Used and refurbished or reconditioned police vehicles have become popular options with fleet managers as a way of saving money when upgrading or replacing a fleet. “Used,” “refurbished” and “reconditioned” can mean different things, depending on the company doing the work. Police Fleet Manager recently surveyed a number of companies from across the country to find out what types of services they offer. In alphabetic order, here are the first three. Coverage continues in the next issues of PFM.
BIG BEAR CRUISERS INC.
Big Bear Cruisers Inc. has been in operation for 10 years and originally started business in Texarkana, TX, then moved to Mena, AR. Big Bear has two programs: Reconditioned Road-Ready Car Sales and Fleet Refurbishing Service, each of which are designed to serve a different need. PFM spoke with CEO Jim Huff about Big Bear’s services.
Big Bear Cruisers officials try to purchase cars that are still in good shape and are worth the time and expense of reconditioning. Upon doing so, they do an initial inspection of the cars in their facility to determine what needs to be done to bring them up to the point where they are road ready and suitable for patrol. Some require very little work while others may require much more. This initial inspection also tells them where they need to go first, i.e., paint, front chassis alignment, factory recalls, etc.
As a minimum, Big Bear Cruisers techs perform the following on the cars: Service engine, fluids and filters; service transmission, fluid and filter; replace fuel filter; replace spark plugs; and repair or replace any other mechanical items that are found needing attention. They install new brake pads; turn rotors or replace as needed; and they replace front shocks on 2002 and older Ford Crown Vics, and for 2003 and up, they replace struts if needed and rear if needed.
They also align the front chassis computer and replace any parts as needed. They replace or repair windshield wipers and any torn or worn seat covers and upholstery. Technicians make sure all factory recalls are accomplished; repair any significant dents, dings or scratches; paint as needed; and finally, perform a final detail and wash of the vehicle.
The cars Big Bear purchases normally do not require replacement of the engine or transmission. If there appears to be a problem with either, they usually do not purchase the car. In addition, tires will be 75% minimum or new, pursuit-rated. They then perform a final checklist to ensure that all radios, windows, gauges, power locks, etc., are functioning properly. They also perform a final road test, and install any emergency equipment as required or requested by purchaser.
The majority of Big Bear’s cars are repainted because of surface scratches or minor dents. Changing the car color is a rarity. Most of the cruisers are white in color, although they do sell colored cars throughout the year. According to Huff, they purchase very few two-tone (black-and-white) colored cars because they have less demand for them.
Big Bear also offers a fully equipped “Turn Key Option,” both slick topped and/or lightbar package. This provides an additional savings as there is no extra cost to the receiving agency for installation of equipment, and there is less downtime prepping the cars for the road. The agency receives the car, and all it has to do is get it stripped, install the radio equipment, and go to work.
Employees at Big Bear often provide and install radios, and a local business installs the decals. Another advantage offered by Big Bear is a limited warranty with each vehicle sold. “We are the ones who administer the warranty, instead of a third-party warranty company. This means if one of our customers should have a problem with a car, they get to talk to us, and we take care of it,” Huff said.
Most of Big Bear’s customers are sheriffs and chiefs who have smaller departments that range from one car to those with 60 cars. Huff said they did have a contract some years ago with a major city in the Southwest that had several hundred officers and cars.
“Many of our customers use us as a primary source for patrol vehicles, while others find that we make it much easier to expand the fleet so everyone can have a take-home vehicle,” Huff said. This is usually due to the cost of their cars versus the cost of purchasing new cars.
The company deals almost exclusively with Ford CVPIs. Many of the departments they do business with are in areas that have rural dirt and gravel roads, and they prefer the Crown Vic because it is rear-wheel drive. However, Big Bear officials do not restrict themselves to a particular region for purchasing vehicles; instead, they are more concerned with the overall condition of the vehicle.
They rarely purchase from the state police agencies because their cars usually have higher miles. They typically don’t even consider a car with more than 70,000 miles. Big Bear Cruisers usually have 50,000 to 60,000 miles, with some as low as 30,000 miles. Primarily they deal with cars that are 2 to 5 years old.
The primary reason for choosing a reconditioned cruiser would be the cost. The mileage is usually not that high, and the cost savings over the price of a new car is thousands of dollars. Huff said many departments prefer fleet cars to single-man units, as their overall costs for repairs go down dramatically, overall appearance and condition of the cars go up, and officer satisfaction is greatly enhanced. But, the cost to do so with all-new cruisers is usually prohibitive. A quality reconditioned Road Ready Cruiser is one way to accomplish this and still have a quality vehicle on the road.
