How to drive champagne fleets on a beer budget

Fleet management veterans offer advice on how agencies can get the most bang for their budgeted fleet bucks


     "A word to the wise from my point of view is don't skimp on safety because it'll come back to haunt you," Halliday warns. "One of the things that we heard around the country is that some garage will recommend [cheaper brake components]. But what they don't realize is that they don't have the ability of the OEM's [models] that were tested; the original equipment manufacturer components that were put to a battery of tests so that they could pass all of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, plus they could pass our tests with flying colors."

     Though he has been on the police advisory boards for Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Chrysler since their inception, he is careful not to choose one make or model as the most economical or cheapest choice. Instead, he says each agency must assess its needs and choose a vehicle that's strongest in the categories most relevant to their mission.

     "We're careful not to do product endorsements, and we're also careful to say that everyone brings something good to the table," Halliday says. "It goes back to applying the mission to the vehicle and the vehicle to the mission. Can it do what you're asking of it?"

Recycling

     Another pointer from the experts: refurbish and reuse equipment from old cars in the new flock. Newbury says the items the Texas agency recycles from the retired vehicles, such as radios, video cameras and light bars saves money, too.

     In 2001, TDPS was converting from halogen light bars to LED lights, which was a costly investment to the department as it outfitted every new car. But in 2007, the department was able to begin reusing the LED light bars, transferring them from the retiring vehicles to the newly purchased fleet.

     "As a large agency, we couldn't operate without reusing some of this stuff," Newbury says. He explains that based on the department's experience and the history of an item's durability, he is able to keep the fleet furnished in refurbished in-car accessories and parts, getting more use out of more expensive or longer-lasting equipment.

     "For instance, we can pretty well tell you that after two lifecycles of a vehicle, you probably want to go ahead and get rid of the video camera," Newbury explains. "But a light bar — especially one of these new LED light bars — it looks like we're going to be able to get three, maybe even four vehicle lifecycles."

     Newbury says he's been able to keep radio in service for several lifecycles without a problem. However, he warns that advancing technology may require older equipment to be replaced even if it still works.

     "We recently got rid of some radios that had only been in service five years, but the technology changed," Newbury says." You hate to get rid of the item, but the technology caused you to have to change [and] upgrade it."

Maintenance

     Both Halliday and Newbury suggest a meticulous maintenance schedule to keep fleet costs in line and catch issues before they get costly.

     "Of course, we have our guys on a very strict maintenance schedule as far as checking the brakes and such," Newbury says. "We don't just let them drive until they have a problem, they're required to check their brakes and check their other items on the vehicle every so often. We try and stay on top of the issues before they become a problem because typically at that point, it costs you more to fix it than if you'd have caught it ahead of time. We've got a pretty comprehensive plan in place to make sure we're getting the best bang for the buck for that vehicle."

     Newbury also says his department is using synthetic fluids in its vehicles to extend the lives of the under-the-hood components.

     "That's helping a lot," Newbury says. "We're not seeing near the failures — motors and transmission — that we used to."

     Halliday also advocates tire health. "Tire pressure plays a huge role," Halliday says. "People don't understand that tire pressure is very, very important when it comes to handling. We actually do a demonstration where we change the tire pressure in the car and the police officer gets an opportunity to see how the handling is affected; they're like, 'Wow. I had no idea.' "

     He says the MSP fleet, which is made up of mostly Ford Crown Victorias, Chevy Tahoes and some Dodge Chargers, sticks to a maintenance schedule which has tires changed out when the thread depth goes below 3/32nds of an inch, and recommends drivers be vigilant about monitoring tire pressure, making sure it is at 35 pounds per square inch when measured cold.

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