Thousands of dollars in cash and prizes will be on the line Saturday, May 7, when Cuyamaca College revs up its annual Automotive Skills Day — showcasing its automotive technology program with high school and college students turning wrenches in head-to-head competition.

Auto Skills Day trophies awarded at Cuyamaca College. Photo via college district

The skills contests takes place from 8:30 to 10:45 a.m. in the Automotive Technology complex (Building K) followed by a slew of auto- and technology-related activities, games and lunch.

Visitors can then head to the Grand Lawn for the student-run Coyote Music Festival taking place from noon to 4 p.m. Both events are free, as is parking, and open to the public.

Now in its 37th year, the longest running event at the Rancho San Diego campus this year will feature the college’s own automotive technology students. Also due are students from Monte Vista, Ramona, Grossmont, El Camino, Madison, and Crawford high schools.

Other activities taking place from 8:30-10:45 a.m. include:

  • People’s Choice Car Show, with students and others showing their cars for prizes.
  • STEM demonstrations in math and science, including creating lemon batteries and the opportunity to observe engineering students in a robotics class.
  • And interviews with employers interested in hiring students for jobs and internships. 
  • Automotive games and challenges follow from 11-11:45 a.m., including:

  • A driving simulator with a Ford GT for time trials at Laguna Seca Raceway.
  • Race car displays.
  • And San Diego State University engineering students demonstrating the Formula V race car they’ve built.
  • Lunch follows at noon and awards are presented at 1 p.m.

    Chris Branton, coordinator of the college’s automotive technology program and co-chair of the event, along with instructor Brad McCombs, said the event was expanded to draw more people and as part of the college’s efforts to recruit high school upperclassmen into the program.

    “Because of the high cost of running an auto tech program, most high schools have shuttered their programs and we would like students to know that they can come to Cuyamaca College to get trained to pursue a career in the automotive service industry,” Branton said, noting that Grossmont and Monte Vista are the only two schools in the Grossmont Union High School District still offering auto tech classes.

    Local high school students also will vie in Auto Skills Day contests. Photo via Cuyamaca College

    “We hope that by including our own students in Auto Skills Day competition, this might open the eyes of the high school students that this is a viable career option with a lot of opportunities,” Branton said.

    Organizers say the longevity of the event is due to the strong ties the college’s auto tech faculty has developed with local industry, and the mutual benefit of the program to the college, automotive shops and dealerships. 

    The local chapter of the Automotive Service Councils of California has donated tens of thousands of dollars over the years in prizes for the competition.

    This year, tools totaling between $3,000-$6,000 will be awarded to students competing in individual and team categories of engine repair, transmission, suspension and steering, brakes, electrical, AC and engine performance.

    “Our students today represent tomorrow’s labor pool in the many career technical education programs that we offer and the auto tech program is certainly a reflection of our commitment to community and workplace needs,” said Cuyamaca College President Julianna Barnes.

    With technical skills well beyond those needed in the past, graduates of Cuyamaca’s program who go on to get industry certification can expect an average annual salary of between $40,000 and $60,000.

    Entry-level salaries are typically in the mid-$20-000 to $30,000 range, and the pay of top earners in high-volume dealership shops can exceed $100,000.

    One reason to include other college programs relating to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in Auto Skills Day is to draw attention to the fact that the applied sciences and math, as well as English, are included in the curricula of students interested in pursuing careers in automotive technology.

    “Some students have this misconception that math and English skills are not needed to pursue this field,”  McCombs said. “The reality is that they need to understand how math is applied in the work they do and that reading comprehension is important to understand what they come across in repair procedures manuals.”

    Industry analysts project a pronounced shortage of automotive technicians within the next five to 10 years as the crop of new employees steadily shrinks, due to a decreased emphasis on vocational training in high schools.

    Cuyamaca College is at 900 Rancho San Diego Parkway in Rancho San Diego. For campus and driving maps, go to or call(619) 660-4000.