Refurbished cruisers are a hit with police

Agencies like speed, price of recycled cars

June 06, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Where do old police cars go when the miles pile up and the suspension gives out?

Most of the old Chevy Caprices -- a police favorite -- and Ford Crown Victoria sedans are auctioned for use as taxis or exported to South America. But Howard County -- and an increasing number of small Maryland towns and counties from Easton to Aberdeen -- are sending them to Pennsylvania for a mechanical rebirth. Maryland State Police officials are looking at that option, too.

Equipped with new, larger V-8 engines and new suspensions, rebuilt seats, new carpeting and paint, the old Caprices -- called "tuna boats" for their large, rounded appearance -- cost half the price of new cars. They also come with a three-year warranty from Patrol Car Specialists of Manchester, Pa., just north of York.

Saving old Caprices is worth it, police say.

"I'll take a 350 Chevy engine over a Ford any day," said Howard Pfc. Daniel Besseck.

"The quicker you can get on somebody [in a potential pursuit situation], the less likely they're going to run," he explained.

Besseck added that the newer Crown Victoria Fords most departments buy -- now the only large, rear-wheel-drive sedans available -- have much less power, break down more often and are more unstable on windy days.

The deal offered by Patrol Car Specialists has made believers of number crunchers, too. "It's half the price of a new car," said Easton Police Chief George Harvey.

Harvey said he bought three vehicles outright and is having five of others rebuilt for general patrol use. Besides, he and others say, the Fords don't hold up as well. Even new, their acceleration is slower, they have more breakdowns and the brakes often need repairs.

"It's worked out well," said Richard J. Voorhaar, sheriff of St. Mary's County.

"It's helped me in my budget," said Aberdeen Police Chief Michael Zotos.

Small police agencies in Frederick County and St. Michaels are also using the rehabilitated vehicles, and the Harford County Sheriff's Department plans to experiment with one car, a spokesman said.

State Police Sgt. Richard Barilone said his agency is "looking" at the program, but hasn't tried it. State police, like Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County police, sell their older vehicles. Baltimore County has county mechanics rebuild motors on some cars.

Howard County plans to have 25 Chevys and one Ford refurbished at $10,500 each. Because the old cars usually sell for $2,000 to $3,000 at wholesale auction and new vehicles cost in the mid-$20,000 range, the choice was easy, said A. Roy Stecher, chief of Howard County's Bureau of Central Services.

In addition to new engines, the cars get rebuilt transmissions, new brake systems, new electrical motors, suspension parts, water pumps, tires, batteries and rebuilt radiators.The frame and undercarriage are water-blasted, and the bodies repainted as needed.

Patrol Car Specialists also picks up and delivers the vehicles.

"When we saw the cars that they had done, it was well worth the money," Stecher said.

In Howard, they'll be used as backup patrol vehicles by Sheriff Charles M. Cave, or in the county's general motor pool.

Patrol Car Specialists started as a small-town, Main Street used-car lot and service garage, said Clair "Bud" Innerst, co-owner.

But with car dealerships increasingly swallowed up by chain owners and large corporations, Innerst and his partner, William Fitt, began looking for a niche. They found one almost by accident.

The company had serviced Manchester's police cars for nine years, Innerst said, and after General Motors stopped making Chevrolet Caprices in 1996, the officers lamented their passing so much that the partners decided to buy one at auction and refurbish it.

"The police chief couldn't get over how nice it looked. By golly, they bought the car back and they're still using it," Innerst said.

Salesman Todd Eckert said the firm rehabilitates more than 100 police cars a year -- almost all Caprices, though officials know the Chevys will be gone for good soon.

"We're looking at a four- or five-year window on Caprices," Innerst said. The garage rebuilds a few Fords now and will switch to Fords and four-wheel-drive vehicles after the Chevrolets run out.

"We're so busy it's amazing how many cars we do from all over the country -- from Vero Beach, Fla., to Pennsylvania, New York and now Maryland," Innerst said.

Pub Date: 6/06/99

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