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ALERT Police Car Conference 2012: Testing the 2013 Squad Cars

The ALERT conference in Knoxville, Tennessee included both guest speakers and 2013 police cars for us to evaluate. Stop-Stick, skid cars, and other training systems were available for review with manufacturers pushing some of the more cutting-edge tools available to assist the law-enforcement community in building a solid front in emergency situations.

The Knoxville EVOC location is an excellent facility, and the program plan allowed attendees to get the feel of 2013 vehicles that manufacturers provided. As I was driving a 2013 all-wheel-drive Ford over the skill-development track Knoxville had designed, my passenger and I noted a potentially serious issue with major understeer in extremely sharp corners. Later, the vehicle was involved in an accident based on the issue. This same Ford did very well in the police car tests in Michigan where the corners were not nearly as sharp. Now, we know that if the vehicle is going to be driven in an urban setting it certainly would advisable to have officers go through a familiarization course emphasizing proper braking and steering techniques necessary to benefit from the vehicle’s full potential.

It is amazing how close the vehicles really are. The use of a formula, suggested by Toni Scotti, to convert lap time to feet per second to miles per hour makes results clear, and prevents exaggerated claims from manufacturers and other biased sources. For instance, turbo and non-turbo V6 vehicles reached speeds of up to 150 mph. The two V8s, Dodge Charger and Chevy Caprice, reached 154 and 152 mph, respectively, which shows top speed is what the manufacturers set on the electronic control module. In other words, top speed is not limited by drag factor but is electronically controlled by the manufacturer.

After ALERT, I attended the Michigan State Police tests, and I’d like to share the results from the MSP preliminary findings using the formula converting time and distance into miles per hour (mph).

speakers

vintage Fury

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This chart states the fastest lap and the average lap figured for all drivers.

Police carFastest (mph)Average (mph)
Dodge Charger, 5.7L, 3.6 axle ratio75.574.9
Dodge Charger, 5.7L, 2.65 axle ratio75.675.0
Dodge Charger, 3.6L, 3.7 rear-end ratio74.2573.9
Dodge Charger, 3.6L, 2.65 axle ratio74.874.1
Chevrolet Caprice, 6.0L V875.875.0
Chevrolet Caprice, 3.6L74.073.6
Chevrolet Impala, 3.6L72.071.5
Chevrolet Tahoe, 5.3L70.970.2
Ford sedan, 3.5L, all-wheel drive73.072.6
Ford utility, 3.7L71.871.4
Ford PI, twin-turbo Eco-Boost, all-wheel drive76.075.3
Ford PI, 3.7L74.273.6
Ford, 3.5L, front-wheel drive73.773.1

Slowest was Chevrolet Tahoe at 70.9 mph. Ford improved 0.4 mph over 2012 tests.
Chevrolet Caprice improved 0.5 mph over 2012 tests. Dodge Charger lost 1.3 mph over 2012 tests.

The following chart provides the top speed attained at the Chrysler Proving Grounds, a 4.7-mile oval where the vehicles are run at full throttle for 14 miles, and the highest speed attained is the official recorded top speed of the vehicle.

VehicleOfficial Top Speed (mph)
Chevrolet Caprice, 6.0L154
Dodge Charger, 5.7L, 2.65 axle ratio152
Ford, 3.5L Eco-Boost, all-wheel drive150
Dodge Charger, 5.7L, 3.06 axle ratio149
Chevrolet Impala, 3.6L149
Chevrolet Caprice, 3.6L V6146
Dodge Charger, 3.6L V6, 3.07 axle ratio141
Dodge Charger, 3.6L, 2.65 axle ratio141
Chevrolet Tahoe, 5.3L137
Ford, 3.7L, all-wheel drive132
Ford utility PI, 3.7L V6132
Ford, 3.5L, all-wheel drive131
Ford, 3.5L V6, front-wheel drive131

2006 Dodge Charger had V-rated tires. 2012 Dodge Charger had W-rated tires and set a record.

This chart indicates lap time converted to mph in order of fastest to slowest.

VehicleLap TimeMPH
Ford PI, 3.5L V6 Eco-Boost, all-wheel drive1:34.60 76.0
Chevrolet Caprice, 6.0L V81:34.9075.8
Dodge Charger1:35.2075.6

Dodge Charger, with the same engine and rear-end ratio, was 1.2 mph slower than last year. We can only assume that the other part of the equation, tires, resulted in the slower lap time.

Putting things in perspective: The fastest car and the second fastest car had less than 0.2 mph between them, and there is only a 5.1-mph variance between the slowest, Chevy Tahoe at 70.9 mph, to the fastest, Ford Eco-Boost all-wheel drive at 76 mph.

Ergonomics

The primary mission of these evaluations is to provide a suitable environment for an officer, to accommodate communications and emergency warning equipment, and assess the difficulty in the using such installations.

The higher the score, the more user friendly the product for police work. The evaluation is conducted independently by at least four officers. What they look for besides communications effectiveness is visibility, comfort, and instrumentation, and the scores are averaged to minimize personal prejudice regarding individual vehicles.

