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Usage drives turnover of governments’ vehicle fleets

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Once every five to eight years, taxpayers replace city police cars, which are used in high-speed chases, driven nearly every day and have to be reliable to both start and stop when officers need them.

But other vehicles, such as pickup trucks and cars that cemetery or parks department workers drive to parks, work sites and home, may be replaced as rarely as once every 15 years.

Each year, city and county governments spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars paying for gas, insurance and repairs for the vehicles they own and purchasing new ones.

The vehicles are used by government employees as take-home cars and for work, such as police cruisers and pickup trucks that street workers take to repair roads. The vehicles, including motorcycles and utility vehicles, range from brand new to more than 15 years old and have as many as 300,000 miles.

Different vehicles are replaced after different amounts of time. Fleet directors choose to phase out old vehicles and purchase new ones based on mileage, the age of the vehicle and how frequently it needs repairs.

For example, because police cars spend so much time driving and idling at crime scenes, they have to be replaced more frequently. But a vehicle used by a parks department might last much longer because it isn’t used as frequently, Greenwood deputy mayor Terry McLaughlin said.

In Greenwood, the fleet director keeps a list of all vehicles owned by the city. He keeps close track of the age and miles on cars, as well as how often they need repairs. If a car requires maintenance often, he’ll talk to a department manager about getting it replaced, McLaughlin said.

When purchasing new vehicles, one of the most important factors is gas mileage, McLaughlin said. In the past year, the city began replacing its Ford Expeditions with Jeep Patriots, which get about twice the number of miles per gallon, he said. By purchasing these vehicles with better gas mileage, the city — which spent $352,913 on fuel last year — hopes to cut down on that cost, he said.

More vehicles have needed to be replaced this year in Franklin because vehicles bought after the 2008 flood are now getting too many miles or need too many repairs, Franklin Police Department Lt. Kerry Atwood said. The city had to purchase replacements after multiple vehicles were destroyed in the flood, and now those cars need to be replaced, he said. But the department can afford only a certain number of cars per year. Next year they’ll replace seven more.

The police department is most concerned with brakes that work, no matter how fast the car can go or how sharp the curves it takes, Atwood said.

In Franklin, each city department handles its own fleet. Atwood keeps a list of cars and the officers driving them. The oldest car goes at the top and the newest at the bottom. Each year, he replaces as many cars as he can from the top of the list.

The department generally keeps patrol cars for about six years and detective cars for about eight. Anything older than that or with at least 100,000 miles requires too much maintenance and would end up costing more over time than buying a new car would, he said. Cars no longer being used every day are kept as backup or sold at police auction.

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