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Fleet Management Tips

Written by John Bellah

The fleet managers for La Habra, Calif. found a cost-effective to way to replace some high-mileage patrol vehicles in their fleet. Running a relatively small fleet and on a limited budget, they came across a nearby dealer who had a backlog of unsold Ford CVPIs. While these cars were old models, they were new cars and the factory warranties begin when the vehicles entered service. La Habra submitted a bid for these vehicles, which was accepted by the dealer, who was happy to move the inventory.

Finding vehicles on the lot may mean passing on some bid specs, like a lack of driver side power seat, driver side spotlight. However, in most cases, adding a few new components can make the vehicles a good fit in the department. The bottom line is the officers were happy to get new cars and the city got a considerable amount of “bang” for the taxpayer’s buck, which was less than the cost of the newest cruisers.

Some fleet managers often source low-mileage used vehicles for administrative and undercover uses from dealer auctions, or rental fleet returns. This practice is far cheaper than buying new vehicles, saving the cost of depreciation. Additionally, returned rental vehicles often come with their own warranty from the rental company. These types of vehicles would be ideal for undercover applications as they appear as “stock” vehicles without the “plain-wrapper” appearance. Another advantage is these vehicles can easily be rotated—or resold, if a variety of vehicles are required.

Instead of ordering custom paint combinations, some law-enforcement fleet operators are ordering solid-color vehicles and utilize a vinyl wrap on the doors, fenders, and/or roof to make a two-color vehicle. This practice aids during resale as using a heat-gun will quickly remove the wrap, reverting the vehicle back to a solid color. This saves the cost of ordering custom paint and the cost and environmental concerns of repainting the vehicle for resale. All three police carmakers now offer vinyl wraps on their NextGen vehicles.

The Los Angeles Police Department has been testing a urethane plastic spray over the back seat area of their cruisers. This coating, similar to that of bedliners sprayed inside the beds of pickup trucks, covers the rear seat and upholstery panels of their cruisers. Manufactured by Scorpion, this coating also has antibacterial properties, lest the rear seat occupants have an “accident.” If such an incident occurs, the back seat area can be hosed out. Later, when the vehicle is to be prepped for resale, the coating is removed, leaving viable upholstery in the rear seat area.

Many agencies cannibalize parts from decommissioned or wrecked vehicles. The LAPD completely strips their collision-damaged vehicles and stockpiles fenders, doors, seats, engines, transmissions, differentials, and other viable components. With the stockpile of parts, if a vehicle comes in needing minor collision repairs, a surplus door or fender can be quickly bolted on and the vehicle returned to service without waiting for new parts or repainting.

Tightened budgets have tempted many law enforcement fleet administrators to keep police vehicles in service until they are no longer serviceable—in other words, run them until the wheels fall off. While this theory appears to be cost-effective to the uninformed, it is not economical in the long run when major components begin to fail and repair costs skyrocket. Excessive repair costs can very well be a determining factor as it would make very little sense to install a $4,000 engine in a five-year-old police sedan, with has a resale value of maybe $1,500.

Many agencies are realizing a better bang-for-the-buck by replacing vehicles when they are still viable—selling them to other law enforcement entities, security, or taxi companies and factoring in the resale value toward the new replacement vehicles. This practice pays off in higher officer morale and lower repair overall repair and maintenance costs, due to vehicles still being under warranty. New vehicles are more fuel-efficient, and more and more are E-85 compatible.

Newer vehicles also have advanced safety features, over and above ABS, such as side-curtain and knee airbags, enhanced rollover protection, and stability control. These advanced features make for safer vehicles and reduced liability. On the other side of the coin, replacing vehicles too frequently, such as on a yearly basis, may not be economical given the costs of upfitting and later removal of equipment of decommissioned vehicles.

On the subject of “doing more with less,” many agencies are reducing upfitting time and costs by purchasing vehicles already manufactured with one of the available upfitting prep packages. There are various packages available including completely upfitted, “turnkey” vehicles, where little is needed aside from installing communications gear, weaponry, and to affix the agency’s graphics or insignia on the doors. An additional advantage to purchasing the prep packages is they are standardized, meaning the information is covered in the factory shop manuals and covered by the factory warranty.

Sometimes a fleet manager can be too efficient, and with a relatively “young” fleet, requiring fewer repairs, find their technicians standing around idle with little to do. If this practice continues, the manager may be forced to downsize—meaning layoffs. Some managers will actively solicit maintenance, repair, or upfitting work from other departments within their organization or even outside agencies.

Investigate becoming an in-house warranty provider, which can also generate additional income and save the downtime or hassles of shuttling vehicles back and forth to the dealership. Richard Lee of the San Francisco Police Department has a tough and demanding job keeping his 1200+ vehicle fleet on the road in a rough operating environment. Unfortunately, in law enforcement, accidents do occur and in the traffic-clogged City of San Francisco, about 240 police vehicle collisions occur annually.

One of the things Lee does is push the City Attorney for restitution against the at-fault drivers that cause damage to his police vehicles. This averages an additional $150K to $200K annually. Lee insists this funding is diverted back into his budget to offset repair costs, rather than the General Fund, where the money would never be seen again. Vehicle abuse can be another issue and Lee addresses it by rewarding areas reporting the least abuse with later-model, low-mileage vehicles. Areas with vehicle abuse issues are “rewarded” by being issued high-mileage vehicles.

The SFPD orders their marked cruisers to be keyed alike and one of Lee’s concerns is for an unauthorized individual to obtain a key and be able to access their vehicles. Due to San Francisco’s operating environment, viable retired cruisers are sold as taxicabs and the rest sold for scrap. Sergeant Lee’s policy on surplus cruisers is to force the new buyer to replace the lock cylinders. This is accomplished by damaging the existing lock cylinders, either by drilling out the tumblers or by ramming a screwdriver into the lock.

Any work that can be done faster and cheaper should be subletted to outside vendors. Depending on the shop’s capacity, and technician’s skills, such “farmed out” operations may include wheel alignment, paint and collision work, air-conditioning service, machine-shop operations, radiator repair, and alternator, starter, and drivetrain component rebuilding.

On the subject of transmissions, instead of rebuilding the unit or sending the vehicle to a transmission shop, many fleet managers will exchange the bad transmission with a factory-remanufactured unit, which has all of the latest upgrades and is backed by the factory warranty.           

The successful fleet manager needs be knowledgeable in not only basic business practices, but the area they serve. If this pertinent information is not immediately available, it would be difficult to justify purchasing a new piece of equipment or hiring a new technician.

Bill DeRousse, retired fleet manager for Everett, Wash. advises to keep all of the necessary pertinent information close at hand and whenever a new city administrator stops by, DeRousse prints up a briefing book with the latest facts and figures and hands it to the new administrator.

DeRousse then conducts a two-hour sit-down session with the administrator and he explains exactly how his operation functions and answers whatever questions come up. DeRousse also stresses customer service. A person can be a great service manager; however, if he/she gives poor customer service, the end result is customer will become unhappy.

 

John L. Bellah is a member of SAE International and is the technical editor for Police Fleet Manager Magazine. He is a retired corporal with the California State University, Long Beach Police Department. He can be contacted at pfmteched@yahoo.com.


Published in Police Fleet Manager, Nov/Dec 2013

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