You can never be sure what tomorrow is going to bring.
It wasn’t all that long ago, really, when I interviewed John Uber and Matt Roach. It was February of 2020 – back in the pre-Covid days – when I wandered down to John’s All-Vehicle Sales and Service in downtown Marion to talk with the duo.
Johnnie had been doing his thing at the shop for 35 years at that point – more time than Matt had been on Earth. Matt had grown up down the street from Johnnie, and had become his right-hand man – slowly but surely taking over more and more responsibilities at the shop.
At that point, it was only a matter of time before Matt went out on his own. And later that year, Matt did just that, opening “On Target Auto” in November of 2020 in a shop at Chuck’s Corner [M-115 and M-66]. He spent a couple of years at that location before briefly moving into the old machine shop at the corner of 6th and Chadwick in Marion.
During that time, Johnnie kept doing his thing at All-Vehicle: fixing and towing vehicles. And he kept doing it as long as his body would allow him to. I last spoke with John in June of 2022 after my car fell apart. Our conversations that week weren’t much different than previous conversations: friendly and lighthearted – he’d make the best out of a bad situation, and make sure you were taken care of. He was battling cancer, but his spirit was strong.
And in the fall of ’22, Johnnie wanted to make sure his family was taken care of. He approached his “right-hand man” Matt about selling All-Vehicle to him, and it was then that Matt knew Johnnie’s illness was serious. Johnnie continued working well into the fall, until, physically, he no longer could. He passed away on December 4th, 2022, with his family by his side.
But his memory, and his shop lives on. Matt purchased the shop from Johnnie – the duo had maintained a great friendship – and “On Target Auto” found a new home in a familiar place. And while Matt had always had a vast mechanical expertise, it was John who helped him learn how to run a business. Matt couldn’t have done any of it without him.
So for Matt, things have come full circle. He’s back in the shop he grew up in, doing what he loves. Helping familiar faces with all their auto repair needs.
And perhaps someday – hopefully well into the future – he’ll find a “right-hand man” to help take things over.
ARTICLE BELOW AS PRINTED FEBRUARY 14th, 2020
If you’re having car problems, there’s a good chance John Uber and Matt Roach can help you out.
John’s the owner of John’s All Vehicle Service in downtown Marion. He’s owned the shop for about the last eight years, but he’s been working at the shop since 1985.
For the last four years, Matt Roach has been John’s right hand man. Along with fellow employees Robert Uber, Curtis Alcorn, and Jesse VanBuskirk, chances are Matt can help get your car back on the road.
But there’s more to John and Matt than just fixing cars.
John, a ’77 Marion graduate, and his wife Cindy enjoy spending time with their sons Johnnie, Robert, and their five grandkids. After graduating from Marion, John went on the graduate from Mid-Michigan Community College in 1980.
Matt, an ’09 Farwell grad, is going to take some time off from work to marry the love of his life, Ashley, this August.
We caught up with John and Matt recently, where we learned a lot about cars. Although we’ve already forgotten everything they taught us about cars, we’ll never forget that these two are more than just a couple of faces in the crowd.
Marion Press: How long have you been working here at the shop?
John: I actually started working here in ’85. It was All-Vehicle Sales and Service then.
MP: What made you get into the auto repair business?
John: I got out of school, and I went to college at Mid-Michigan. Got my associates degree, and right after college I worked in Coleman for a while, at an International Harvester dealer. After I got laid off there, I went back to college, met [past owner] Dave Smith, and started working here.
MP: Did you grow up working on cars? Is this something you’ve always enjoyed?
John: Yeah, pretty much. When I was a teenager, I’d fix my own cars and other peoples’ cars.
MP: How about you, Matt? Have you always been working on cars?
Matt: Yeah, cars was a hobby when I was younger, and I really enjoyed it. In high school I took jobs building pole barns. After school, I got a job working construction, building military housing. We built military housing for about four or five years. That was paying decent, and I got to travel: South Carolina, Wyoming, North Dakota – pretty much got to see a lot of the states.
I studied up on it, came back here; I worked at Cook’s [Salvage] for about two years, dismantling cars, and tearing stuff apart. I got really good at taking things apart and putting them back together.
MP: At All Vehicle, you guys do just about everything in terms of auto repair, right?
