POLICE LANE: OEM Factory Upfitting, Is It Worth It?

POLICE LANE: OEM Factory Upfitting, Is It Worth It?

BY Brad Brewer


Today all the big three automakers produce some pretty darn good Police vehicles. Gone are the days of the OEM’s passing off a retail vehicle with some black wheels, rims, rubber floor liners, and an extra tranny cooler to call it a police vehicle. These new police vehicles are designed from the ground up for severe front line duty. I commend all three OEM’s for their commitment to deliver mission critical vehicles that really do make a difference for our people on the front lines.

But what about the Fleet Managers responsibility to ensure these vehicles get upfitted to the highest standards possible, I don’t just mean the best emergency equipment or lighting parts, I mean upfitted with a standardized process that meets or exceeds OEM safety and production standards.

I say this because each of the three vehicle manufacturers have their own, or a factory authorized upfitter who can perform most if not all of your upfitting requirements. The key difference between what they do and what an Agency facility might do is the way it’s done and to what quality standard. When the OEM’s do it, its covered by an OEM warranty, which few Agency internal shops provide.

Many agencies do have excellent upfit facilities, but the reality is some Fleet Managers are forced to use their Agency’s unionized shop who do the work because they have to, not because they want to maintain an OEM standard.

So what’s the main reason to choose OEM upfitting you might ask? Well the truth is no Agency upfitter holds their installers to the same standards as the OEM’s do. The OEM’s use a standardized production line process that doesn’t allow quality variances depending on which employee does which part of the upfit. By standardized process I mean the OEM clips and screws are always used, the torque in which everything is put back together is controlled by tool settings, and the parts suppliers are constantly audited.

The Quality Control Process is no different than that which is mandated on the production line. Like a fine tuned ballet, these people knew exactly what they were doing, nothing breaks, nothing is forced off, nothing is jammed, its removed or installed correctly each time. I highly doubt any in house installs are done without a clip or screw breaking, and how many of those just get pushed back in with nothing said?

One example from Ford’s Chicago Modification Center (CMC) that highlights this dedication to QC is the installation of the P.I. Utility rear lift gate key lock cylinder. A fiberglass jig clamps on to the exact same place every time to ensure exact location for the hole. The hole is drilled using very sharp bits, in fact CMC was so picky about making sure they used sharp bits they usually change out the bits every 18-20 installations and send the old bit for sharpening.

You may be asking why so picky? ...a drill bit can be effective much longer than that, and your right it can be, but CMC found that as a drill bit dulled it was less effective in cleanly cutting through the paint and metal. After close exam, an examination not seen by the human eye, the paint can get microscopic cracks that over time could allow paint or metal fatigue. The OEMs ensure all upfit vehicles are QC checked for squeaks or rattles associated to the extra upfit process and then the QC technician signs off.

After the final QC sign off the vehicle goes into the water test booth where it under goes a significant water test. This ensures that no matter what level content the vehicle had installed it is still water tight as if it left factory. We owe it to our people to give them the safest most reliable vehicle possible.



Sergeant Brad Brewer is a 27-year member of the Vancouver Police Department. He was an eight-year member of the Ford Police Advisory Board and regularly gives presentations at law enforcement conferences on mobile computing, wireless technology and police vehicle ergonomics. He can be reached at sgt1411@gmail.com.


Published in Police Fleet Manager, Mar/Apr 2017

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Posted on : May 23 at 9:48 AM By Brian Reynolds

Thank you for making more of our fleet managers aware of the availability of OEM upfit options. Unfortunately, the information given doesn't really answer the question, "Is it worth it?" That particular question will need to be answered by each department when they look at their costs, risks, and capacity to take on all or part of the upfit process.

OEM quality will definitely be closely monitored. OEM vendor quality also should be ordered with high expectations which may be difficult for some shops to equal. Yet OEM upfit options may come at a higher price than some of the available equipment and upfit options that can be competitively bid.

One size will not fit all.

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