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In the Spotlight

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hybrid Vehicle Repair

Clover Park Technical College is the only college in Washington State that offers a course in hybrid vehicle repair training that works with a variety of hybrid vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles (such as diesel, compressed natural gas, and hydrogen).

The driving force behind the inception of this course, which was offered for the first time during summer quarter, 2010, is Instructor Wayne Bridges. Wayne has been with the College over 20 years. The Automotive Hybrid Program is one of those showcases that put the College on the cutting edge of sustainable green careers that are more and more in demand in today’s world.

Gary Covington, another automotive technician instructor, has had training in this area as well, and so the momentum is building and the institution is geared up for meeting the demand of a relatively new field.

“The dream of teaching such a course,” Wayne states, “has been going on for about six years.” A group of instructors went to Dayton, Ohio, to the very first hybrid training class, which was funded by the National Science Foundation. The class was open to only 50 instructors in the entire world. Wayne was one of the 50 chosen to attend this program. Wayne says, “My goal is to have the premiere hybrid program on the planet here at Clover Park Technical College.”

The College has been fortunate to receive five vehicles that have been in accidents donated to its fleet by State Farm Insurance Company: three operating Prius (one has been dismantled for training aids), a Honda Civic hybrid, and a Ford Escape hybrid. The Escape is parked down at one end of the large bay. A Sawzall was used to cut off the roof because it was crushed all the way down to the seats. However, with only 1,000 miles on the car, it runs like a top, allowing students to get hands-on training.

The first class on hybrid vehicle repair was launched during the 2010 summer quarter.
“I’ve broken the curriculum into specific sections, to allow me to pull out, say, a Toyota section to teach. Eventually, I’d like to offer smaller modules in a continuing education format, in addition to this more intensive course of study, Monday through Friday, for six hours every day,” says Wayne. This will allow technicians who are already employed full-time the ability to attend classes at a time that meshes with their work schedule.

The training will also be embedded in the College’s traditional automotive program to the degree that all students will leave with some basic understanding of safety requirements and general knowledge of working with such vehicles.

The systems of hybrid, electric, or alternative-fueled vehicles are quite different from traditional vehicles. Any time the wheels are turning on the Prius, for example, it is producing 500 volts three phase AC with over 60 amps. The Toyota Highlander hybrid is 650 volts, three phase AC.

Wayne stands by while a student opens the hood of a car and dons thick high voltage gloves. Prior to every time the gloves are put on, they are tested with air for any holes (even as small as a pin prick), and the gloves are good for only six months, at which time they must be recertified.

Dealing with high voltage means a large part of instruction is devoted to safety. The gloves students wear are rated to 1,000 volts and the tools they use are insulated for 1,000 volts. There’s an insulated hook that Wayne calls his “technician disconnect tool,” so that if a student is “arching and sparking,” there’s a way to safely pull the student away from the source of electrical shock. Chance of happening? Slim to none.

“Having been dealing with these vehicles for a number of years now, I can say that as long as you work the way you’ve been trained and you have a healthy respect for the power source, there are no issues,” says Wayne. “In the real world, typically, we would take out a high voltage battery and put it back in, without accessing the inside.”

With the heightened interest by the public in alternative fuels and the resultant increase in sales of hybrid vehicles (remember when buyers were faced with a waiting list for a new hybrid just a few short years ago?), as well as the new all-electric vehicles, there will be a growing market for qualified technicians.

“I think it’s a great program. It definitely should be continued for the year,” says student Chris Rodriguez. “I’ve learned a lot about hybrids, and I think I’m one of the few people around who’ve had certified hybrid training. Good for job prospects. I can go to any dealership and I’m a lot more valuable because of this program.”

Clover Park Technical College has made a commitment to sustainability in many of its programs, and this is the latest in a series of courses that have taken the leap into the “wild, green beyond,” benefiting society in general and benefiting the graduate in terms of carving out a niche and improving marketability in a down economy.

And speaking of the wild green beyond, an arrangement was recently confirmed to take at least some of the waste cooking oil from the Culinary Arts Program and campus Food Services to produce bio-diesel that will be used to fuel the Maintenance Department’s diesel-powered equipment. Also, one of the by-products of making bio-diesel is glycerin. Wayne will be working with Instructor Denise Klug and the Cosmetology Program to make soap from the glycerin that can be used in that program. All of this fits nicely with the College’s sustainability goals by reducing waste and the costs associated.

Prerequisites for Automotive Hybrid courses are an auto tech degree or two years experience – and most technicians who have two years industry experience have ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certification. The experience and certification are indicators of the groundwork that needs to be in place before entering the program.

Prospective students should get in touch directly with Instructor Wayne Bridges at (253) 589-5608 or wayne.bridges@cptc.edu to be sure their experience is sufficient to meet the requirements for the course.

Dianne Bunnell
Clover Park Technical College
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