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PFM Project Car...Upfitting the First NextGen Explorer

Written by PFM Staff

What if you can’t wait until early 2012 for the police package Ford Utility Police Interceptor? What if the retail Ford Explorer is perfectly acceptable for your police admin use? What if you just want to get a few retail Explorers as a pilot run, just to see how the basic crossover works for your department?

Of course, upfitting the retail 2011 Explorer is a lot harder than upfitting the 2012 Utility Police Interceptor will be. In a year from now, all the vehicle accessory manufacturers will have custom-made parts for the Ford police crossover. And, of course, the Utility Police Interceptor will have a column-mounted shifter and an open center console. The retail Explorer has a floor console shifter and a complex center console. Furthermore, the vehicle needs police emergency gear such as lights, a siren, a radio and radar.

One of the first retail Explorers in the nation was purchased by the Benton County, Ind., Sheriff’s Office for admin use. It was so new that when the County took delivery in March, the only people who had seen the NextGen Explorer were the ones who attended the major auto shows. The sheriff’s office selected Police Department Systems, a division of Chicago Parts & Sound, for the specialty upfit. Any competent and creative upfitter could do the same thing, but PDS was just the first.

Center Console Blues

The first and most significant challenge was working around the center console. The first attempts by PDS were to replace the retail console. They considered modifying an aftermarket console designed for the 2010 Explorer. Then they considered a custom-made sheet metal console. In both cases, the goal was to replace the back half of the retail console. This would replace the cup holders and the space under the arm rest with a more police-gear-friendly console.

In both cases, like the earlier aftermarket consoles, the floor shifter would remain untouched. Also untouched would be the Land Rover-based Terrain Management System, TMS. This knob-adjustable AWD traction system is only available on the retail Explorer and is specifically not available on the police package Utility Police Interceptor.

The concern was that there is just not enough meaningful room for much police gear if you leave the TMS controller in place. The concern was that any gear that could be mounted would be ergonomically too far to the rear.

Remote Controllers

Instead, the decision was made to use remote control heads for everything, just as you would in a covert or undercover vehicle. Once this decision was made, the rest of the upfit was pretty straightforward.

The FedSig 650 series remote controller was attached to the right upright of the instrument panel. This remote controller operates the siren and all the emergency lights, with the exception of the amber center of the FedSig SignalMaster rear stick. The FedSig MS100 DynaMax siren speaker was tucked behind the front fascia near the driver’s side inner wheel well—right where Ford mounts its horns.

The handheld controller was set up like so many three-position toggles. The first position activated the red-blue outside modules on the rear stick only, which make a less urgent tick-tock warning. The second position was for all of the red-blue lights, i.e., the front headliner lights, red-blue parts of the rear stick, grille lights, outside mirror light and B-pillar lights.

The third position was for all of the emergency lights and the siren, i.e., the white wig-wags and front and rear flashers were added to the red-blue lights and the siren was activated. The siren can be shut off by pressing the TONE button, leaving all of the lights activated. The center amber modules of the rear stick are controlled separately from this handheld unit.

This department uses EFJohnson radios, so the Model 5300 ES with a removable head was selected. A remote installation kit allowed the radio chassis to be mounted under the passenger seat. The radio control/channel selection head was mounted on the right side of the center console yet up and over from the passenger’s knee. Finally, the body of the MPH Industries Python Series III dual antenna traffic radar was simply bolted in the perfectly shaped recess in the top center of the dash pad.

The control unit for the amber center modules of the SignalMaster was mounted inside the factory center console. The rear stick can be operated totally independently of any of the other emergency lights. The controller was tucked at the very front of the console, leaving the factory console almost untouched. Most of the storage space under the armrest still exists, as does the factory armrest.

The result was two handheld controllers for the radar, lights and siren; one radio mic; one side-console-mounted radio control head; and an inside-console-mounted rear stick controller. The handheld controllers are easily stored in the small compartment in front of the floor shifter.

The decision was made to use only internal emergency lights, i.e., no external lightbar. The main forward emergency lights were a pair of Whelen Avenger AVN Super-LED series lights. The driver’s side was left totally open. The main signal came from the headliner on the passenger’s side—from the rear view mirror to the A-pillar.