Matt: We try to handle just about everything. We don’t do too much in airbags and body work, but just about everything else. Engine swaps, a lot of your bigger stuff; transmission swaps. Oil changes, tune ups. Sometimes we get different jobs – we’re putting semi-truck doors in the back of this cube van – that and [putting in] a transmission.
MP: What are some of the biggest changes in the auto industry over the last 35 years?
John: Cost is one! It’s a whole different world now, with all of the new electronic stuff.
Matt: There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that people don’t see when they’re driving their car down the road. It’s nothing like it used to be. You throw your car into a slide these days, the car will pull itself out. There’s just a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that people don’t see. There’s a lot of subsystems in place that can go wrong.
MP: Sounds like it’s the computer stuff…
John: When I got out of college, I worked on a lot of carburetors on cars – they were computerized then, I started on the computerized carburetors. Then I worked here for a few years, and I can remember the first time I got called on a service call, on a car that didn’t have a distributer, and I was lost. What the [heck] do I do?! But once you learn the systems they were pretty simple. You just had to learn the technology.
Matt: Pretty much nowadays you’ve got to understand how the computer works to be able to diagnose them correctly. There’s a lot to it.
John: You need a lot of equipment too; I’ve bought a stuff since I’ve came here too. It’s become a very technical job.
Matt: That’s why they changed the trade name from a mechanic to a technician. My first two years I was here, I’d probably study on average 2 – 4 hours a night; I’m still constantly reading on the new stuff that’s coming out. Like the newer 6.7 powerstrokes – they’ve got the steel pistons in them, whereas everything else before had aluminum. With steel you have a much different expansion rate.
That’s stuff that they designed for diesel pulling trucks, and now they’re incorporating it into everyday driving trucks.
MP: So now, not only do you have to get your hands dirty doing mechanical work, you have to be a computer technician as well.
Matt: And that’s the biggest change from when he started to nowadays. Back in those days there wasn’t too much on the electronics side of it. You have to differentiate a problem for being a mechanical problem, versus an electrical problem – and that’s one of the toughest parts of the job. To be able to read the data, and believe that the data isn’t giving you a false reading.
Technology is moving faster than you can keep up.
MP: Is there a certain vehicle you like working on the most? Are you more interested in the older cars or the newer ones?
Matt: We like working on both. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. The older cars, you’re pretty much always working on them – just to go to town. People have good old memories, “Yeah, they ran forever.” Yeah, but they didn’t run “good” forever.
John: A lot of the newer ones have a lot of electrical problems…
Matt: They do, but at least they stay running; most of the time they stay running!
MP: Do you have a preference for which vehicles are the best?
Matt: Probably for reliability, foreign. Hondas. They’re really good on reliabitilty.
John: Foreign, yeah. My mom liked an ’08 Honda, and we had that for three years. And I never did nothing to it; maybe breaks, minor stuff, but it never had any issues.
Matt: I’ve got an ’07 Impreza I bought from Cook’s. I’ve had it for five years – about 50,000 miles on it – and it only comes out when there’s salt on the road. I’ve put it in a lot of spots it shouldn’t be; a lot of trails and stuff. It’s all wheel drive, so it’s a decent little car.
John: And [Hondas and foreign cars] do break down too, but they seem to be a lot more dependable than a lot of your American cars.
MP: It’s not supposed to be that way.
John: No, it shouldn’t be, but it is. Even when I first started working here, we had this old Datsun pickup – it had a little 4-cylinder in it – and my God, we just beat the crap out of that thing. We hauled everything. I remember one time, we had five V-8 engines in the back of it, hauling to the junk yard. And we drove it until it fell off the wheels pretty much. It still ran good – and we never did any major work to it. It just seemed to run forever!
MP: What’s your favorite part of running a business in your hometown of Marion?
John: I like that I know a lot of the people, and that everybody knows me. It’s close to home, and I like being my own boss – I can still be a pain in the [butt] sometimes!
Matt: It’s nice that you can build rapport with the customers. We don’t have so many people that we’re forgetting who you are. We probably remember 90% of our customers names.
MP: A lot of repeat customers.
John: Yeah, we have customers who come here, who’ve been coming here for the last 30 years. And now their kids come here, and now their grandkids come here.
MP: What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or learned over the years?
Matt: Try not to stress about the little things, and enjoy the time you get with your family. Try to spend the time with the people who matter the most.
John: You’ve got to learn how to deal with people, and get along with people.
You can never be sure what tomorrow is going to bring.