SANDY -- "If you can, start your engines."
That was the command given by Rick Bouillon, dean of the School of Technical Specialties at Salt Lake Community College, as he started the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition last week for the top 10 high school automotive teams from across the state.
Of course, none of the 2013 Ford Fusions started when the competition began because they had all been deliberately bugged with identical issues.
Five of the high schools from Top of Utah -- Clearfield, Davis, Fremont, Northridge and Woods Cross -- battled against the clock in the premier auto competition, aiming to be the first to get their car repaired and across the finish line in 90 minutes.
"Athletes go to their state competitions, and this is our state thing," said Woods Cross automotive instructor Evan Kirk. "We don't get the kind of recognition athletes do, but this is a big deal, where students get their lives changed because of this competition."
Each of the competitors received free tools and several scholarship opportunities to top automotive schools in the country. First place was awarded to Provo High School, second place went to Riverton High School, and Woods Cross came in third.
Results were based on written test scores (completed prior to the competition), how quickly students repaired the car, and how well they completed the repairs.
Nearly 400 students from 27 high schools in the state submitted written tests in February, with the top 10 invited to attend the competition. Each team consisted of each high school's top two students.
Winning was on the minds of all the competitors.
"I'm really excited, but a little nervous, because this is a big competition," senior Parker Fisher, who attends Clearfield High School, said before the competition.
"It's a fun opportunity, but we have to think about the bigger picture. Winning is always cool, but if we lose, it's just a competition."
Even if they didn't win or decide to go into the automotive industry as a career, students see many benefits from the competition.
"This competition really shows them how to work as a team, and teaches them critical thinking skills," said Brett Baird, the competition manager. "They have 90 minutes in which to repair a car with typically a dozen things wrong, some as simple as a small malfunction, like a light bulb, or something as big as the computer system that won't run."
At the start of the competition, students were given a service sheet listing current problems with the car, similar to what a customer would list. Repairs the contestants encounter are sensor issues, problems with the lighting system, or problems with the electrical system running the power doors or power locks.
"There is no system that is off limits," said Baird, referring to the problems issued by AAA, which dictates what problems the cars will have at each competition.
"As an instructor, it's hard to stand this close and not be able to help them, and hope they remember everything they've learned in the last three years," said Kirk.
However, he knows the results that will come from their hard work. Two of his students who competed in last year's competition are now attending automotive schools with scholarships they received from the event.