Replace or Recondition Emergency Vehicles?

July 2007, Government Fleet - Feature

by Alan Binstein

With about 45 ambulances, seven large rescue trucks, and 15 supervisorSUVs, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) handles the emergency medical services (EMS) for the cities of Newark and Camden, each at opposite ends of the state of New Jersey.

UMDNJ’s logistical services department staff is an approved Ford warranty shop consisting of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and Emergency Vehicle Technician (EVT)-certified mechanics.

While necessary repairs are handled in-house without a problem, repairing an aging ambulance that drives 24/7 through urban areas can become costly.

Replacing vehicles is also an expensive option. Chassis replacement costs about $90,000 and requires remounting the old patient compartment, bringing it up to the state health department codes, and repainting it. Buying a completely new ambulance (chassis and patient compartment) costs about $150,000.

To determine the point in a vehicle’s life at which further repairs become inefficient, UMDNJ logistical services constantly reviews the vehicle’s repair history for costs incurred and repeat problems. A main factor in deciding whether to continue repairing a vehicle, or buying a new one is the vehicle’s reliability.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
An ambulance chassis is not much different from a heavy-duty passenger van a family might purchase. UMDNJ’s ambulances consist mostly of Ford E-350s.

Ambulance drivers are on the road 24/7, jumping curbs and idling the engines in order to maintain temperature for medical supplies onboard. The main concern is at what point does the fleet manager stop putting money into the vehicles? Once a great deal of money is spent or extended vehicle downtime occurs, it is time to replace the unit.

When is Enough, Enough?
How old is too old for an ambulance? At what age is it time for a replacement? The collected data points to three years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Engines, transmissions, rear ends, and full suspensions can be replaced and every repair possible can be made, but then, the next part breaks. The problem is, no matter how well the vehicle is repaired, its reliability over three years/100,000 miles decreases.

However, that does not mean a shop should wait until the three-year 100,000- mile mark before purchasing a new vehicle; it usually takes another three to four months to receive the new unit. In anotherthree to four months, the vehicle in use could easily reach 150,000 miles.

It’s not advantageous to keep a vehicle operational at 150,000 miles unless it’s a large rescue truck. Typically, large trucks have heavier-duty suspensions and drivetrain components. Large trucks can easily reach 200,000 miles in service as long as the correct maintenance is performed.

Don’t make the three-year/100,000- mile mark the golden rule. Monitoring the price to repair a vehicle should indicatewhen it’s time to stop investing in a vehicle that requires constant attention.

Investing excessive funds into a vehicle in its second year is an indication to consider buying a new vehicle rather than sinking additional money into further repairs.

Applicable to Other Emergency Medical Service Ambulances
UMDNJ’s replacement analysis includes comparisons with other EMSemergency response departments. Analyzing their repair costs yields the same data.

Generally, agencies or universities that operate EMS vehicles are similar in many ways. Some may drive in warmer climates; some may have more snow. However, each fleet uses many of the same vehicle types.

To control repair costs, shops must pay attention to how much money they routinely put into their ambulances. Constantly reviewing past repair history and forecasting future repair costs is the only way to determine if the vehicle has reached its useful lifespan. Try to predict when a vehicle will reach its 100,000-mile mark so money won’t be spent on an old, poorly running vehicle while waiting for the new one to arrive. Do the same with the heavy-duty rescue trucks, keeping in mind they run strong from 200,000-250,000 miles.

About the Author:
Alan Binstein, director logistical services for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, ASE and I-CAR (Inter Conference on Automotive Repair) certified.


  1. 1. jose claudio [ July 24, 2014 @ 07:40AM ]

    i think there should be a cut off point on emergency rigs while still in good shape trade or sell and use funds on new trucks maybe after a certain amount of miles and or if truck was in a accident or maybe replace with updated truck depending on what fleet needs for client demands i used to work for lifestar responce of totowa nj and i wish i could have gotten rid of some trucks and replaced them with something new or used in better shape because before you know it door locks and lights and handles become harder to find and stretcher lifts parts are to expensive if you find them so getting a truck a little bit updated is i think best way to go because once you start to restore it may be more then you expect..


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