Despite huge repair costs, Schenectady can’t afford to buy police cars more often and rotate old ones out before they begin to fall apart.
Still, Mayor Gary McCarthy is pushing to replace cars as soon as possible, and the City Council will vote on the first eight cars today.
If approved, the new cars will replace cars that are 3 and 4 years old.
The expenses for 4-year-old cars can be staggering. This year, the city spent $3,000 to $4,000 each on most of those cars — and $6,000 on one of them.
“Some years we’re lucky to only have a $6,000 repair,” McCarthy said.
They’re far cheaper when they’re new.
Each new car costs $30,000 to $35,000, and generally incurs $3,000 in maintenance and repairs in its first two years, according to Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen, who tracks the costs for each car in the city’s vehicle fleet.
He thinks the city would be better off buying cars every two years.
“You’re avoiding the capital cost of the vehicle, but you’re spending more on repair,” Olsen said of the current policy.
McCarthy agreed, but he said the city doesn’t have much choice right now.
“The problem is, you have to buy the cars upfront,” he said, explaining that the city would have a hard time paying the higher cost for a two-year loan. Currently the city takes out four-year loans for the cars.
“If you have enough money to pay cash ...” McCarthy said. “For now I’d just like them to replace some of them.”
Olsen is pushing for a swifter turnover policy anyway, on the grounds that it would save money that the city desperately needs.
But Councilman Vince Riggi has questioned the turnover policy. He thinks the cheapest way is to buy cars every four years, while Olsen says it would be far cheaper to replace them every two years.
It turns out the answer depends on how much money the city can get for its Dodge Chargers after two years.
If the cars are replaced every two years, the cost of each car, including the $3,000 in maintenance, would average out to $16,500 a year.
Keeping the car for four years, with the increased maintenance costs, averages out to $10,250 per year.
On the surface, it looks like four-year turnover is the best option. But it gets more complicated.
After four years, the cars sell for up to $2,000. Olsen thinks he could sell them for much more money if he sells them at the two-year mark, when they have just 50,000 miles on them.
Dodge Chargers owned by private individuals — not police — sell for about $15,000 right now in those circumstances, Goldstein Auto Group sales manager Rick Shmaruk said.
He stressed that he couldn’t guarantee how well the Chargers would sell in the future, or how well a police Charger would sell.
If the cars sold for $15,000, the city would end up spending $9,000 per year, with new cars every two years. That’s a little cheaper than selling them for $2,000 after four years, which leads to a total average cost of $9,750 per year.
But if the city guesses wrong, and a car sells for $10,000 after two years, the total cost is $11,500 per year. That’s nearly $2,000 more per year than the city would spend by keeping the cars and paying the additional maintenance.
Riggi thinks the 2-year-old Chargers would sell for $10,000 to $12,000. He said police cars sell for less than privately owned cars because they’re used harder.
“We know that car is at idle almost all the time,” Riggi said. “The motors were pretty well worn out.”
But McCarthy said some buyers might prefer a police car. They have eight-cylinder engines and heavy-duty alternators.
“People are willing to pay a little more,” he said.
There are two other factors for the council to consider. Olsen believes the city could eliminate some old patrol cars from the fleet if every police car was sold after two years, because the new cars would be far more reliable. The old cars are used now when another car is in the shop for repairs.
If the city could cut back on its fleet, it could save a great deal of money on insurance, Olsen said.
And, McCarthy said, it would also ensure that police officers spent more time patrolling, and less time “baby-sitting” a car while waiting for a tow.