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Police work wreaks havoc on cruisers

Fleet's mechanics deal with unique challenges

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It might be age, hard use or normal wear and tear, but at some point in a vehicle's life, it's going to need a repair.

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Richmond County sheriff's Deputy Robert Etterlee laughs with David Binning as he changes a tire at First Vehicle Services, which repairs the county police fleet. Etterlee noticed the tire was losing air while on patrol.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Richmond County sheriff's Deputy Robert Etterlee laughs with David Binning as he changes a tire at First Vehicle Services, which repairs the county police fleet. Etterlee noticed the tire was losing air while on patrol.

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When it happens to the black-and-gray cruisers Richmond County sheriff's deputies drive, the county's mechanics are ready.

A lot of the work done on police cars is identical to the maintenance required for vehicles with a tamer life: oil changes, tire rotations, fluid replacements. But running a vehicle for 12 consecutive hours does present some unique challenges.

When cruisers need repairs, they come to the Broad Street garage, just west of downtown. It's a wide building with a concrete floor and multiple bays for mechanics to tinker on cars. Conversations are shouted over the whirs and clanks that echo off a metal roof high overhead.

It's here that mechanics address some of the most common complaints, one of which is caused by long periods of idling. Deputies keep their cars running to avoid draining the battery that powers the emergency lights, along with the laptop, dashboard camera and other gadgets in the car.

Those long hours generate tremendous heat under the hood and wreak havoc on the manifold and air-conditioning system, said Matt Bean, the general manager for First Vehicle Services, the contracted company that maintains Richmond County's fleet.

Long hours on the road and chases wear out shock absorbers and destroy the suspension system. Tires are replaced when the tread reaches 4/32 of an inch instead of the legal 2/32 as an extra measure of security.

Less obvious problems are still easily diagnosed, thanks to the dozens of sensors in the cruisers. The sensors connect with the computer-aided dispatch system that deputies monitor through their on-board laptop.

The system gives deputies information about their next call, but the computer also is telling the car whether it should use six or eight engine cylinders and monitoring the brakes for problems. It also monitors speed and can give a mechanical picture of the car's condition right before a crash.

When a deputy brings a car in for strange knocks coming from under the hood, a mechanic plugs into the computer and locates the problem.

It's not a foolproof system, but it's a vast improvement from the old days of sleuthing for problems under the hood, said Jim Slaughter, a shop supervisor who's been working on county cars since 1994.

The average life span of a cruiser is four years or 125,000 miles, thanks in part to the fact that most deputies take home their cars.

When Bean worked for a shop in Wichita, Kan., deputies basically jumped out at the end of their shift and another deputy hopped in. This "hot seat" approach usually killed a car after two years because it never got a break, Bean said.

He said some cruisers have been on the road for as long as nine years because of budget issues. At some point the cost of replacing the car is cheaper than continuing repairs.

"It's a matter of economy," Bean said.

So what's found in between the seats of a cruiser?

Slaughter has found marijuana and a crack pipe pushed deep down between the seats.

The most common items are ID cards tucked away in hopes a deputy might not identify his suspect.

Mechanics rarely find contraband anymore because cruisers now have hard plastic seats in the rear. That not only robs criminals of a hiding place, but it also makes it easier to clean vomit and blood.

Bars reinforcing rear windows are another safety feature for the new generation of cruisers.

"I feel we're real up to date on our equipment," Bean said.

Comments (13) Add comment
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myopinion3
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myopinion3 05/26/10 - 03:28 am
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Why do I feel like we are

Why do I feel like we are about to be hit up for a "we need a new place with more room" request..

Augusta resident
1371
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Augusta resident 05/26/10 - 04:44 am
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Can't wait to see if they get

Can't wait to see if they get those Dodge Chargers next. Ford has had it's day and Chevy doesn't have anything worth using.

WW1949
25
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WW1949 05/26/10 - 08:25 am
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No wonder they wear out. Just

No wonder they wear out. Just look at the trash they have to deal wilt on a day to day basis. Aiken county already has black chargers. AR, what is wrong with Ford. They still have the same car and they are well built.

steelermoose1
0
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steelermoose1 05/26/10 - 08:49 am
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Ford is discontinuing the

Ford is discontinuing the Crown Vic, which is the mainstay of most police dept's fleets. The charger is alright, but theres not a lot of room in them up front once you put the equipment and the cage in them. The shop does a great job of keeping the cars running. Kudos to them!

gwtw
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gwtw 05/26/10 - 09:37 am
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Ford is doing away with the

Ford is doing away with the Crown but are bringing in a new cruiser. Chargers are fast & handle but the brakes and tires are a BIG issue and in a crash they don't hold up as well as a Crown. I don't know why Ford is doing away with something that has worked for so many years.

oldenoughtoknowbetter
15
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oldenoughtoknowbetter 05/26/10 - 01:50 pm
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As a matter of fact, GM is
Unpublished

As a matter of fact, GM is coming out with a rear wheel drive full size sedan in 2011 called the Caprice which will have a pursuit package.

steelermoose1
0
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steelermoose1 05/26/10 - 04:47 pm
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Shout out to my boy Benji

Shout out to my boy Benji down there running the show!

OICU812
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OICU812 05/26/10 - 05:52 pm
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0
Well lets see...maybe if they

Well lets see...maybe if they didn't drive them home every day and to the grocery store then the mileage and wear and tear wouldn't be as bad as it is on them.

ArmedandLegal
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ArmedandLegal 05/26/10 - 06:03 pm
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Learn to read oicu, taking

Learn to read oicu, taking them home and giving them a break has extended the average life from 2 to 4 years - because they are not being run 24 hours a day.

OICU812
0
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OICU812 05/26/10 - 06:10 pm
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I did read it..imagine if the

I did read it..imagine if the vehicles weren't driven home at all...some of them live 30-45 min away..if they used there own vehicle then the cruisers would last even longer don't you think?

corgimom
55848
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corgimom 05/26/10 - 06:47 pm
0
0
Sure, oicu, and then when

Sure, oicu, and then when there's an emergency, and you call 911, the operator will tell you "it'll be a while, the police officer has to drive all the way down to Broad St to get his cruiser"

Police officers are on call 24 hours a day, that's why they take their cruisers home.

OICU812
0
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OICU812 05/26/10 - 06:49 pm
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So they have done away with

So they have done away with shift work now?

Justnosey
2
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Justnosey 05/26/10 - 06:57 pm
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Take home cars are treated as

Take home cars are treated as a personal car. They are washed, cleaned inside and out and are driven like it will be the car you keep until it is retired and you are personally responsible for maintenance and any damage. The deputies keep a lot of extra equipment in the car such as lock out kits to help citizens. Fleet cars are just a mode of transportation and no-one has a vested interest in the car.

corgimom
55848
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corgimom 05/26/10 - 08:32 pm
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OICU, educate yourself.

OICU, educate yourself. Police officers are on call 24 hours a day. If there is an emergency, they are called out, regardless of whether they have worked 8 hours that day or not.

You aren't really that obtuse, are you?

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