Cannibalism can be good.
Put two Egg Harbor Township police cruisers side by side in the body shop.
One, a 2005 Ford Crown Victoria, has 150,000 miles and a few dents.
The other, a 2008 Crown Victoria, has 9,000 miles and was totaled in the December snowstorm.
Have one devour the other, and you’ll get a car that runs like it has 9,000 miles, but has the body of one that has seen 150,000.
Rather than lose two cruisers to crashes or age when there’s no money for replacements, the Egg Harbor Township police and public works departments have joined forces to revive totaled vehicles using parts from the township’s police-car graveyard.
“It’s really important — with the budget being crunched and the fact that we gave back our money for the vehicles — to help out with the budget issues, so we had to find a creative way to keep up our fleet,” Police Chief Blaze Catania said.
The Public Works Department has maintained its own graveyard for a few years, where public works employees could pull perfectly good parts off old or junked cars and repair fleet cruisers in minutes to hours, said Paul Suhr, head of vehicle maintenance. Most municipalities sell their old cars at auction, but using old parts saves thousands, he said. “What you can buy an engine for, it pays for itself.”
You could call it a cop chop shop, but a more accurate description would be Frankencar, said Don Purdy, whose company, Purdy Collision, does the complex work that township workers can’t. “We all call these a Frankenstein car.”
Purdy’s Galloway Township garage, which has contracts with the state and Atlantic County and does work for many area municipalities, will create a combined cruiser that will have all the motorized or electronic parts from the 2008 car but will have the body and frame of the 2005 cruiser. The interiors, light-bars and other equipment unique to police cruisers also will be switched.
It will cost an estimated $7,500, but the money comes from the insurance company, which totaled the 2008 cruiser, Purdy said. The police department had to buy back the car for about $1,000, but the work overall is much less than a new cruiser, which costs nearly $30,000 once it has been outfitted with light-bars and other accessories, Catania said.
“There’s not much of a market for used police cars,” Purdy said, “so it’s really smart for Egg Harbor Township to buy these back.”
Purdy, Galloway Township’s deputy mayor, said other municipalities might do minor body part switches, but he hasn’t heard of one that has done complete overhauls using their own old parts.
Last year, the township overhauled one crashed cruiser with parts from another cruiser. Each had been in accidents that damaged different parts. The work cost $6,600, Purdy said.
Suhr and Purdy both estimate the township has saved between $75,000 and $100,000 in the roughly two years it has kept the old cars.
Hamilton Township administrator Ed Sasdelli said the township will occasionally re-use light-bars, protective barriers or other cruiser-specific accessories, but it hasn’t reused car parts. “If the insurance adjuster says it can be fixed, we have a repair shop repair it,” he said, “If it’s totaled, then we junk it and take the money.”
Galloway Township Police Chief Pat Moran said the department has used parts from vehicles taken out of service and uses “every last drop out of our equipment before looking to purchase everything else.” He added, however, “We have never used the vehicles to reconstruct additional cars.”
In the Egg Harbor Township police car junkyard, a half dozen old cruisers sit in various dismantled states. Three are cars that are too old for the parts to be switched out with the gray Crown Victorias. Those ultimately will be auctioned off, said Anthony Rebardo, a township mechanic working on the police fleet. But there’s a 2007 cruiser sitting in the lot that recently was totaled. That’s probably the next project, Rebardo said.
Rebardo said he frequently switches out parts of the junked cars with those in service, saving thousands at a crack. Transmission dies? He can switch one out and save $5,000. Car computer fries? Swap it out and save the township $1,000. They use only parts that are non-wearable, meaning parts such as brakes or hoses are not swapped. Those are all bought new, Rebardo said. “It saves the township so much money.”
Purdy said the cruiser project currently in his shop will take about 200 man-hours and if he charged the township for the full amount of labor ($45 an hour, as opposed to the reduced insurance rate he charges), the cost would be prohibitive.
“It’s not work that has to be done in a week and I know what their budget is,” he said, “I know they are in a tight squeeze, and we do quite a lot of work for them.”
Emily Previti contributed to this story.
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