SAN ANTONIO -- Almost 100 truck technicians from across the Rush Truck Centers dealer chain are gathered in San Antonio, Texas, this week to test their skill levels against their peers.

The seventh annual Tech Skills Rodeo got under way here on Monday with preliminary rounds and written tests. Over the past several months, techs from across the chain have been studying and writing tests back home to qualify for the semi-final round, which began Monday.

Techs are competing in medium- and heavy-duty chassis-specific categories. This year, Rush has added a stand-alone natural gas competition. The medium-duty division features Hino, International, Isuzu and Peterbilt chassis. Heavy-duty features International and Peterbilt chassis, as well as powertrain components from Cummins, Eaton, Paccar MX and MaxxForce.

Each test is a standard service item likely to be encountered on the shop floor, with a twist or two thrown in to make it interesting. Competitors have 45 minutes to troubleshoot, diagnose and repair the problem. Points are scored for speed, accuracy and following proper procedures.

Facing the Wildcard

All contestants also face three 25-minute wildcard tests to give them a chance to increase their overall scores.

The wildcard tests are component-specific written exams from Dana, Caterpillar and Delco Remy.

Shawn Freebairn, a 20-year tech from Lake City International Trucks Inc. in Salt Lake City, recently acquired by Rush Truck Centers, says the wildcard test can be anything. He's a specialist on the International medium-duty DT engines, so was a little out of his element writing the Cat test.

"You have to try it," he said. "Maybe the test would be about something I knew about Cat. I don't think I made any extra points there today."

Troubleshooting Key

Dan Doyle, a product manager at Eaton who supervised a test involving the rebuilding of a powertrain component, says most of the competitors are right at home with almost anything mechanical.

"Many of them start looking over the parts and moving them around before they even look at the manual," he said. "That's they way they think. It shows there's something in all of them that makes them mechanically inclined."

Many of the tests, however, involved diagnostics from basic electrical troubleshooting to advanced emissions systems fault detection.

"I was working at the no-crank, no-start test," says Paul McKee, a personnel development manager at Navistar. "It's a typical problem, with a little twist. We're looking to see how well they follow a basic troubleshooting approach. If they do, the problem is solvable. If they just wade in, they likely won't find it."