Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a week at the annual Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas. The show is billed as the largest automotive aftermarket trade show in the world. At more than a million square feet in size, it literally takes days to see all of the equipment available for cars, trucks, ATVs and watercraft. Many of the products on display relate to customizing cars and trucks to extreme levels, but there are also a lot of practical products for the law enforcement patrol vehicle marketplace.
Although emerging patrol vehicles are much more sophisticated nowadays, the simple fact is that all of them are designed with cost in mind. Because of this, there are areas within the performance and reliability envelope that can be improved through the application of specialized components. Many of the products mentioned below have been proven in extreme racing and performance environments, and have a long track record of improving performance. Others are aimed toward improving longevity, reliability and fuel economy. Regardless, each upgrade could have a place in your patrol fleet.
All the vehicle engineering in the world is useless unless it can be properly applied to the road surface in an effective manner. This makes tires one of the most critical parts of a vehicle and the only thing connecting your patrol vehicle to the roadway. Tires give you critical traction to make your vehicle stop, go and turn. They’re also something you rely on for stable and predictable handling during emergency response situations.
The tires that come on modern patrol vehicles are good, but they still represent a compromise because cost is always an issue in manufacturing a vehicle. So when you consider that a performance-oriented tire can make your vehicle stop quicker, launch harder under full throttle and deliver significantly better grip in corners, improving the tires on a patrol car just makes sense. Furthermore, when you consider that modern performance tires last longer and can be purchased at a competitive price, the reasons for purchasing them become more apparent.
Two high-performance tires worth consideration are the Hankook Ventus V12 evo and the Ventus V4 ES. Hankook is a leader in the area of performance tires. The company has been making tires for more than 70 years worldwide, and sells them in 180 countries. I can attest to their performance and longevity too, as I have personal experience using them on the Western Nevada College law enforcement academy’s EVOC vehicles where I teach.
The Ventus line is Hankook’s performance line: the Ventus V12 evo is an ultra-high performance summer tire and the Ventus V4 ES is a high-performance, all-season tire. They feature efficient water drainage; high-tensile, steel-belt construction; and a high-density nylon, reinforced belt that stabilizes the tire under cornering. Both have track records of delivering excellent grip and longevity. I’ve spent a lot of track time on these tires and they definitely deliver excellent ride quality and stability—and they wear like iron.
Hankook also makes off-road and SUV tires, such as the Dynapro AT-M. It’s a popular tire for trucks and SUVs that deal with off-road and severe winter conditions. In fact, I live at 6,500-foot elevation where it snows heavily in the winter, and almost all my neighbors have the Dynapro AT-M on their vehicles. They swear by them—not at them.
So whether you have patrol vehicles or SUVs, changing to a more specialized performance or off-road tire will pay big dividends in performance and wearability.
As officers, we put a lot of stress on our patrol vehicle’s braking systems. Our cars are heavily loaded with a variety of equipment, and if you couple that with emergency response and pursuit situations, our vehicle’s braking systems take a hard beating. This isn’t much different than the
racing world where brake pads, rotors and calipers are brutalized by being subjected to countless laps at high speeds. This stress requires the brake system to remain effective and efficient, even when the brake rotors are glowing red from heat. Although we typically don’t see that kind of use in law enforcement, the simple fact is that a performance brake pad will stop your vehicle quicker, last longer and remain more stable under repeated hard use during pursuit and code-3 situations.
One company, Hawk Performance, makes a line of brake pads that range from “high-performance street” to “severe duty” for trucks and SUVs. It’s important to note that brake pads are like tires: They’re designed to work on a certain size vehicle at a certain temperature range based on the operating conditions the vehicle will most likely encounter. In some cases, the brake pad will heat up quickly to deliver fast braking force. In other instances, the heat threshold may be higher so that the pad can remain stable and effective under repeated hard stops.
Fortunately, Hawk designs its pads using a unique Ferro-carbon brake compound that offers increased stopping power, extended pad and rotor life, and much less resistance to fading. In fact, Hawk says its pads offer 20–40% more stopping power compared to stock pads. I’ve personally raced with Hawk pads and I can attest to their effectiveness and longevity.
Having performance brake pads on your patrol vehicle not only saves your agency money in the long run, but it also helps you avoid a collision while maintaining braking ability in extreme driving.
Patrol vehicles kill batteries—plain and simple. In fact, the demand placed on electrical systems by our MCTs, spotlights, radar, etc., is so high that some manufacturers like GM even offer a second battery (in the new Caprice) to handle the load. But as much as that’s a smart idea, it’s still critical to ensure that the battery is as strong, reliable and efficient as possible. Batteries are the “heart” of a vehicle, providing the lifeblood that, in some cities, keeps patrol vehicles running 24/7.
