RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) – State-owned vehicles – you pay for them with your taxes and CBS 17 wants to make sure we get what we pay for.
After more than a year of research, consumer researcher Steve Sbraccia found that North Carolina had no idea how many state vehicles were parked and not in use due to the pandemic.
It also begs the question: why is our state still buying new cars?
When CBS 17 began monitoring certain state cars that had been idle for over a year, it was during this investigation that we discovered the state’s inability to track the underutilization of all of its fleet during the pandemic.
CBS 17 targeted half a dozen state cars that we noticed had sat unused for months outside two office buildings housing state agencies.
On the afternoon of Monday January 18, 2021, we began our tracking efforts to keep tabs on them.
To do this, we placed tape bearing the date of January 18 between one of the vehicle’s wheels and the asphalt of the cars we were monitoring.
If the cars moved, the tape would dislodge.
CBS 17 watched them through the winter months of 2021, through spring, as the trees began to bud, waiting for them to be moved.
We watched until the summer of 2021, when pancake myrtles bloomed. The whole time the cars remained in the parking lot where we first spotted them.
After eight months of tracking, we saw a few cars move occasionally, but they were driven infrequently.
During the pandemic, the governor’s executive order limited travel for state employees and many agencies implemented a work-from-home policy, so Sbraccia started asking questions.
State Auditor Beth Wood confirms state vehicle use is down, telling CBS 17 in an email, “Many agencies are adopting remote work policies and as a result the need of so many cars for state agencies may not be so high.
Her office is one such agency where this infrequent use has occurred and she is trying to figure out how many state cars she still needs, telling CBS 17, “We at OSA (Office of the State Auditor), let’s do an analysis now, since we’ve adopted a hybrid working policy, to determine how many cars we think we’ll need moving forward.
Wood said she didn’t know if other agencies were doing the same type of analysis.
The state’s 7,300 vehicles are overseen by the Fleet Management Division which is part of the Administration Department.
He told CBS 17 in an email, “We are well aware that state vehicles may be underutilized at this time due to various workplace changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.”
This response made us wonder why weren’t these cars declared surplus and sold?
We know there’s a huge demand for used cars right now because dealerships can’t get inventory.
“The average price for a used car ad is $28,000,” said Emilie Voss of CarFax.
CBS 17 wanted to know what the underused cars we were tracking were worth.
We found a way to do it.
Carfax has an online tool that helps you figure this out.
Sbraccia grabbed the plate numbers of the half-dozen state cars we found idle during his investigation.
Here is what he found.
The average trade-in value for most of these cars was over $14,000 assuming they were in good condition. One had a trade-in value of over $12,000 and the other two were worth just over $8,000.
However, even $8,000 vehicles would be purchased in today’s used car market.
“There has been a strong demand for vehicles under $10,000,” Voss said.
If these state vehicles are not used, why is the state still buying new cars?
Sbraccia posed this question to the Department of Administration and Finance who said in an email: “The state purchased 500 new cars in fiscal year 2021” and that “these purchases were part of its cycle routine replacement.
CBS 17 also learned that the state isn’t even tracking its fleet of about 7,300 vehicles it currently owns to find out which cars aren’t in use.
Administration and Finance said in an email, “Once the executive order(s) are lifted, applicable state agencies will be required to return state vehicle reports with substantiation of underutilization for each vehicle listed.”
We did some checking.
Although the pandemic state of emergency remains in effect, the governor’s office said the travel ban is no longer in effect.
He also said some state employees continue to work from home under various agency policies.
CBS 17 will continue to check with Motor Fleet Management until we get a response on the use of the car.
We’ve also asked state legislators to intervene and we’ll let you know when they respond.