CRANBERRY TWP — Most people likely have no idea what the back seat of a police car looks like, so it might come as a surprise that the vehicles driven by law enforcement are drastically different.
For instance, there are several reasons people should hope to never be in the back seat of a cop care. Perhaps the least important of those reasons is comfort: Almost every back seat is fitted with hard plastic bench seats instead of comfortable cushioning.
Those large, spacious trunks in police cars likely aren't carrying around sets of golf clubs either. Most are fitted with shotguns, body armor, first aid kits and traffic cones or flares.
But the dissimilarities of police cars to private cars don't stop there, according to Bob Howland, the streets and fleet manager for Cranberry Township who oversees the maintenance of all of the township's vehicles.
That fleet includes 16 police cars, each of which requires monthly tune-ups and preventive maintenance.
“We put the cars through a computer test every month,” he said about checking diagnostics.
The list is long in terms of differences for police vehicles and private ones, he said. The car's battery and brakes are larger than average with heavier springs and shocks. The engine's horsepower is much higher than average as is the engine itself.
Most police car engines also have a special cooling system that allows the engine to run at higher speeds for longer durations.
The larger parts are necessary obviously so the car can go faster during vehicle chases, but they're also crucial in allowing the police car to travel over rough terrain or to maneuver quickly if needed.
The car also must be built to withstand long durations of idling, such as when a police officer is parked and watching for speeders.
Howland added there aren't any arm rests or center consoles in the front seat. Instead, that area is set up as a central command of sorts which is equipped with radios, computers and other communication devices.
And that's not to mention the special and sometimes complex paint schemes that go on many police cars, as well as other vehicles like canine cruisers that need even more modification before they're road ready.
Mechanics also must install special electrical systems that power the bevy of electronics, lights and sirens in a car. That kind of work is all done at Howland's warehouse behind the Park Fire Station along Route 19 in Cranberry Township.
Howland estimated that he and his crew save the township thousands of dollars per year simply by working on the cars in-house.
For example, when the township orders a new police car, the police department tells Howland's crews that it wants installed on the car. They order the parts and do the work instead of paying someone else to do that.
In addition the police cars, the township does maintenance and repair on another 110 vehicles.