look at them.
Also, some filaments in lights had been soldered together so that they also produced false readings from the on-board computer - but the pair also found that problem.
The pair missed two bugs - the PCV hose and a bad parking light - in 80 minutes but that was good enough for 16th place. Most of the 51 contestants did not manage to get their cars moving in the allowed 90 minutes.
Cluff said that in the Utah championships they won to qualify, only three of 10 finalists managed to get their cars moving. "This was a lot tougher than that," Wood said.
Their instructor, Mac Pells, said the pair originally thought they had just missed qualifying for the Utah finals by one point in a written test. But the day before the hands-on competition, they were told another team had been disqualified and they were in.
"That only left 24 hours to prepare. We were able to borrow a car from Marion Willey Ford but didn't have much time to do anything. But they were able to walk right through that contest anyway," Pells said.
Ford officials noted that the cars used in the contest have more computers and electronics than the Apollo moon capsules, so repair people require extensive training. Ford officials also said finalists could expect to easily find jobs paying $35,000 a year to start.
Cluff and Wood, however, said they both plan to leave soon on missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and have not decided yet what they want to do when they return.
Of note, the national competition had its first-ever all-woman team in the finals. But Stacey Govern and Mandie Anderson of California were among the teams that could not get their car moving in the allotted time.