Theft mode steals precious time from auto skills team

Worry set in as two recent Maui High School graduates could not start their purposely bugged vehicle during the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills National Finals in Michigan on Tuesday.

Mitchell Borge and Lawrence Paet were almost finished repairing their Ford sport utility vehicle and found out it would not start. They ran a scan of the vehicle, but nothing showed up.

Frantically racing against the clock to finish with the best time, the students were stumped.

Paet thought to himself: ”Are we going to lose the competition and not finish the car?”

The school’s legacy added to the pressure. Every Maui High team has completed its repairs in the contest. Maui High has represented Hawaii at the national finals almost annually since 1992.

Then Paet said Borge told him: “Try lock all the doors and close it (and) see if it’s in theft mode. . . . Just be quiet and do it.”

As soon as the students did so and reopened the doors, the vehicle started up. The vehicle’s anti-theft system registered the car being stolen and shut it down, Paet explained.

“Right when we got it started, we got back in the mode; we got booking. Surprisingly, we came in fifth place,” he added.

Maui High has placed in the top 10 in the national competition for 11 years and won national titles in 1995 and 2000. Last year’s team placed second.

“My students were well-prepared for this highly competitive national final, and they did a great job of repairing the vehicle. They submitted a ‘perfect SUV’ for judging,” said the team’s coach and instructor Shannon Rowe in a news release. “They found all the problems with the vehicle and repaired them. I’m very proud of each student and their efforts.”

Reached via cellphone after the competition at Ford Headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., Rowe said that if it wasn’t for the delay with the anti-theft device his students would have probably finished repairing their vehicle in about 40 minutes or so.

Instead they finished their car – with no demerits – in 73 minutes, 58 seconds. The winning school from Oregon finished its perfect car in 55 minutes, 57 seconds.

The top five finishers in Tuesday’s competition had perfectly repaired vehicles. The Oregon team also won last year.

“I’m really proud of what they did,” said Rowe, a former Hawaii state champion of the Ford/AAA competition and a second-place finisher at the national finals in 1996.

This was Rowe’s fourth trip to the national finals as an instructor.

Rowe thanked fellow teacher Neill Nakamura and retired longtime Maui High School automotive teacher Dennis Ishii for their hard work in preparing the students for the event.

Prior to working on their cars, the students had to take a written test. They scored 126 out of a possible 200, Rowe said.

Each missed question cost the team 18 seconds in the hands-on car competition.

Now that the competition is over, Borge, 17, of Kahului said that “all the stress is off now.”

“It was pretty amazing,” he said of the competition that had the top teams from 50 states lined up on the Ford headquarters lawn working on their vehicles.

Borge said he is planning to attend Universal Technical Institute in Phoenix. He would like to become a mechanic.

As for the 18-year-old Paet, also of Kahului, he is not sure yet where he will go for additional schooling but said he wants to study vehicle design rather than mechanics.

Overall, Paet said that the experience was something he will never forget from the formal portions of the event, where students had to dress in black slacks and collared shirts, to meeting new people.

More than 13,000 high school juniors and seniors competed in this year’s competition with $11 million in scholarships offered.

Members of the Maui High team each received a $10,000 scholarship to the Automotive Training Center, $1,000 to Lincoln Education Services, $1,000 to Universal Technical Institute and $8,500 to the University of Northwestern Ohio, along with other prizes and trophies.

The Maui High team advanced to the finals after winning the state competition in April.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at