Preventative Vehicle Maintenance – Don’t Ignore It!

When you are operating a company or a department that deploys ‘patrol vehicles’ on a regular basis, you need to put a preventative vehicle maintenance SOP in place. It doesn’t matter if you are as large as the LAPD or G4S or as small as one patrol vehicle; keeping things maintained will not only save you from headaches in the future but will also help keep you out of a negligence lawsuit. 

Things to Consider

First off, there are some things to take into consideration and understand long before putting any kind of patrol vehicle into operation. 

1. It doesn’t matter if you are taking part in high speed, code 3 pursuits or if you are just using a vehicle to drive around a large complex in order to secure doors more efficiently than walking. It is a ‘company’ vehicle and it will be seen by customers, clients, and the general public. If you force a knocking, grinding, rust bucket into operation, everyone will see it and it will make your company look like a joke. 

2. Lives are always at risk; again, it doesn’t matter if code 3 pursuits are a factor or not. You have to think about the safety of your officers, employees, customers, clients, patrons, the public and everyone else in between. Even at slower speeds, depending on the situation at hand, something like a tire blowing out can cause a serious risk to life.

3. You cannot think about these vehicles like normal everyday cars because they are not. Attempting to lump them into the same category as your personal car will only set you up for failure. Depending on different factors, maintenance that may only need to be performed on your personal vehicle every 6 months may need to be performed every month on a ‘patrol vehicle’. 

4. Stop trying to blame the vehicle’s operators for everything. Granted, yes, operators can and may induce more than normal wear and tear on a vehicle; however, trying to ignore preventative maintenance while attempting to place the blame on employees can only end badly for you. 

Why is Preventative Maintenance necessary? 

The simple answer to this question is that it will avoid costly repairs, long periods of downtime and it will protect your employees and the public. 

Not too long ago, I was working alongside a company that operated a really sharp looking SUV patrol vehicle. At first look, the vehicle looked great both on the interior and exterior, it did have a little over 80,000 miles on the odometer, but it was nothing too drastic for a patrol vehicle (I’ve seen some vehicles that were almost at 300,000 before being retired to the junkyard), problem was, however, the company never did any maintenance on it. After about two weeks of working at this site, I noticed that this company’s SUV started sounding less like a normal vehicle and more like a big burly diesel from some piece of construction equipment. Come to find out, the SUV’s oil was probably only changed 3-4 times over its lifespan; something as simple as changing the oil on a regular basis could have avoided the $8000 repair bill that came later. $1200.00 in oil changes versus $8000.00 to replace an engine? That should be a no-brainer. 

Many years ago, I also followed a story where a private security company was thrust into a lawsuit for negligence. Allegedly, this particular company constantly ignored not only their vehicle’s maintenance but also repeated concerns from their employees about the vehicle’s condition. Long story short, the company’s vehicle was in operation when a steering component failed, causing an accident with a member of the public. The security officer, the young woman in the other vehicle and her small child were all hospitalized because of injuries sustained in the accident. That security company was then sued by both their own officer and the woman that he hit. The company ended up settling out of court in order to try and save face but the damage was already done. In this case, an $800.00 repair job would have probably prevented the untold amount of money that they had to pay out. Oh, did I mention that this company is no longer in business now? Apparently, the costs involved with having to pay people off and the hit to their company’s image may have factored into putting them out of business. 

How far should you take it?

I’m not saying that your company must hire a full-time mechanic to look after the vehicle(s) but some things must be put into place. 

  • Construct a vehicle inspection sheet and have your employees fill it out before every patrol. As an added measure, have a supervisor perform weekly or bi-weekly inspections. Use this data to help drive your maintenance program and do not ignore the problems that are recorded on this form.
  • Either construct a maintenance schedule or purchase maintenance software to keep track of basic maintenance procedures such as fluid changes, belt replacement, tire rotations, filter replacements, et cetera.
  • Adopt a “Red Line” or “Red Tag” failure system to prevent unsafe vehicles from being put into operation. Red Line failures include (but is not limited to) issues/concerns with the following:
    • Steering Components
    • Braking Components
    • Extremely low tread and/or tire damage
    • Inoperable Horn
    • Inoperable Emergency Brake
    • Inoperable Seat Beat(s)
    • Cracked and/or broken windows (including windshield) that impairs vision
    • Headlights, taillights, and brake lights
    • Fuel Leaks

Basically, if there is an issue where it might potentially fail a state or county inspection, it needs to be repaired before it is put into operation.

Take Idling into consideration as well

When operating a patrol vehicle, a lot of wear and tear will accumulate from idling and this is often overlooked since it doesn’t get added to the odometer. If your vehicle has an “hours” feature on the gauge cluster, it helps judge the amount of wear; if not, there will need to be some guesswork involved.

According to Ford Fleet, they have determined that 1 hour of idling equates to roughly 33 miles of driving.

As an example, for us, in an 8-hour shift, approximately 4-hours of that time is spent idling; also in that 8-hour shift, you will see approximately 30 miles of driving. So with a little bit of maths, we figure that we have 3 shifts of running a patrol vehicle at 8 hours per day. This equates to roughly 90 driven miles per day and 12 hours of idling per day. If we use Ford Fleet’s hypothesis of 33 miles per every hour idling, that equals 396 theoretical miles accumulated just in idling and 90 miles of actual drive miles or a total of 486 miles per day of wear and tear. If we were to run, non-stop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a month solid, that would mean that approximately 14,580 miles of wear and tear are being put on a vehicle every month (just take a look at the excel data below).

As you can see from the above data, one of our patrol vehicles is being used 7.4x more than I use my POV (personally owned vehicle). Basically, this would mean that I would have to maintain that patrol vehicle 7 times more frequently than I would my personal car because we took the time to factor idling. If we only went by what is on the odometer, we would only be maintaining the patrol vehicle 3 times more frequently.

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