Students to test their auto skills

FAIRMONT – Four students from Fairmont Area will participate in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Challenge, a state competition being held next month in Brooklyn Park.

Qualified students from 10 schools from across the state are participating. The winners will go on to compete at the national finals this summer at Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.

For Jeff Brickner, Spencer Carlmark, Josh Nutt and Zach Schleininger, the journey to state competition began when their automotive instructor, Bob Bonin, chose them to take the written skills test.

The test covered details of the electrical, suspension, powertrain and safety systems.

“All the usual things you would run into,” said Carlmark.

All four students passed the tests with scores high enough to qualify them for the state round, which is a hands-on competition.

The students will be given 90 minutes to fix a bugged 2013 Ford Focus; they do not know how many bugs there will be.

Carlmark said he is most concerned about the time limit, since they will have to find all the bugs.

“We don’t want to be the fastest one done,” he said. “We want to be the best one done.”

Another concern is how new the vehicle is.

“It is a brand new 2013 car,” Carlmark said. “It is different from what we are used to working on. … We have never faced a brand new car like that. Who wants their brand new car in a high school shop?”

Brickner said in the automotive classes at school they typically work on staff vehicles, often doing routine maintenance, like oil changes, but also taking on more serious issues.

The students are currently working on the engine of a vehicle that was new in 1950.

“We are working with a newer car (in the competition),” Carlmark said. “We could have a lot more codes and wires that are faulty.”

Fairmont Ford has stepped in to assist the students with that particular concern.

The dealership has invited the students and instructor to the Ford shop to go over a new Focus with a trained mechanic, and has offered to lend tools to the students for the competition.

David Kloeckner at Fairmont Ford said the dealership has a history of working with the school on this competition, although no student has participated in many years.

“It is good to see young people going into the trades,” Kloeckner said. “People need to know there are good careers in the automotive industry.”

Bonin said this is the first time he has sent students to the competition.

“They have worked very hard and it is an honor for them to be representing the community,” he said.

The winners of the national competition will be awarded with college scholarships.

All four students have differing career goals, although mechanical skills are a common thread.

Carlmark has plans to pursue mechanical engineering, as his desire is to design automotive parts. Schleininger plans to learn diesel mechanics and help his dad out with the family business, Landscaping Plus. Nutt wants to be an auto mechanic, and Brickner said he isn’t sure if auto mechanics is in his future; he simply enjoys working on vehicles as a hobby.