Ready for Prime Time

What does it takes to make a champion technician?

“What we’re driving at on the diagnostic test is, we look at our costs and see where they’re highest,” O’Leary explains. “Air conditioning component code is a high cost for us. So, in order to get these 5,000 people out in the field to focus on where to go to get the information, we say, ‘Where can we lower our air conditioning costs?’”

Once those 5,000 technicians start to hone their skills on air conditioning maintenance, the company starts to see a reduction in A/C maintenance costs. “This will lower our costs overall,” O’Leary says. “It may be half a point, 3/10ths of a point, but 3/10ths of a point on $675 million, that’s a lot of money.”

“That gets everybody’s level a little higher in their efficiency and better at making those repairs,” says Douglas. “So, as a company, it continues year after year to drive those costs down, because we have fewer repeat repairs, because the guys are more efficient at diagnosing the problems.”

And because of the diversity of Penske’s fleet, the test topic can be different every year. This year the technicians are faced with International 8600s with bugged A/C system and Cummins ISM engines, but next year they may be dealing with transmission bugs on a Freightliner. “I think it gives you a whole different way to deliver training,” says Douglas. “You’re not just sitting in a classroom, listening to someone lecture you, then you go out and apply it. It makes the learning a lot more fun.”


Because specific high-cost maintenance areas are being addressed, the event must have practical value to the competitors. Even though the competition is, by definition, challenging, the managers who design the tests are careful to choose problems that the technicians are liable to run across on any normal day in the shop.

“What we try to present is a typical complaint coming from a driver,” Douglas says. “We have a driver that does his DDIR, he writes it up, and that’s the scenario we present to them when they compete: the driver brought this truck in, and this is his complaint. The complaint will say ‘The A/C comes on, and then it’s cool, then it gets hot or it doesn’t work at all.’ Through the competition we’ve done different things on the air conditioning piece, but we’re also looking at electrical and engine problems as well, so they’re going to look at those three things, which in most fleets I think you’ll find that is where they’re spending the majority of their diagnostic time.

“So,” he says, “they have to listen to what the complaint was, and they get a copy of that and they know, ‘Okay, that’s no different than what I do every day.’ Now, I’ve got to find out what’s causing this to happen, make the repair, clear the fault codes and complete the competition.”


Ken Coots, senior vice president of Maintenance Services, explains that every maintenance episode on every truck that has ever been in the Penske fleet is stored in a massive database. As of today, that database has 52 million data points in it, representing every oil change, every engine overhaul, every tire change that’s ever been performed in the company.

“Every one of our vehicles is a profit center, and we have 216,000 vehicles,” Coots says. “Out of those 216,000 vehicles, plus the ones we’ve had before, every one of them has a data point as a repair. All of those repairs are in the system, so we can go back and look at a vehicle that we had 15 years ago, and we can tell you what the oil sample looked like on that vehicle at 30,000 miles, 60,000 miles, whatever. We can track that for viscosity, we can track it for metal wear; we can tell you the dollars that we spent on switches, on air conditioning parts, everything that we spent on that vehicle from 15 years ago, as well as every truck we own now.”

Those 52 million data points determine the topic of the Diagnostics & Troubleshooting competition for the year.

“We’ll look at our past history over the past year, and we’ll gear the competition to those problem areas,” he says.


“The competition as a whole was much harder this year,” says Glaessmann, one half of the championship diagnostics team. “Going in you know exactly how many problems you’re going to have and exactly how much time you’re going to have to solve those problems, but you really don’t know what they’re going to throw at you, so you have to be prepared for everything, and hope you covered all your bases.

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