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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Timpview High School's Letalanoama Storey participates in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition at Salt Lake Community College's Miller Campus in Sandy on Thursday, May 2, 2013. In the fast-paced, hands-on competition, students diagnose and repair deliberately “bugged” identical Ford vehicles, then drive them across the finish line.
As cars have evolved, it's less simply mechanical and more technological. Parents hear about mechanics and they still think it's just this grease monkey thing, but they don't think about the high-tech aspects. —Evan Kirk, Woods Cross automotive instructor

SANDY — Utah's best and brightest high school mechanics tried their hands at repairing deliberately “bugged” Ford vehicles this week as part of a nationwide automotive competition.

Separated into teams of two, 20 students from 10 high schools were given a full complement of tools to repair a 2013 Ford Focus SE, each of which included manufacturing defects.

Provo High's Parker Thomas and Jimmy Hicken took home first prize Thursday after succeeding as one of only four teams to get their car operational and off the lot during competition time Thursday at Salt Lake Community College's Miller Campus.

Riverton High's Hayden K. Haslam and Caden B. Knight finished second, and Steven Allcott and Taylor Wise of Woods Cross took third.

The Utah Ford/AAA Auto Skills Contest hands out about $9 million in scholarships each year nationally as a way to make young mechanics aware of career opportunities in the automotive service field.

“We’re really here to promote these kids’ interests and recognize their work,” said Rolayne Fairclough, AAA Utah spokeswoman. “We see a real shortage of mechanics.”

Ford sponsors student auto skills contests across the nation each year, and contest winners — including Thomas and Hicken — are invited to the national competition, which this year is being held in Dearborn, Mich.

Nearly 400 Utah students applied for the competition in a statewide written test. Teams of two from the top 10 scoring high schools were chosen to compete Thursday.

“All of these kids have something to brag about,” Fairclough said. “Just to get here is really an accomplishment.”

Each team was given 90 minutes to diagnose and repair the problems and then drive the vehicle around the block. While the competition was partly based on time, points were awarded for technical precision and deducted for unfixed mechanical problems.

“We knew what the problem was for an hour. It just took us that long to take care of it,” Allcott said. “They did a great job of making it really difficult.”

Woods Cross automotive instructor Evan Kirk said the 2013 challenge was especially difficult due to increasing computer technology under the hood.

“As cars have evolved, it’s less simply mechanical and more technological,” Kirk said. “Parents hear about mechanics and they still think it’s just this grease monkey thing, but they don’t think about the high-tech aspects.”

Teams from Northridge, Timpview, Clearfield, Hillcrest, Davis, Carbon and Fremont high schools also competed Thursday.

Email: [email protected], Twitter: benlockhart89