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New York Auto Tech Competition Prepares Next Generation To Fix Computer-Based Cars

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- We're used to seeing sports competitions, but a new type of tournament is being used to inspire a younger generation to get into auto repair.

CBS2's Steve Overmyer spent much of Wednesday meeting high schoolers taking part in the New York Auto Tech Competition in Queens.

It isn't a typical competition.

It's like the state championship for auto repair.

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New York Auto Tech competition
The New York Auto Tech Competition in Queens helps prepare the next wave of technicians -- formerly known as mechanics -- to repair the computer-based cars of today. (Photo: CBS2)

Students from the area have to prove their precision in wheel alignment, diagnostics, and identifying problems.

"They have to go pick what range of the transmission the noise occurs in. They have 15 minutes as far as the station. Some teams are taking the whole time. Some are done in less than five minutes," said Subaru technical training operations manager Corey Ratner.

Cars have become more computerized, and so has the job of fixing them.

"We're trying to get rid of that stigma of 'grease monkey' or even a 'mechanic.' And we don't even call them mechanics anymore. We call them technicians because the technology is so advanced," Ed Gazzillo of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association said.

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They don't work in shops. They work in labs. The future auto techs need to be skilled as computer users. They have to be strong in math and critical thinking, especially when the clock is ticking.

"We were feeling pretty confident until they said there was two minutes left and there were still plenty of questions left, so we tried our best," high school senior Paulo Contessa said.

"It really gives me good experience to know what I should be looking forward to when I'm poursuing this career in automotive repair," senior Victor Aquino added. "And it gives me a good idea of where I should work on and how to do it."

The number of auto techs has been on a rapid decline over the past 10 years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates nearly half of auto technicians will hit retirement in the next five years.

"If you think it's expensive fixing your car now, wait until there's nobody to work on it," Ratner said with a laugh.

Wednesday's winners will move on to the nationals where they'll compete for $3 million in scholarships and prizes.

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