Since 1975 at Scenic Ford in Mount Airy Jimmy Vernon has been a fixture from his days back on the mechanics line to sitting in the big chair as the service department manager. As 2022 draws to a close, so too does his time with Scenic and he will be leaving the oil changes and sounds of air wrenches behind and taking fond memories with him.
To work so long in one industry, or more specifically for one employer, for that amount of time is no longer common. Vernon said the answer to how or why he last so long is easy, “I’ve never come to ‘work;’ I’ve always enjoyed it. I love cars and I love people, so this was the perfect job for me,” Vernon said from his office in the service bay of Scenic Ford the walls behind him filled with photos, memorabilia, and parts catalogs from years gone by.
In 1975 he started on the line and worked his way up from there saying he learned how to rebuild transmissions and differentials, “Before you knew it, I was doing it all.” In 1983 he was tapped as the new service manager and it was the same year, he said, that his most tenured current mechanic started.
“It used to be that you could do it all, you could pretty much fix a car with just a screwdriver,” he said of the changes to the cars over the years. The cars got smarter and lighter as they moved away from the heavy metals and manufacturers started using other materials.
Today some may deride the quality of autos versus the ones of the era before the massive influx of imports and the many changes that arrived with emissions standards, but he said that is not always the case. Most of today’s car are better built and will be on the road for “hundreds of thousands” of miles more than their older counterparts.
“The time was that if a car hit 50 to 60,000 miles that it was going to need a new engine, now? I had a lady in here recently over 300,000 on her first engine,” he said.
It is a good thing the cars are lasting longer because parts for older, and even some middle-aged, vehicles are harder to come by. Vernon said often folks are looking for a late 90’s car or truck thinking it may be easier to find a part and can be surprised when finding they are not the only one who has had that idea. A Ford Ranger sitting on the lot at Scenic right now of that age is patiently waiting while the right belts, hoses, and a filler spout can be tracked down so that it will be road ready once more.
As the technology changes, the human element of auto repair may never be fully replaced. Even though the cars are smarter and have computer chips governing much of their activity, there are things a human can do a machine cannot. Vernon quickly joked that automation and robots can never replace the humans because, “Someone’s gotta’ plug them in.”
Jokes aside, a human’s five sense can all be important when it comes to working on a car that gets entrusted at times with the most precious of cargo. A robotic helper may not be able to feel a vibration, detect the sweet smell of a leak under the hood, or the sounds of an engine idling higher than it should. The split-second decision making that comes with decades of working on autos cannot yet be matched by automation and many mechanics and drivers alike hope it stays that way.
Vernon agrees there is something to be said for tinkering and getting a feel for the car one is working on that a diagnostic readout will never duplicate, and he went on to add that a human is needed even after a diagnostic to pinpoint through isolation and exclusion what a faulty component may be.
He gained that knowledge from the elbow grease academy and earned his stripes when it was still just Scenic Mercury. While the brand names have changed and Scenic sells and services more than they used to, the human touch in repair and with customer never changes as styles come and go.
Same too with employees, Scenic customers should fret not upon his departure as Vernon says the service department is going to be in the knowledgeable hands of Kevin Pratt starting in the new year.
Looking back over his time he wanted thanked the team and ownership of Scenic for the many years and all the support he got from them saying, “You can’t do anything without support… I’d say you find more of that, and I see more of that, at Scenic than probably at the average business.”
Vernon said had it not been for health issues, he would like to have stayed on the job even longer, “I was hoping to work until I am 75, but the good Lord has other plans for me,” but he also noted that he isn’t going anywhere just yet, “People can still call me, if they like.”