Except when operating in certain environments top speed is relative, and with some vehicles on the civilian market today reaching speeds in excess of 180 mph, if someone breaks the law and has access to those types of vehicles, a faster police car is better. To effectively handle these speeds the officer must be realistically trained and frequently updated on that training. Likewise, it makes no sense to chase a motorcycle with a Chevy Tahoe through traffic because, sooner or later, evasive action at high speeds will certainly rear its ugly head, and the officer could be involved in a serious accident.

Finally, a major piece of advice proven over and over again: brakes and tires are no place to cut corners on pursuit vehicles. The better the tires and brakes, the more chance you have of overcoming the fleeing vehicle without being involved in an accident. As speeds increase and safety features are implemented at the manufacturer level there will continue to be a need for advanced specialized training. I don’t mean at your local community college – I mean serious training that lets you experience the handling capabilities of the vehicle.

Hopefully the information in this article will assist you in reviewing your vehicle choices and remind you of the importance of proper utilization of this equipment.

I am certainly looking forward to another great ALERT conference in Austin, Texas, next year. I have been a member since 1990, and I remember Bill Andrews, former FBI chief driving instructor, and his frustration with not being able to get the certification program implemented. Now he should be very happy with the great work of President Yates and past presidents who have led ALERT to such levels of success and international recognition.

Finally, a little historical overview:

The fastest top speed of a four-door police car until 2006 was held by the 1969 Dodge Polara at 147 mph. The 2006 Dodge Charger surpassed that by three mph, although the manufacturer said the vehicle was only supposed to go 148-149 mph (using V-rated tires).

The Goodyear RSA pursuit tires seem to lack the grip of the Firestone, although they are not as expensive. Checking back in the records, last year’s Charger had the Firestone 225 x 60 x 18 W-rated pursuit tires with the W-rated Goodyear RSA as an alternate.

The Firestone retails for about $460 per tire. I have that tire installed on my ’06 Charger, which came with Continental Pro Trac V-rated; I took them off and sold them to a friend with a ’07 Charger. I liked that tire, but it does not have the traction of the Firestone. But on the other hand it is only $186 a tire – I got eight of the Firestones for $1,600, which is quite a savings.

The fastest lap recently was held by last years’ Dodge Charger at 1:33.70 mph. These evaluations were performed at Grattan International Raceway, a challenging (for both car and driver) two-mile track with hills, sharp curves, and a straight stretch running 3,260 feet that ends with a very sharp right-hand turn. The top speed of a vehicle is not a factor on this track. Braking and handling capabilities, as well as tires, are the main ingredients for fast lap times.

In 2006 the Dodge Charger had a top speed of 150 mph, and its speed on the fastest lap was 73.9 mph; the average speed was 73.5 mph. Going back to the 2011 Ford Crown Victoria with the 3.27 axle ratio and 4.6-liter engine, the fastest lap was 1:40.60, which converted to a speed of 71.5 mph, and the average was 71.1 mph. The Ford Crown Victoria with the 3.55 rear-end ratio and 4.6-liter engine had a fastest lap recording of 1:39.80, which converts to 72.1 mph, with the average being 71.5 mph. Top speed for the Ford Crown Victoria with a 3.27 axle ratio was 130 mph, and with the 3.55 was 119 mph. Crown Victorias were not built after 2011.

police cars

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rex

sharp turns

skidcar

test track

water hazard

On another note, the ’94 Caprice’s top speed, if equipped with 225 x 70 x 15 H-rated tires when it left the factory, was kept below 130 mph. One of the engineers, Earl Gautche, who was behind the 1994-96 9C1 programs, said the factory was not permitted to allow the vehicle’s speed to exceed the tire’s speed rating. So for the ’94 to be able to attain the 141-mph speed on Chrysler’s 4.7-mile oval, it had to be fitted with 235 x 70 x 15 V-rated tires.

Gautche also advised that the ’95 and ’96 General Motors started to put the same friction material on the internal parts of the transmission that the Roadmaster and Cadillac Fleetwood used. Consequently when the higher speeds were being reached and more air was being pushed, the transmission started to slip, but the ’96 did reach 139 for its official top speed.

Virginia International Raceway has a road course called Grand West Course; it is 4.1 miles in length and very challenging.

The test drivers did not have much use for the Chevrolet Caprice PPV, saying it might be better to use for meter maids. The Caprice’s time around VIR was 3:23.0, at an average speed of 72 mph. The Dodge Charger turned in a time of 3:17.8 – 5.2 seconds per lap faster than the Caprice. Last year a Charger SRT8 circled the track in 3:10, almost eight seconds faster than the police Charger and 13 seconds faster than the police Caprice. The only vehicle that the Caprice was able to beat was the Fiat 500 Abarth, but it was in a different class and was beaten by the Caprice by 3.7 seconds.

There are aftermarket ECMs available that can be purchased, in the $300-400 range. However, I know several instances where when these aftermarket products were installed, and when the operator decided to use them, the cylinder head pressure increased and caused cylinder head and gasket failure, an expensive repair. With very few exceptions, I think the settings of the manufacturers should be adequate in all but the rarest scenarios encountered by law enforcement personnel.

Hopefully the information summarized can assist you in taking a second look at the vehicle in which officers spend their 40-plus hours a week so that the department runs effectively and the officers are exposed to an environment as safe as possible.

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