Although factory-provided batteries are decent, they can’t match the performance of a specialized battery. They may cost more upfront, but they more than make up for it in service life. Example: The battery company Odyssey has a line called Extreme Batteries that offers numerous advantages over stock batteries. The first advantage is the use of 99.99% pure-lead plates, which increases cranking power storage because of the metallurgy and how the plates are more efficiently packaged inside the case. The Extreme series also offers 8–12 years of design life, which is nearly twice a typical battery—a potentially huge cost savings. It features a 70% longer cycle life over conventional lead batteries and has the fastest recharge cycle on the market. The battery can operate from -40–176 degrees F and is vibration resistant. It’s also classified as “non-spillable,” and features alloy-coated brass terminals for corrosive-free connections.
Another battery company to consider is Optima. They also make extreme performance batteries for street and race vehicles. When you consider that vibration is the leading cause of battery failure, and that patrol vehicles are driven all day, having a battery designed to withstand vibration is key. In fact, according to Optima, vibration testing showed the best conventional lead-acid battery failed within 2,000 hours of use. However, Optima’s Spiralcell Technology, deep-cycle batteries exceeded 9,000 hours of abuse. Optima batteries have also been proven to last more than twice as long as conventional batteries in high-heat environments, which is very common in LE patrol use.
All internal combustion engines run on two things: air and fuel. The more air you can get into the combustion chamber, the better. A little bit of fuel and a lot of oxygen compressed into an airtight chamber under pressure makes for great power production when a spark is applied. If you can improve the airflow into the engine, you’ll improve power, fuel mileage and overall engine response. Unfortunately, this is one area where OEM manufacturers often fall short. Simply put: The air filters in most modern cars are designed by corporate bean counters, which is unfortunate considering their importance in delivering debris-free airflow.
The racing and performance world demands a much higher performance air filter. These engines thrive on lots of oxygen, and performance air filters can deliver (and in some cases, can be reused). The company K&N produces oiled air filters that have been used for decades in race cars—in every single race car I’ve ever owned. Why? They work.
K&N has been making oiled air filters since 1969, after the company’s two founders worked to solve the nagging problem of mud and dust clogging up the conventional air filters on their dirt bikes. Since then, K&N filters have become the standard for performance air filters, with the company offering a million-mile warranty. Agencies can reuse the filters by cleaning and
re-oiling them—never again having to buy new ones. They’ll even outlast the vehicle if the cleaning and re-oiling is done properly. This translates to huge benefits in terms of cost, storage and protecting the environment. Not to mention the additional benefits of improved power, better fuel economy and better throttle response.
As you can see, putting a performance air filter under the hood of your new patrol vehicle is a no brainer.
Although there are many light bar companies in the LE world, there’s also the need to add additional utility, fog and driving lights to a patrol vehicle. The emergence of LED lighting has also been duplicated in the performance automotive industry, especially in the off-road segment. Auxiliary lighting is critical when out in the boonies, or racing in the desert. Since proper lighting is paramount in conducting nighttime traffic stops or other operations, simply adding a few compact LED light bars or a full-width LED light bar on the push bar of a patrol SUV, or even replacing standard headlight bulbs with performance ones, can dramatically add to the lighting performance of your vehicle. Since LEDs last pretty much forever, and most of the lighting units in the aftermarket world are self-contained, they can be moved from vehicle to vehicle when they’re rotated in and out of service.
Two of the leading lighting companies are Hella and KCHiLites. Hella is known worldwide for making performance lighting used on everything from extreme sports cars to race cars that compete in LeMans and elsewhere. The company makes a line of replacement headlight bulbs that are a simple swap with stock bulbs, as well as LED and Xenon HID lamps of all types and lens design.
KCHiLites started in the off-road racing world in 1970 and its Daylighter model defined what off-road lights should look and perform like. Since then, the company has expanded to HID and LED lighting, with some really cool LED light bars that feature up to a whopping 84 LEDs in a 42-inch wide housing that delivers an astounding 20,000 lumens of light. When you consider that the LED flashlight you’re carrying probably packs between 200–400 lumens on a good day, these LED light bars can be very helpful for traffic stops, DUI checkpoints, crash investigations, etc.
Both these companies make smaller units too, but the high-performance LED units I saw at SEMA from both Hella and KCHiLites are nothing like I’ve seen at a LE trade show. So, if you need specialized lighting for your patrol unit, consider these two options.
Bells & Whistles
It should be noted that there are many other products like shocks, stabilizer bars, auxiliary radiator and transmission coolers, synthetic oil and cargo containers in the specialty automotive aftermarket field that warrant consideration for patrol use too. But the consumable and transferable items I mentioned here—tires, batteries, brake pads, air filters and lighting—are reasonable to purchase, far outperform standard OEM items and won’t cause hassles with warranty issues. By enhancing your patrol vehicle in these areas, your vehicle will handle better, offer better braking and engine performance and provide safer nighttime operating environments. Moreover, most of these products will outlast the vehicle, or last significantly longer than stock, so the cost effectiveness also makes these items worth a serious look.
K&N Air Filters