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Steve Chitoakis: When you hear the word “clunker”, chances are you don’t think of a police car. The reality though is more law enforcement agencies faced with shrinking budgets are having to keep their aging cruisers on the road. Reporter Gigi Douban has more.
Gigi Douban: Patrol cops pretty much spend their entire shift in their cars. They spend so much time that they wear holes through the seats. Their flashlights constantly snag on the door, leaving the weather-stripping ragged. Factor in a few high-speed chases, lots of idling writing out traffic tickets, and you’ll get a patrol car that just doesn’t drive or look like it used to.
But how about this one?
This, believe it or not, is Deputy David Bassett’s way of finding out. He’s with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. Bassett guns the engine down a two-lane road.
David Bassett: Drives like a brand new car.
This car, a Ford Crown Victoria has 194,000 miles on it. But instead of sending it to the scrap yard or auctioning it off, the sheriff’s office decided to refurbish it, along with about 100 other cars.
Earlier, the car I rode in with Bassett was here at a garage, getting the car equivalent of a testosterone shot.
Bassett: It’s got a remanufactured engine and a remanufactured transmission. You got new shocks, front suspension.
A fresh coat of paint, new steering wheel, new seats. All told, the repairs cost less than $15,000. A new patrol car fully loaded would have cost about $40,000.
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Captain Paul Logan says it’s a substantial savings.
Paul Logan:: We expect to easily get another 150K miles out of them.
The county recently came close to declaring bankruptcy, and the sheriff’s budget for new vehicles? Zero. so Logan, who heads the narcotics unit, suggested using seized drug money to refurbish cars.
Fred Wilson is with the National Sheriffs’ Association. He says tight budgets are forcing police agencies around the country to squeeze more miles out of their fleets.
Fred Wilson: With today’s maintenance techniques, you can take the car a long way and still get what you need out of it, but there’s always some question as to the structural integrity after a certain amount of years.
But for now, the plan is to ride them as long as they can.
In Birmingham, I’m Gigi Douban for Marketplace.
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