Big Bear’s Fleet Refurbishing Program is geared toward agencies that would like to get greatly extended life out of their department-owned vehicles. In this program, they bring a cruiser into the facility and install all of the following new items: Ford factory replacement engine, complete with a 36-month/36,000-mile “factory” warranty; new engine mounts; new spark plugs; new fan belt; new coil boots; new hoses for radiator and heater (except existing lifetime hoses); new fuel filter; new oil filter; and new air filter. The transmission is a Ford factory replacement complete with a 36-month / 36,000-mile warranty. Plus, each car gets a new transmission mount and new U-Joints.
All other items are covered by Big Bear’s exclusive 12-month / 12,000-mile warranty. This includes on the front chassis: inner and outer tie rod ends; adjusting sleeves; Pitman arm; idler arm; center link; upper and lower control arm assemblies (includes ball joints and control arm bushings); front-wheel bearing assemblies; computer alignment. For the brakes, new brake calipers, front and rear; new brake pads, front and rear; new brake rotors, front and rear; and new parking brake shoes.
On the rear differential: new axle bearings and seals; new axle shafts; and new fluid. Still more items included in the Refurbishing Package are: new shocks, heavy-duty replacements for front and rear; new battery, 12-volt hi-amp; new tires, pursuit-rated; new starter, heavy duty; new alternator, high amp; front sway bar bushings and end-links; and new wiper blades.
With this program, the customer has the advantage of extending the life of the cars, but he also has “factory” warranties on the engine and transmission, which are good for 36 months or 36,000 miles, just as with a new car. All the remaining components the company installs are covered by various manufacturers’ and Big Bear warranties. Besides reduced maintenance costs, the customer has a monetary advantage because there are no additional costs for re-stripping and re-equipping the cars.
Big Bear’s cost for this service is approximately $11,995, which means a department can get two cruisers refurbished for little more than the cost of one new car. Currently the company only provides this service for the Ford Crown Victoria police vehicles. If the customer requires additional work above the normal items covered under the refurbishing service, Big Bear can provide that, as well. Multi-car discounts are available, and the company provides free pickup and delivery within 300 miles of Mena, AR.
For many departments that need to get the most for their dollar, the Reconditioning and Refurbishing Programs are a great alternative to purchasing new vehicles. Huff added that the need to get a good value does not just apply to small departments, as large cities on tight budgets can also benefit from either program.
Copcars.net sells and leases new police vehicles and equipment as well as used police vehicles to the general public. In addition, the company offers professional installations and custom graphics. The Cruisers Division of Copcars.net is located in Mamaroneck, NY. There is also a Cruisers Division Southwest in Oklahoma City, OK. PFM spoke with Gary Gerstein of Copcars.net about his operation.
Once Copcars.net receives a car, it is sent to a certified mechanic to inspect and repair / replace any parts as deemed necessary. All police safety equipment is checked and replaced as needed at the shop. In addition, belts, hoses, tires, brake pads and rotors are changed if needed. The engine oil, transmission oil and fuel filter are all changed regardless.
Copcars.net will paint whatever is required by the customer. Gerstein said some departments want their vehicles to be two-tone, and some want them to be a solid color. They perform all factory recalls and needed service as well as a full detail on the car. However, they do not install rebuilt engines or transmissions.
According to Gerstein, Copcars.net officials purchase strictly from Eastern states, usually smaller municipalities. They sell to small departments looking to add units to the fleet or replace wrecked or high-mileage vehicles. Some larger cities that are adding units to community policing contact them as well.
Vehicles at Copcars.net typically have between 20,000 and 60,000 miles on them. They can take any year of car, but it all depends on mileage and condition, Gerstein said. They deal with Ford Crown Victorias, Explorers and Expeditions; Chevy Impalas, Tahoes and Suburbans; and Dodge Chargers and Durangos. A 3-year-old, fully equipped Ford Crown Victoria P71 with 40,000 miles sells for $13,000 at CopCars.net.
Emergency Remarketing in Mentor, OH, specializes in selling refurbished and reconditioned Ford Crown Victoria and Chevy Impala police cars and other emergency vehicles to police departments, as well as to private companies and individuals. Clients consist of security and taxi companies, funeral homes and other businesses that require an exceptional vehicle on a budget. Brett Patti spoke to PFM about Emergency Remarketing’s operation.
