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Controlling Fleet Maintenance Costs

Written by Matt McGraw

Fleet managers in El Paso, TX, Biloxi, MS, and La Plata, MD encounter a range of circumstances that affect their budgets. All of them must compete with their local governments’ need to provide infrastructure services in their communities, and all must compete with the demands that increasing health-care costs place on their budgets.

Higher fuel costs have meant fewer dollars for other services, too. All of the fleet managers must also implement federal government mandates that affect their budgets. For example in La Plata, the required emissions inspection is $14 per vehicle.

Local weather conditions can create more maintenance requirements as well. In a city like Biloxi, the summer heat causes more wear on vehicles that must idle longer with the air conditioners running. In El Paso, the dry heat causes more wear on the batteries, water pumps, and alternators. The demands on the vehicles are different in each location, but they all have an impact on fleet managers’ budgets.

Every fleet manager is faced with the same dilemma: how to maintain ahigh quality of service while being more economical and efficient. While the range of solutions varies from department to department, the managers we talked with for this article are all finding ways to stretch their budgets. However, their approaches vary because two of the garages do their service work in-house while the Charles County, MD Sheriff’s Department out-sources its maintenance work.

Searching for quality parts at the best prices is the primary way all three departments are able to stretch their budgets. Doing the research has become mandatory for fleet managers. Not surprising, salespeople calling on the fleet managers is one tool they have at their disposal. Attending trade shows specifically targeted for this audience provides another resource, as well as talking with other law enforcement fleet managers. Joe Arispe, Garage Supervisor with the El Paso County, TX Sheriff’s Office, also uses the Internet to find quality parts at the lowest cost.

The Biloxi Police Department has increased its service intervals on vehicles from 3,000 miles to 4,000 miles, while the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office continues to service vehicles at 3,000 miles to maintain their warranties. Once 36,000 miles is exceeded on a vehicle, the service schedule moves to 5,000 miles. The Charles County Sheriff’s Department in Maryland continues to service patrol cars at 3,000-mile intervals, but has moved service on non-patrol cars in its fleet to 5,000-mile schedules.

At trade shows, all three departments learned about how purchasing remanufactured engines directly from the manufacturer realizes a $600 minimum savings per engine. Negotiating prices for other parts has meant increased savings for the fleet managers, too.

Biloxi Police Department

The Biloxi Police services more than 200 vehicles annually. Fleet maintenance, tools, equipment, and employee salaries are included in the fleet manager’s budget which has remained about the same over the last few years while costs have increased. Body work is outsourced along with the rebuilding of transmissions. Fleet Manager Lewis Brent buys his remanufactured engines directly from a manufacturer or takes them from totaled vehicles as long as they are still in good condition.

Shopping for the best price has served Brent well. By doing his homework, he has saved his department $5 per brake pad and bought something of higher quality than what he had previously used. He has also found savings in the price on alternators while, again, finding better quality along with a better warranty.

Recently, the Biloxi Police purchased a front-end alignment machine to bring this work in-house. While the cost of the equipment was approximately $17,000, Brent says that doing the work in the department’s garage already saves on the downtime for the vehicles, as well as the man-hours that it uses to transport vehicles to and from outside shops for the work. Another plus for the department is maintaining the security of the vehicles because they remain on the premises.

The Biloxi Police also bought equipment to service air conditioning units in-house. After a $4,000 expenditure, the shop realizes approxi-mately $600 in savings on labor charges per servicing of each vehicle in need of air conditioning work.

The Biloxi Police found cost savings by doing more work in-house. Another added benefit has been increased turn-around time on the vehicles as they do not have to be transported elsewhere for the work, and because the department does not have to compete for service with other outside customers.

El Paso County Sheriff’s Office


Joe Arispe, Garage Supervisor with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, has not seen an increase in his budget for the past five years. This is due, in part, to increased spending by the county on border patrols along the Texas/Mexico border. The fleet contains 250 vehicles including crimescene units, vans, unmarked and patrol cars, buses, and motorcycles. His garage also supports the medical examiner’s and drug task force’s vehicles.

It is clear that the maintenance garage for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office is doing more with less, so it has found numerous ways to save money. It previously bought oil for the vehicles by the drum. During the course of a year, it would purchase 21 drums at the cost of $342 per drum. By switching to buying in bulk-- having a container filled with oil--the department has realized a $1,500 annual savings.

Like the City of Biloxi Police Department, Arispe learned at an industry trade show that he could purchase remanufactured engines directly from a manufacturer. He spent $2,000 to attend the conference, but saved the department $12,000 in the first year by ordering remanufactured engines directly from the manu-facturer. His savings per engine is approximately $950, and because he has to replace 10 to 15 engines annually, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office saves quite a bit of money.

