Trucks at Work

Technicians, fix those trucks!

"The diagnostic work technicians need to perform in order to figure out what needs to be fixed is almost always the hardest part; fixing the truck itself is the easiest part. And what makes this competition so tough is that we put these guys out on an island, by themselves – they can’t go to anyone for help. That’s the complete opposite of how they work in the shop.” –Mike Besson, vice president-service operations, Rush Truck Centers

So I am down here in San Antonio, TX, to cover Rush Enterprises’ 2009 technician skills rodeo and the pace is just as fast and furious as the last two I covered (which were both in Nashville, TN, by the way).

The mettle of rookie competitors as well as steely veterans is being tested in all sorts of ways – and we’re not talking solely about speed here, either. For to notch a top score, the technician must not only fully complete the repair, he’s got to do it the right way, using the right procedures – because as these trucks get more and more complicated, using the proper diagnostic techniques is almost as important as performing the physical fix to a truck as well.

[Here's a glimpse of the first day's events at the rodeo.]

“Just because you finish first on a problem really doesn’t mean much,” explained veteran competitor Michael Willoughby, out of Rush Truck Center’s Oklahoma City, OK, location. “The first time I competed I just blazed through my problem to finish first, but I didn’t document my processes or put a lot of detail in my service write up. By not following procedures, I missed 20 points. So I am making doubly sure this year to do everything correctly.”

Experience is of course a major advantage in this two-day competition involving 60 technicians from across Rush’s network of 50 locations across the southern U.S. and California. In all, 18 trucks are lined up for the technicians to work on, cutting across a variety of makes and models. Three Orange Peterbilt 386 sleeper tractors offer problems for the Cummins specialists to solve. Six Peterbilt 388 daycabs are split to into two groups – three gray units sporting 13-speed Eaton manual transmission issues and three white units with Caterpillar engine problems.

On the medium-duty side, there are three GMC blue Kodiak 5500 series trucks and three Hino 285 ALP models with their own set of issues for the technicians to solve.

The challenges are all different, too. While each technician gets 45 minutes to solve the problems at that particular station, no two are alike. For example, on the heavy-duty side, the Eaton transmission stations have just one problem to solve, while the Cummins stations have three and the Caterpillar trucks have 10 issues. It’s no different on the medium-duty side, with three problems for the Hino models but just one for the GMC trucks.

So as the keys on the laptops are punched, the wrenches are turned, with pages being turned hastily in parts and troubleshooting manuals alike, the tension only continues to mount through the day as each technician jumps into the problems at their station with both feet. It will be interesting to see who wins the first round in order to move into the finals tomorrow.