How police departments can reduce fleet fuel costs without adversely affecting performance

DERIVE’s modifications can improve a patrol car’s zero-to-sixty time by as much as a second, while at the same time reducing fuel consumption at idle by 25 percent to 30 percent


Personnel costs are usually the lion’s share of a police agency’s budget, but also high on that list is the cost of maintaining the department’s vehicle fleet. Even after vehicles are purchased and configured, fuel and maintenance costs are a big money drain. What if there was a way to make vehicles run 25 percent-30 percent more efficiently?

DERIVE Systems started as a vendor to the high-performance car industry, re-tuning fast movers like Mustangs and Corvettes so they would traverse that quarter-mile a little faster than the next guy’s car. When one of their performance customers — who was also a corporate fleet manager — suggested they expand the business to make fleet vehicles run more efficiently, it seemed like a sure thing. Today DERIVE counts among its fleet customers some very large operations, like Union Pacific and Pepsi. 

By combining features from both the performance and efficiency models, DERIVE is now focusing on public service agencies — law enforcement in particular. 

Understanding LE Needs
DERIVE’s Tom Kanewske understands the mission of police vehicles. “We search for smart areas to save so that we never sacrifice performance” he told PoliceOne. With this careful balance in mind, DERIVE’s modifications can improve a patrol car’s zero-to-sixty time by as much as a second, while at the same time reducing fuel consumption at idle by 25 percent to 30 percent. 

Police package vehicles ship with heavy-duty everything: cooling, suspension, transmission, electrical, brakes, etc., because patrol cars see hard use under extreme conditions. Even so, the engine in a police package cruiser is probably identical to the one sold to taxi services and consumers. “Traditionally, we have found the police agencies add tons of equipment to meet their mission needs, but by and large have not optimized the most important part of the vehicle, the engine,” Kanewske said. 

DERIVE works its magic by tweaking the programming of the Engine Control Module (ECM), which is the computer that tells the engine how much fuel and air to feed the engine cylinders, adjusts cooling, controls intake, and exhaust ports, etc. The fine tuning allows the car to accelerate faster off the line, and still reduces fuel consumption when idling. 

Addressing the Idle
Patrol cars are left idling a lot. On traffic stops and accident investigations, or when the officer inside is just parked somewhere while writing a report, the engine is probably on. Without the engine running, the emergency lights, radios, mobile computer, and other accessories would drain the battery. Over an entire duty tour, the average squad car can easily idle 50 percent of the time. There are instances in which squads idle for as much as 70 percent of the time the engine is running. 

“A Crown Victoria burns approximately 0.6 gallons per hour at idle,” Kanewske explained.” If fuel is $2.75 per gallon, many law enforcement agencies might burn $6 to $8 at idle during every shift. Reducing that cost by 30 percent saving as much as $2.40 per day. Add that up across the entire fleet, and it amounts to thousands of dollars per year.” 

Installers load the DERIVE software to vehicles via the OBD II (on-board diagnostics) port used by technicians to troubleshoot problems with the car, but it also provides access to program the ECM. In ten minutes, the car is ready to run. Depending on the size of the fleet, all of an agency’s cars can be optimized in less than a day. 

“The DERIVE software does not void the OEM warranty,” Kanewske told PoliceOne, “and can immediately reduce fuel costs while improving performance.” 

The State of North Carolina Dept. of Transportation is a DERIVE client. Before diving in, the department administrators wanted a controlled test, which was performed at the North Carolina State University. “We delivered an immediate 25 percent fuel savings in idle, and up to 30 percent in some vehicles.” 

Six-month ROI
The DERIVE software costs about $400 per vehicle, but Kanewske said that at an average savings of $2.40 per day, clients reach that $400 return on investment threshold in less than six months. After that, the modifications only save money. 

The company has offices in Florida and Idaho, with about 75 employees at each location. Most of their in-house testing has been in Florida, using patrol vehicles loaned from local agencies. “We wanted to test vehicles that had all the gear installed,” Kanewske said. “Cooling is the biggest stressor in Florida, and our comprehensive testing in this high-heat environments ensures that a vehicle’s electrical or cooling requirements are never compromised, all while improving performance and fuel efficiency.” The same savings is expected on any patrol vehicle, whether it operates in North Dakota or in Arizona. 

When thinking about newer-model cars, most consumers focus on convenience features, like the navigation or entertainment systems. “A lot of folks don’t realize there is a very powerful computer that sits inside the engine,” Kanewske told PoliceOne. “All those convenience systems are computers themselves, but the most important one is in the engine. We’re excited to educate people on how our product can ‘right-size’ performance for the specific task.” 

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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