JDHS students prepare for auto repair contest

Posted: Monday, May 16, 2005

Leif Olsen and Jason Lindley bent over the engine of the Ford Sable looking - and listening - for the trouble.

Ordinarily, a nice, new car like that wouldn't have problems, but Juneau-Douglas High School auto teacher Steve Squires put the problems there.

He's training the two students for next Friday's Student Auto Skills competition at the University of Alaska Anchorage, sponsored by Ford and AAA.

On Friday, Olsen and Lindley worked their way through seven bugs that Squires put into the Sable, which Evergreen Motors loaned for the week.

Hertz will donate a Ford Taurus for the students to work on this week, Squires said.

"All right, it looks like it's OK," Squires told the young men as they seemed to have fixed one problem.

"I took the belt off and they had to replace the belt. Now (the engine) is making a funny noise, and they have to figure out what's making the funny noise," he said to an observer.

Olsen, 17, who is mostly home-schooled, and Lindley, 18, are in the competition because they had the two highest scores of eight local students who took a written test, and their scores surpassed a qualifying threshold.

They'll compete against five other teams in Anchorage.

Both students have taken basic and advanced auto courses at JDHS, and both have taken two auto courses at the University of Alaska Southeast on their own initiative.

"Now that we got it running, the idle is off. There's a vacuum leak somewhere," Lindley said after the belt was replaced.

"You're getting air behind (the throttle) that you're not in control of," Olsen explained.

The students have to become adept at quickly finding information in the car's service manuals, Squires said. The competition, in which students must fix 15 bugs, lasts only 90 minutes.

The students will practice finding Squires' bugs for a couple of weeks, but that can go only so far in preparing them.

"What's really important is just a basic knowledge of what's going on," Squires said. "No matter how much you practice, there's going to be problems at the competition we won't have covered."

The students also must know how to use a diagnostic tool, which cost about $2,000, that hooks into the car's computers, Squires said.

"If it doesn't start right away, we have our thousands-of-dollars computer, our millions-of-dollars computer," joked Lindley. "It will give us a hint, but it won't fix it."

By the end of class Friday, the mechanical duo had found and fixed six of the seven bugs. They continued to look after class ended.

If they win in Anchorage and go on to the national contest in Washington, D.C., they'll face some hard-hearted judges. If students turn in a part to get a replacement, and the part isn't the source of the problem, the judges are likely to give them a defective part, Squires said.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.

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