The Best Maintenance Tip
  By Diana Barnum

According to a poll of police fleet managers and technicians, the best maintenance tip for keeping police vehicles ready to go is keep up a regular maintenance plan. What differed across the board was a basic maintenance plan setup and implementation procedures. One well-rounded plan emerged from the Hilliard, OH, Police.

Basic plans include an element where fleet managers train their officers to log mileage and perform routine scheduled maintenance at certain mile markers. For example, at every 5,000-mile interval, officers turn their vehicles in for an oil and oil filter change, brakes and air filter check. Depending on location, for instance in areas with more dust, air filters are changed more frequently on a regular basis between 15,000 and 30,000 miles, improving the car’s gas mileage by as much as 10%. A 30,000-mile interval means checking fuel filters and changing fluids; cool system flush and transmission.

Tires are checked every time the car goes into the shop, regardless of mileage intervals. Not only are safety and longer wear major factors, but so is fuel cost savings of up to 0.4% for every one psi drop in tire pressure. Under-inflated tires result in low gas mileage.

In some areas, fleet managers send all vehicles to the shop for monthly oil and filter changes regardless of mileage. This is especially important for divisions patrolling sections of highways or freeways where their cars idle most of the day.

Another plan left regular scheduling up to the officers who drove the vehicles. These drivers were trained to unofficially acknowledge when so many miles racked up on their cars, thus making it time for tune-ups, oil changes, etc.

One thorough maintenance plan, shared by Lt. R.L. Parkey, in charge of fleet management for the Hilliard Police, covered about every possible angle. Two keys to reliable and quick vehicles, not just ones that start, are routine and maintenance in their division. Critical is a standard routine that all vehicles go through monthly to minimize downtime. And hand-in-hand with this is accurate record keeping of all maintenance.

With 35 units in all, including 15 marked cars, the Hilliard Police maintains two shifts replacing approximately five cars per year with over 100,000 miles average accumulation over three years. Crown Victoria is the vehicle of choice with increased electrical system, higher output alternator, higher cooling capacity, stab guard, full-sized, V8, rear wheel drive and body-on-frame. Older units are traded in at a dealership; new ones are purchased through state bidding.

Each month, when a unit is due for regularly scheduled maintenance, Lt. Parkey “red tags” it by placing a tag on the dashboard or mirror. This tag places the unit on hold, so as officers come on duty, they see the tag and know the vehicle is not available for use.

Then the unit is driven out back to the shop for maintenance. Monthly routine includes: oil changes, all fluids (washer, differential, etc.), full chassis inspection, steering operation, breaks, tires, all undercarriage, emergency equipment, lighting, alternator (high demand on electrical equipment).

Bicycles mounted on the vehicles also are part of a routine maintenance schedule. They are stripped once a year.

Accurate records are kept and may be necessary to prove the vehicle was compliant in response to a complaint. If a vehicle needs work, an officer starts a work order for the problem, created by a Sanderson CMI program from Dayton, OH, and custom designed in-house.

Note this system has the ability to monitor fuel consumption. This work order goes to the auto technician so that he can complete his portion or fill in the work completed area. Not only are these forms helpful for follow-up maintenance and for selling or trading the vehicle later on, they are helpful in the event of a claim of negligence. Clerks key in the work order data and work orders can be pulled.

Hilliard Police Mechanic Dewey Perry shared common work orders that came through his division: repairs to the electrical system, installation of radios, lap bars, tire failure in construction areas (nails in tires), brake inspections, and check tie-rod ends.

Across the Board
Other police fleet managers who were interviewed surprisingly ran different software solutions across the board. Niagara Falls Police Department uses Fleet Maintenance Pro Version 9.0 Standard Edition, licensed shareware from Innovative Maintenance Systems.

This software tracks by miles, kilometers, dates or hours and also tracks drivers, insurance, licensing, leasing, purchasing, fuel and vendor information. It organizes not only repairs but preventive maintenance. Data fields and maintenance services can be customized for vehicles and equipment. And a system’s Wizard can instantly compute maintenance, displayed with color-coding and customized report options for printing.

Washington State Patrol uses Web Work by Tero Consulting Ltd. This Internet-based system enables access from anywhere in the world through an interface with user identification and access code via a standard Microsoft browser and server.

A huge range of management operations includes work order request, processing and tracking with calendar and accounting functions, a procedures and safety library, project management detailing with import / export capabilities to Microsoft Projects and equipment, and asset management functions including handling vendors, warranties and manufacturers.

