The four Chevrolet Caprices that the Darien Police Department bought last year have not exactly been the pride of the fleet, according to Police Chief Duane Lovello, and this year he'd like Ford Explorers instead.
"They have not been without their challenges," is the way Lovello describes the Caprices. One major challenge has been radiator hoses—the Caprices that are sold to police departments in the United States are made in Australia, and recently there haven't been any radiator hoses for that model available in the United States.
So for one of the patrol cars is "laid up for want of a radiator hose," Lovello explained at a Saturday budget meeting of the Darien Board of Selectmen. The department has asked for $213,995 to buy five Ford Interceptor models, which are essentially Ford Explorer models modified for use as police patrol cars.
The Caprice is a relatively small vehicle for a patrol car, but Darien has some patrol officers who are not relatively small—and when they're wearing their duty belts with various items of gear on, they're even wider around the waist, Lovello said. So in order to buckle up their seat belts, they've had to add seat belt extenders to the vehicles.
The cars sit relatively low to the ground, which also makes it more difficult for the officers to get in and out of the seats, he said. "It's a bit like sitting in a bucket."
The Ford Explorer, a sport utility vehicle, is bigger than the Caprice and has become popular with some law enforcement departments, including Massachusetts and the California Highway Patrol, Lovello said. "That's all they're going to buy in the future."
The Explorer also has all-wheel drive, which would allow for more driver control during bad weather, he said.
The department expects to retire two Ford Crown Victoria patrol cars after using them for three years, Lovello said. The trade-in value of the cars drops steeply from the second to the third year, he said, and while the department could get $6,000 to as much as $7,800 or so for a patrol car that's two years old, a three-year-old car might fetch only $1,500 in trade-in value, he said.
The department will hold on to individual cars that have very good repair records, he said. Sometimes, the department's cars have been repainted, had their police features removed and been repurposed to serving as vehicles for other town departments, such as the Planning and Zoning office.
Another important element in estimating a patrol car's useful life is the number of hours the engine is on—which is even better than mileage, Lovello said. That's because many patrol cars spend more time idling in place than driving the roads, he said.