All 14 cars on the Powder Springs police patrol fleet are above the recommended mileage for such vehicles, and the maintenance bills on several of them are stacking up.
That led Police Chief Charlie Sewell to approach the City Council at Wednesday’s work session with a plan: leasing vehicles in a way that would constantly rotate fresh, safe cars onto the fleet instead of purchasing high-dollar new ones every few years.
“I just simply find it hard to put a patrol officer in a 120,000-mile car and expect him or her to come to your home in an emergency and risk his life or her life because they go around a curve and that front end falls out,” he said.
Sewell said the recommended mileage for patrol cars is 60,000, which is when big-ticket purchases like transmissions come into play. The Powder Springs fleet, all purchased between 2005 and 2008, ranges from about 66,000 to 120,000 and has an average of 92,000.
The mileage doesn’t always reflect wear and tear, Sewell said, noting the cars endure much more stress than civilian vehicles and are driven 24 hours a day.
“As soon as one officer gets out, another one jumps in,” he said. “But it’s not like the car that you drive because we’re required to jump over curbs, go faster over railroad tracks and on rough terrain … so the metal fatigue on the car can be quite extensive.”
This fiscal year has $44,000 budgeted for fleet maintenance; halfway through the year, $26,000 has already been spent. If the city keeps using high-mileage patrol cars, annual estimated maintenance will climb above $60,000, Sewell said.
Lt. Grady Bagley and Public Works employees do much of the maintenance, the chief said. They use the cars in more disrepair for parts on the other cars, he said, and some components are obsolete and need to be replaced altogether.
What they can’t do must be done at repair shops, Sewell said. There’s a point where carrying out the maintenance becomes more expensive than actually replacing the car, the chief added.
“We think sometimes that we’re going to save a lot of money by curtailing replacing cars,” he said. “But because of the high mileage on most of the cars, the savings sometimes can just be an allusion.”
Possible upcoming repairs include:
- 12 air conditioning systems ($6,000 for all of them)
- 6 needing ABS modules ($4,800 for all of them)
- 6 transmissions ($2,300 each)
Other issues the chief mentioned are rusted roofs, rear-window defrosters and bumpers.
The warranties are expired on the 2005-07 cars, and the expirations are due for the 2008s in February (or mileage, if that comes first). The expirations will escalate maintenance costs further, he said.
The department’s preferred vehicle for lease is the Chevrolet Caprice, which, when loaded with police equipment, costs $35,400 new. The lease price for five of the vehicles is a little more than $5,000 a month, or $63,000 a year.
When the three-year leases, offered by the Georgia Municipal Association, are finished, the city can purchase the cars for $1 each. Then, if they're sold, Sewell said the city probably wouldn’t get much: Estimates at the work session ranged from $1,500 to $3,000.
Sewell suggested leases on the first five cars start in January, with another five beginning in July, which is the start of the next fiscal year.
Then for every fiscal year after that, three new cars could be leased to keep high-mileage ones off the fleet, “or we’re going to be in the same boat that we’re in now.”
Sewell's explanation of the leases was just a report and may not be something the council votes on at its Tuesday meeting or at any future meeting.
The chief said he’d like to someday expand the fleet so that every officer has a car. That way, officers would take more “pride” in, and better care of, their cars, which would only be on the road during their respective officers’ shifts instead of 24 hours a day.
“Eventually if the financial situation improves down the road, I’d like for us to at least discuss a one-officer, one-car program,” he said.
Sewell also mentioned eight administrative vehicles—some of which are “limping along”—that have a mileage of between 44,000 and 93,000. He said he wasn’t asking to replace those cars but just wanted to make council members aware.
“We are in need,” he said, “but the police department walks out every day with a smile on their face, and their cheerful when they go out and do their job. They’re really happy to be here, and so am I.”