The town went car shopping in recent weeks for four police patrol SUVs following a spate of mechanical problems and related warranty headaches.
Town commissioners this month approved a budget shift to accelerate the purchase of four new Ford Explorer police-package vehicles to replace four ailing 2020 model Chevrolet Tahoes, none with more than about 65,000 on the odometer.
In their final meeting of the summer, the commission voted 5-0 to move $185,200 from 2023 capital-budget spending into the 2022 budget to facilitate the purchase, funded by money from the Manatee County infrastructure surtax.
Any proceeds from the Chevrolets at auction would flow back into the same fund. About $12,000 to $15,000 is expected for each of the used vehicles. About $19,000 was offered already for the four as trade ins, prompting the town to enter the auction market.
Although police-package vehicles are hard to find, owing to closeouts of Ford’s popular Crown Victoria police sedans and Dodge’s closeout of the police-version of the Charger sedan, Police Chief George Turner relied on contacts he’s made over the years to informally set aside four 2022 police-model Explorers with a Polk County dealership, pending commission action.
"There are only five in the entire state of Florida," Turner said on July 1. "We have a hold on four of them."
Two of those new SUVs could be on the road this week, outfitted and equipped for the police department. Two others would likely be ready for patrol by the end of July. The department already operates several police-model Ford Explorers and police department staff in early July was stripping necessary equipment from the Tahoes for use in the Explorers, Turner said.
"That is extremely lucky and unusual," Town Manager Tom Harmer said, adding that the ordering process would ordinarily take at least a year.
According to town records, the four Chevrolets began experiencing fuel system and internal engine maladies over the last 12 months, spewing white smoke which was accompanied by the strong smell of fuel inside the vehicles.
Each time they were towed to a repair shop, the town said, repair technicians found multiple repair codes displayed by the vehicles’ diagnostic computers.
Following the expiration of the manufacturer’s 36,000-mile warranty, an extended warranty covered repairs until June when General Motors alerted the town that Texas-based The Amynta Group refused to cover further service costs.
The town was told the warranty coverage was not intended for “police service vehicles” and should not have been offered for sale by the Jacksonville area dealer that handled the sale.
The town has since been reimbursed $8,640 by Garber Auto Group for the remainder of the three SUV’s extended warranties. The fourth SUV was not covered with an extended warranty, Turner said.
"If we hadn’t had any warranty issue, we would have paid that money, they would have been happy and we would never have known," Turner said. "But as soon as we started putting in repair requests, the first two, then they canceled us."
Town Attorney Maggie Mooney said the town is also examining Florida’s lemon laws that are designed to protect owners of vehicles that exhibit consistent and chronic mechanical difficulties.
"I’m very surprised the Chevy Tahoes fell apart like they did," Turner said, adding the new Fords will start out with three-year, 36,000-mile factory warranties and that he expects the Fords to last longer than the last batch of Chevrolets.
Turner said the department has parked the four Tahoes and is avoiding driving them to avoid further repair bills in the event one of them breaks down again and requires towing. In recent weeks, the town had to pay $800 to a Bradenton Chevrolet for one of them to be fixed.
In the interim, other police vehicles are being pressed into service but also are rolling on patrol-vehicle mileage through extended use. The 2022 budget includes about $31,000 in spending for an unmarked car for detective use.