Once a car arrives at Emergency Remarketing, it goes through a full inspection: front to back, left to right, up and down, inside and out. Technicians test the vehicles with the best scanners containing the latest software levels, and they also give them an extensive road test. “If there is something wrong, we will find it, and we will fix it,” Patti said.
Patti defines the term “reconditioning” as when everything is replaced regardless of the condition, including the full drive train (engine, transmission, rear end), upper and lower control arms, and all other suspension. Previously replaced singularly, the parts have become so expensive that the cost of replacement almost reflects the price of a new car.
To combat these high costs, Emergency Remarketing has been selling “refurbishing” to departments in recent years. Refurbishing consists of going through every inch of the car (as described earlier) and replacing whatever is needed. This would include the drive train, suspension, brakes, tires and wheels, interior items—basically anything between the two bumpers and including the two bumpers.
Emergency Remarketing changes all the fluids regardless of how clean they look during the inspection. Patti said changing the fluids is one of the best ways of maintaining a vehicle to prolong its life. In most cases, they don’t know the last time the fluids have been changed when the car arrives at their facility.
Specifically, they change the oil and filter, transmission fluid and filter, flush the radiator and drain, and clean and refill the differential. Emergency Remarketing will install rebuilt engines or transmissions when needed. The company also buys many low-mileage-parts cars that have been salvaged by total loss accidents. Many times these parted cars are not even a year old. Patti said it is a good way to acquire a nearly factory fresh engine or transmission.
When asked if they repaint the typical two-tone color scheme to a solid color, Patti said that depends on how the car is sold. “Since we are only limited to what is out in the pre-owned marketplace, we can’t pick and choose what color they can be [as if] we are ordering a new car,” he stated. They have departments that run just about every color scheme, so if possible, they paint to whatever color or style is desired.
As stated previously, the techs do replace whatever is needed from bumper to bumper. If they remove a wheel to inspect the brakes and discover practically brand-new brakes from the previous department, Patti said there is no reason to throw them away. It is a waste and an added cost, which will in turn add a cost to the customer. “If it’s not broken, then don’t fix it!” is one of Patti’s favorite mottos.
Cleaning and detailing is the last step in Emergency Remarketing’s refurbishing process. The company prides itself on only selling clean cars. “If we find anything undesirable as far as corrosion or any other defect, we will not sell the vehicle to a department. If we sell it to any private individual or other entity, they would have full disclosure of our inspection results prior to the sale,” Patti explained.
When asked if Emergency Remarketing purchases from certain agencies and not others, Patti said that every car must be judged on its own merits. Most of Emergency Remarketing’s cars are from the Southern region. He has seen big-city cars that have been in like-new condition, and he has seen state police cars and small-town cars that have been junk and vice versa.
It all depends on who was driving them, what they were used for, how they were maintained, who was maintaining them, what kind of terrain they were in, and what region they were in. “If you were to buy a car using that type of discrimination, you could end up with a junk state police car, and your neighbor could end up with a great car he got from the local big-city auction,” Patti stated.
The company has sold to just about every type of department for every type of use. If an agency’s budget does not allow for a new vehicle, then there is no choice but to purchase a used one. Many times, a department will total a car, and because it may be a couple of years old, the insurance company will pay only its value. “You can’t buy a new car for the price of a 3-year-old car,” Patti said.
Most departments tend to not want to go back more than 3 to 5 years old for a vehicle, but if a department is on a tight budget, Emergency Remarketing can sell older cars. However, they work with current body styles; nothing older than 1998. Patti deals with anything that is factory police packaged: Ford Crown Victorias, Chevy Impalas and Tahoes. “We are anxiously waiting for Dodge Chargers,” Patti said.
Many factors determine the price of a car, but miles are the most important. Emergency Remarketing has cars with 40,000 miles and cars with 150,000 miles. Pricing can also change depending on supply and demand. Just like any commodity, the more available the vehicle, the lower the price. Vehicles with more than 100,000 miles will be substantially less. “This does not mean they are junk,” Patti emphasized. Many great cars with many years of service left have more than 100,000 miles. They are a great way to get a financially strapped department a good car.
Jennifer Gavigan is the former associate editor of LAW and ORDER, Police Fleet Manager and Tactical Response. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.