Bodywork on the department’s vehicles is outsourced to the lowest bidder. Three estimates are obtained from local body shops for each service need. Using this process saves the department approximately $30,000 annually.

The garage installs the radar, cages, radio, and lights and has moved to updating the scanners in-house. Totaled vehicles are stripped for parts, including engines, transmissions, glass, and deck lights. By paying attention to factory recalls, the garage has also saved the department money.

Another way the department has cut expenses is by recycling its Freon, which saves $300 to $400 per 30 pounds. The cost of air filter disposal has been reduced by simply crushing used filters in a drum, allowing the garage to dispose more of them at one time. Arispe constantly looks for the best price on numerous items, including Freon, clamps, hoses, belts, and chemicals. Tires are put out for bid annually, saving the department approximately $25,000 per year. He has searched the Internet to find the best prices on glass, exhaust systems, and brake pads. While he is always looking for the best price, he makes his determination on which product to purchase by considering the usage of the item, how long it will last, the downtime involved in replacements, and factory warranties.

Preventive maintenance on the tires, brake pads, engines, radiator hoses, and chemicals in the vehicles not only saves on repair costs, but also on downtime on the units. Splitting the mechanics’ lunch shifts so that service work on the vehicles never stops during the day has also reduced downtime. Using inmates and people required to do community service to keep the shop clean allows the mechanics to focus only on repairing department vehicles.

To increase the efficiency of the vehicles, the department determinedthat a unit should be assigned to each officer rather than having it used by two shifts during a day. The result of this decision is that efficiency of the vehicles has increased up to 20% which also realizes a cost savings for the department.

Through experience, Arispe has learned that the most effective way to save thousands of dollars annually for the department is by doing the maintenance work on the vehicles in-house. He has aggressively used a variety of tools, from attendance at trade shows and putting parts and work out for bids to meeting with salespeople and using the Internet to save on parts, equipment, and labor costs.

Charles County Sheriff’s Department

Bruce MacLean, Fleet Manager for the Charles County Sheriff’s Department, has seen a slight increase in his budget. However, the demand for maintenance is greater. With 350 vehicles in his fleet, he supervises the maintenance on bicycles, motorcycles, boats, medium-size trucks, all-terrain vehicles, and patrol cars.

The Charles County Sheriff installs light bars, screens, and radios in-house, but all other maintenance is outsourced. With fewer dollars to spend, the department must monitor repair costs carefully as the overall size of the fleet has grown.

Even though MacLean out-sources the maintenance on the vehicles, he still realized tremendous savings for his department by negotiating deals on parts. By purchasing the parts directly and having them delivered to the repair shops, he has been able to receive sizeable discounts on air filters, rotors, brake parts,headlight bulbs, and wiper blades.

The savings on wiper blades alone is in the neighborhood of 300% per set. Outside garages mark up the dealer’s prices on parts, so negotiating his own prices has proved to be very valuable. It also allows him to control the quality of the parts and make more realistic comparisons. As a long-term customer, he also realizes additional discounts.

Repair downtime was reduced because each officer has an assigned take-home vehicle. Officers are responsible for scheduling the maintenance on their vehicles, so generally they have less downtime. Moving to individual drivers for each vehicle means that the units are better taken care of by the officers. Because the newer cars are more dependable, their life has increased from 80,000 miles to 120,000 miles.

At around 105,000 miles, each vehicle is scrutinized to determine its condition; a decision is then made as to whether it can be used as a staff or pool vehicle. Mileage is no longer the sole indicator of the condition of a vehicle. Maintenance and performance history are key indicators of the car’s durability.

Regular maintenance has also reduced downtime and costs. Officers attend a two-hour maintenance course that MacLean teaches. Maintenance inspections, what noises to listen for, and how to wash a vehicle are covered in the class, as well as issues such as fluid levels and tire trend depth.

By taking the family approach to fleet standards, MacLean has been able to realize cost savings for the Charles County Sheriff. He says that the key is to treat the department’s money as if it were your own. He asks these questions before making any expenditure: 1) Does the expense make sense, 2) is it affordable, and 3) does the item need replacing? If the answers are all “yes”, then he makes the best quality purchase for the best price.

Matt McGraw is with AER Manufacturing, the nation’s leading source of remanufactured police engines. He may be reached at mattmcgraw@aermfg.com.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Sep/Oct 2005

Rating : 9.0


Comments

Comment on This Article

shop foreman COHB

By Matt Adams

Because of the cost of maintaining A fleet is increasing yearly. We have been making price comparisons with are vendors on the higher priced parts:Radiators,alternators ,axle kits p/steering pumps,rotors, hubs and rebuilt engines.The phone calls only take minutes but saves the city hundreds!

Submitted Aug 9 at 8:07 PM

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