Replacement Cycles

One of the automaker police advisory boards conducted an internal survey on replacement cycles. Simply put, how long do you keep your patrol vehicles, either in terms of years or miles?

Of course, no automaker or fleet consultant can tell you how long a police vehicle will last. All three automakers design to a duty cycle of 10 years and 150K miles. Each automaker tests their police package vehicles to a higher standard than their retail vehicles. Perhaps that is your answer right there – 150K miles.

Many fleet consultants, those who specialize in lifecycle costing, have a different view. They plot cost of acquisition versus cost of operation and say those two curves cross about 85K miles. That means, beyond 85K miles, the total cost of ownership increases. These are the consultants who want you to avoid that first major expense. Do not put a $4000 transmission in a vehicle worth less than $8,000. Maintenance and repairs should never exceed 50 percent of the value of the vehicle.

The whole search for a hard and fast number is clouded by the fact that the vehicle can actually be kept (safely) in-service indefinitely. Many “worn out” police sedans are sold to taxi companies, who then put 250K miles on them. We might be all about public safety, but they are all about the almighty dollar – a compelling argument. That brings us back full circle. When and Why do we replace vehicles?

Rather than try to answer these tough When and Why questions, approach the problem from a different angle – best practices. Benchmark your peers. How long do departments of a similar size and with similar patrol scenarios keep their vehicles? These well-run departments will probably shy away from calling themselves “experts.” The philosophy of the CHP comes to mind. “We aren’t experts, but we put a lot of miles on the cars.” Yeah, like 93 million miles a year – the distance from the earth to the sun.

The survey was conducted among fleets that are prominent enough to be asked to serve on a police advisory board. Some state police – highway patrol. Some sheriff’s office – county police. Some large cities, some mid-size. All regionally diverse. The survey was recent, i.e., during the horrible economy with budget cuts, staff reductions and other Draconian measures to cope with the dwindling tax dollars.

That said, the vast majority of your peers take their patrol sedans out of service at between 90K and 120K miles for an average of 103K miles. That is a mix of mostly V8 RWD sedans and some V6 FWD sedans. This really seems to pass the “gut check” for patrol use. Run them to about 100K miles and then dispose of them. Almost no one uses years-of-service – everyone uses mileage.

The admin cars, and 20 percent of the fleet is admin, has a much wider range of duty miles. This makes sense. Vehicles for the top admin get turned in at about 60K miles, while the sedans used by detectives run about 120K miles. Interestingly, the average life for an admin sedan is almost the same as a patrol sedan – 112K miles.

The real surprise, however, is when police SUVs were taken out of service. Virtually everyone keeps the SUV for 125K miles. That seems way too soon. That is putting an expensive, built-tough, truck-platform SUV on the same footing as a heavy-duty retail car. The clear and overwhelming consensus, however, is 125K miles.

Resist the pressure to put more than 125K miles on your patrol sedans. The pattern and practice of well-run fleets, even in tough economic times, is to take these emergency vehicles out of service by then. Absolutely insist on 150K miles max. If you are running a fleet mixed with sedans and SUVs, consider running the SUVs longer. Initial cost, let alone lifecycle costing, should push the duty cycles of the police SUV to more like 175K miles.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Mar/Apr 2012

Rating : 10.0

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