The program also logs maintenance scheduling and storeroom items, inventory and spare parts. It also handles purchase orders, invoices, employee and contractor records, expenses, budgets and income, integrating with other accounting systems. Washington said the system is easy to learn and very adaptable. It had tried other expensive systems on its own servers with its own IT (Information Technology) but much prefer Web Work.
The Pittsfield Police Department in New Hampshire assigns one officer to handle crews and vehicle maintenance. Everything is managed with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, including assigning each of the eight units to smaller groups for less wear and tear on the fleet and making sure every unit undergoes a weekly inspection.

And the Tallapoosa County Sheriff Department in Dadeville, AL, manages its maintenance with Quicken Software by Intuit. This software handles monthly expenditures, purchase orders and a maintenance log.

Other Fleet Tips
Some fleet managers shared extra maintenance tips that fell into several other categories. For example, Niagara Falls PD said that small maintenance was critical. Officers are encouraged to hand in feedback on a daily basis about their vehicles. Brakes are not allowed to go under three millimeters, oil changes and safety checks are required every 3,000 miles, and maintenance outsourcing is a must when the city can’t handle the work.

In the Niagara Falls area, of particular concern is moisture in motors and rusting vehicle bodies; winter with salt on the roadways is the worst. The patrol division is “used hard” in car chases, although a new, more restrictive pursuit policy is lessening the number of occurrences. About 20 of the 90 vehicles need to be replaced. Fleet Manager Captain Sheehen’s top tips are to keep the undercarriage clean and have undercoating on vehicles.

Maryland State Police, another area with many high-speed chases averaging 120 mph, conducts safety checkups every 5,000 miles instead of Ford’s recommended 6,000. Auto Services Supervisor Joseph Teipe advised checking Ford’s ball joints and tie rod ends in the steering and replace them with grease fittings (recommended Moog Auto parts) for top performance, especially for high-speed chases.

He also advised against patched or plugged tires and recommended checking vehicles, especially new cars, for exhaust leaks. Exhaust leaks are “deadlined” until fixed. Other tips included making sure all bike riders wear helmets and checking all lighting each time the vehicle is in for maintenance.
The Texas Department of Public Safety in Austin shared one of its biggest maintenance issues: Crown Victoria fuel filters. Critical to its operations is keeping these filters serviced regularly, changing them at least every 20,000 miles. Burned pistons, valves and cylinders may result from poorly maintained filters. The Ford TSB on this kind of engine failure is very specific about filter replacement.

Sheriff Allan Weber of the Gove County Sheriff Department in Kansas shared several tips like rotating tires every other month. For Ford F150s, his department puts heavy-duty shocks on the front to keep tires from wearing so quickly. Drivers average 3,000 to 3,500 miles each month on their vehicles.

After conducting the initial 25,000-mile transmission checkup, the department follows up every additional 25,000 miles instead of the manufacturer’s recommended 50,000 miles to save on transmission maintenance costs. And since plugged filters cause wear and tear on transmission, filters are checked regularly.

A Ford Expedition tip came in from the Alpine County Sheriff Department in Markleeville, CA. Fleet Manager Dan Doyal advised replacing all factory shocks with heavy-duty after-market shocks. In mountainous regions like Markleeville, this tip improves vehicle handling. Doyal’s fleet of 13 cars patrols an area 6,000 to 9,000 feet in elevation.

For colder regions like Alaska, Angoon PD shared preventive maintenance tips: make sure to drive with snow tires and chains and pack shovels. Seward PD drivers use studded tires for good grip since that area has more ice.

Seward officers also wear strap-on cleats with their boots, long johns and ear muffs; troopers traveling hundreds of miles carry snow suits and more survival items. Besides snow and ice windshield scrapers, De-Icer Spray comes in handy for frozen door locks and a similar “heat” spray for windshields keeps ice off for a couple of days.

For warmer regions with frequent rain, the Tampa PD shared these preventive maintenance tips. For drivers on patrol who need to “sit” and idle with the air conditioning on for long periods of time, stop over a large puddle or an inch of standing water in a parking area.

This not only makes for more efficient air conditioning, it offers a de-militarized zone around the vehicle, detouring potential passers-by who might try to strike up casual conversation, obstructing the view and hindering surveillance. An alternative is to pop the hood and insert a clipboard to allow air to circulate around the engine, making the air conditioning run colder.

In the event of flood emergency situations, the Crown Victoria spare tire and removable back seat can be used as flotation devices. One noted recent event was a downed police helicopter that crashed in a bay of cold water, leaving the pilot with two broken legs. A fellow officer grabbed the back seat out of his car and floated out to save him.

With the biggest issues for police cars being idle time and frequent starts and stops in town, the best maintenance tip is preventive maintenance. It’s the key to top performance. Reliability is second only to safety, then longevity.

Diana Barnum is a graduate student working on an MBA in eCommerce and Technical Communication with Honors. Barnum is a former teacher at Ohio State University and is currently an Ohio freelance writer. She can be contacted by e-mail at