Wig-Wag Headlights?

The police community will soon face the harsh upfitting reality that headlights can no longer be made to wig-wag. Most people know that HID headlights cannot be flashed. Neither can the next generation of “projector” halogen headlights. Most police package vehicles, and definitely the future Fords, will use these lights.

One of the better options is the installation of white LEDs in the grille to be flashed. Of course, these must be far enough away from the headlights that they can be seen, i.e., so the bright headlights don’t overpower the flashing LED lights. Yet these LEDs must be far enough apart that they appear to alternate from one side to the other.

Another option on the retail Explorer, like many other police vehicles, is to install white LEDs in the lower fascia, where the factory fog lights are typically installed. In the case of this particular retail Explorer, the XLT trim level comes with fog lights. The decision was made to simply wig-wag the fog lights.

The high-mounted, passenger side emergency lights and the low level, wig-wag fog lights were not enough of a forward emergency signal. The solution was to make the mid-level grille come alive. Then it needed to be decided whether these lights would be red-blue, like traditional grille lights, or wig-wag white lights because the headlights could not be flashed.

The PDS signature solution is to use SoundOff Signal “Ghost” LEDs, split red-white and blue-white. In the “wig” cycle, the grille LEDs show white and white, which adds an extra mid-level white flash to the lower fog lights. In the “wag” cycle, the grille LEDs show red and blue like traditional grille lights. The Ghost LEDs fit right in the grille slots, so the factory grille did not have to be cut at all.

Mirror and Side Lights

Any police vehicle without a lightbar should use LED lights on the outside rearview mirrors. This is the best way to produce an angled intersection warning. Yes, some forward-facing LEDs produce an off-axis warning, but nothing matches mounting LED lights on the angled outside mirrors. For the curved mirrors, the smallest LED module was needed to match the contour of the mirrors. The Code3 XT3 series was selected.

The outside mirrors were the hardest and most time-consuming part of the entire upfit. The rearview mirror housing progressively unsnaps with great difficulty and a lot of careful wedge tool use. Don’t give up. Don’t be tempted to use side-facing LEDs (corner or marker hide-away lights). They simply do not have the off-axis signal that an angle-mounted LED module has.

The same goes for the warning to the side on slicktop vehicles. We frequently stop the vehicle at an angle to traffic, an angle that lessens the effectiveness of the forward-only and rearward-only emergency lights. B-pillar (or C-pillar) lights that face the side should be on all slick-top vehicles. Again, SOS Ghost lights were used.

Rear Signal

The main rear signal came from a full-width FedSig Cuda LED SignalMaster. It was tipped with one red module, one blue module and all amber modules in the middle. (Studies consistently show that amber is the best rear signal for police vehicles.) The only upfit issue here was whether to mount the bar on the liftgate window or hanging down from the sheet metal around the opening. The drawback of the liftgate mount, of course, is losing the rear signal when the liftgate is raised.

In addition to taking away some of the available cargo height dimensions, one drawback of the subframe mounting is unique to the 2011 Explorer. This part of the sheet metal is the drip channel, and screw holes here could result in leaks. The decision was made to mount the bar on the liftgate. Mounting the LED modules as close to the glass as possible has two benefits: The light bounce-back is minimized, and the light passing through the factory-tinted “privacy” glass is maximized.

The sheriff’s office initially considered rear-facing LEDs mounted to the inside D-pillar that would activate when the liftgate was raised. Instead, the white LEDs installed in the large backup lenses and the factory, four-way flashers were considered enough rear signal during the rare occasions when the liftgate was raised while the emergency lights were activated.

The upfit for the 2012 police package Utility Police Interceptor will be very different in terms of the center console. However, many other aspects of the upcoming Utility PI will be very similar to this 2011 retail Explorer. Of course, by the time the Utility PI is in production, so will be vehicle-specific prisoner partitions, push bumpers, center consoles and inside emergency lights with windshield contours.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Mar/Apr 2011

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