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Solution to Service Woes

Written by Ed Sanow

“These cars are junk. I just can’t keep them on the road.”

I have heard that, but just don’t buy it. Not only can police cars be fixed, they can be kept on the road – safely, economically and reliably – almost indefinitely. The solution to nagging maintenance issues starts with the request for quote. Not all makes of police vehicles are covered by a five-year / 100K-mile powertrain warranty. Be sure a 100K-mile powertrain warranty is in the bid price.

Widen the scope of your warranty. The term “powertrain” dates back to when anyone with an open end wrench could keep a car running since the most expensive components were the engine and trans. No longer! The NextGen police cars have expensive computers, modules, controllers and drivers covering every aspect of the vehicle operation. Price out the bumper-to-bumper warranty. You won’t have a maintenance history to fall back on for these NextGen police cars. Consider a bumper-to-bumper for the first few years. 

The next step – and the most important one for day-to-day maintenance – is competent upfitting. You don’t want just anyone with wire crimpers to upfit today’s smartcars. The NextGen police vehicles will separate the high-tech upfitters from yesterday’s upfitters. Those who make the cut will upfit the police car in a way that the upfitted gear will never cause a service problem.

Every upfitted component will be able to be easily isolated from the vehicle to allow the car and the upfit gear to be diagnosed separately. Gone will be the days of finger pointing between the upfit shop and the maintenance shop. If your current upfitter even touches a factory wire, look for a more tech-savvy upfitter.

A competent upfit also means the upfit gear simply cannot run the battery down, period. Dozens of timer and voltage sensing, battery saving devices exist. You cannot run the battery down on a car straight from the factory. Onboard systems will shut off the sources of battery drain. So, if the battery ever runs down on an upfitted police vehicle, it is the lame or incomplete upfit that allows it. Just fixing the battery drain will fix the majority of irritating and frustrating service issues.

That brings us to the second most important step in long-term uptime: a rigidly enforced preventative maintenance program. PM is the foundation of fleet maintenance and can lower operating costs by $0.05 per mile. Do an audit. PM compliance rates, i.e., the service done close to when it is supposed to be done, will probably be less than 30 percent. Increasing compliance rates from 30 percent to 95 percent will lower total maintenance costs by 40 percent. By the way, cars are not junk just because they need tires and brakes every 12K to 15K miles. That is the rule. Longer life is the exception.

A proper upfit prevents frequent but minor problems. An enforced PM program prevents major but less common vehicle repairs. The warranty covers most or all of it. By following these three steps, you will drastically reduce the number and the cost of service issues. What you have left are the few, but true, service issues.

Yes, support local businesses, but only if they can do the job. Few local garages can do what a local dealer can do. And here is the rub: Many local dealers are not up to speed on police vehicles. They either don’t know about them, or they don’t care about fleet service. Don’t get frustrated. Simply find a dealer that is police fleet oriented.

These dealers will be wired into the factory fleet service tech support. They also understand police package vehicles are different in hundreds of ways from retail vehicles. They understand that most factory part supply lines have next-day policies for “emergency vehicle down.” They also have emergency vehicle priority over retail in the service bay waiting line.  

After all this, what if the cars are still junk? You have done your part and the vehicles still have recurring service problems? Change makes. By design, police cars are twice as reliable as retail cars. Don’t put up with ones that are not.


Published in Police Fleet Manager, May/Jun 2012

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