After a while of writing about fleet, you start to notice all the fleet cars on the road, from delivery vehicles to work trucks to parking enforcement vehicles.

I recently drove up the coast of California, stopping by various beach cities, and taking photos of every fleet vehicle I saw. It wasn’t a work trip, but spotting fleet vehicles has become somewhat automatic.

During this trip, I started to notice certain things. Are the vehicles clean, and of a decent age? Are drivers driving safely? Is the parking area easily accessible to the public, and are there concerns about vehicle security if so? Are police officers still driving Crown Victorias?

What does all this say about the public agency’s finances, or its fleet budget and fleet management and policies? Is the picture a positive or a negative one?

Making an Impression

A while ago, I wrote about the impression your fleet department makes online and over the phone. The impression your vehicles make is very similar, but to an audience that doesn’t seek it out — the public, as they go about their daily lives.

A vehicle parked in an inappropriate location can make some wonder what public servants are doing with taxpayer money. A government driver caught texting or driving aggressively doesn’t generate confidence and puts everyone in danger. A vehicle with peeling paint and decals says either the public agency doesn’t care about its equipment, or doesn’t have the funding to maintain or replace it.

A potential police recruit seeing officers drive around beat-up vehicles may have some opinions about whether he wants to join that police force, and how much that position may pay. Same for potential fleet technicians.

On the other hand, a clearly marked compressed natural gas vehicle or electric vehicle says the public agency has invested in alternative fuel vehicles, perhaps coinciding with its goals and those of its citizens.

A fleet professional once told me his agency spent some ridiculous sum on car washes. I thought, really? Are car washes all that important? When public fleets in California pledged to stop or reduce car washes during the drought, I thought it was a fantastic idea. But now I see that clean vehicles make a certain impression, and if that impression is important to your agency, and if you have the funding, then it’s worth the cost.

It’s often stated that a vehicle in bad condition makes the driver less likely to take care of it, in the same way that police officers with shared vehicles take worse care of their cars than those with assigned vehicles. That’s another reason to keep vehicles in good condition.

Representing Your Agency

Few fleets have the funding to purchase brand new vehicles constantly and get car washes often. It’s also difficult to police every driver and make sure they’re following policies. But it’s good to remember that the vehicles driving around your city, county, or state represent your department or public agency. Those decals and exempt license plates are seen by taxpayers, and while most won’t think twice about a fleet vehicle they see, some do.

And of course, the opposite is also true. No U.S. fleet will have a Bugatti or a Lamborghini like the Dubai police fleet does, but if your vehicles make too good of an impression — such as expensive SUVs or vehicles taxpayers deem too extravagant — that’s another problem.

What do your cars and drivers say about your fleet?

Let me know here.

About the author
Thi Dao

Thi Dao

Former Executive Editor

Thi is the former executive editor of Government Fleet magazine.

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