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Celts test pedal mettle at car contest

McNary High School seniors Trent Hari and Edgar Jimenez will compete in the 2012 Ford AAA Student Auto Skills competition this weekend in Gresham. (KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox)

Of the Keizertimes

Two McNary High School seniors are putting their hard-won automotive knowledge to the test this weekend at the 2012 Ford AAA Student Auto Skills competition in Gresham.

Edgar Jimenez and Trent Hari were practicing this week on a 2012 Ford Fusion lent to the school’s auto shop program. Their test will be to correctly find and fix intentionally-installed bugs on that same vehicle.

“You want to be the first to finish with no bugs – done and fixed right,” Hari said. In other words, haste makes waste in this race.

They qualified through a computer exam, where they were asked to solve the kind of scenarios an auto mechanic hears every day, like a rattling at 40 miles per hour, or the car feels misaligned.

This test is hands-on. Problems they might encounter include non-working light bulbs, a powered mirror that’s not so powerful or a misfiring cylinder.

Hari, has been taking Michael Melting’s auto classes to be able to fix his own vehicles. He’s been taking apart motors since he was a kid. His father used to fix vending machines, and he’d bring home motors for young Trent to play with. He’d add a battery and use them to power cars, and became fascinated with how they worked.

Jimenez is pursuing a career in mechanical engineering, so the class seemed a natural fit.

“I took an interest in machines and the way they work,” Jimenez said.

The auto shop at McNary looks like any other repair garage, with cars hoisted on lifts, tools everywhere and engines in various states of repair. But the desks and overhead projector in the corner remind you there’s learning to do, too.

Jimenez and Hari appreciate how Melting explains the science of how cars work: How electrons flow, the chemistry of combustion and how hydrocarbons break down when lit with a spark.

It’s also led to a home hobby for Jimenez. He owns two cars, one of which – a 1993 Honda del Sol – he completely rebuilt. He assembled an engine using parts from three other ones, upgraded the brakes and rebuilt the suspension.

“I wanted to see if I was capable of actually (rebuilding from) the shell of a car – it was junk,” Jimenez said.

Jimenez intends to study mechanical engineering next year at Oregon State University. Hari is attending Chemeketa Community College and is undecided on his plans. Both will do so with scholarships.

Winners of the state auto skills contest win scholarships and prizes along with a chance to represent Oregon at the national competition in Dearborn, Mich.