Last Updated on August 23, 2022
Have you ever wondered what happens to police cars once a department no longer needs them? The answer – many police cars get a second life as civilian cars after serving a minimum number of years or reaching a certain mileage. Once a significant portion of police cars reach this milestone, the department sells their cars and invests in a whole new fleet.
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Used police cars can then be purchased by anyone just as you would purchase any vehicle at an auction. You’ve probably seen them on the road and slowed your speed until you realized it wasn’t a police car.
Now the question is, should you buy a used police car?
Many people have never considered the idea of owning a used police car. However, for others, the idea that their vehicle once served the police force (or military) is a source of pride and joy.
If you’re on the fence about buying one, let’s take a look at the pros, the cons, and everything in between. Here’s everything to know before buying a used police car.
Table of Contents
Pros of Buying a Used Police Car
1. Old police cars are significantly discounted
Used police cars are often listed for a lesser price than a similar car that hasn’t even served in a police department.
The best way to get a deal on these vehicles is to examine auction results for the car you want. Get as much information about any cars of interest prior to the auction. Then perform a thorough inspection of the cars in-person.
2. Built on quality; built for performance
Police cars are manufactured with quality components such as brakes, shocks, fuel lines, and more, each enhanced for great performance and longevity before entering police service. Upgraded suspensions deliver a noticeably smoother ride.
Police vehicles are also designed for high-speed chases, so they come equipped with powerful engines. Old police cars will even have a higher level of performance at high speeds, enabling them to more easily overtake slower-moving vehicles with improved control and handling.
3. Safety features
Police vehicles are rated safer compared to many vehicles on the road. The cars are built body on frame, compared to unibody frames, which provide less protection in a collision. Most police vehicles have a rating for safe operation at a surprising 150 miles per hour.
4. Maintained to manufacturer’s specifications
Police cars are generally very well maintained over the course of their service life. Police departments are pretty faithful at following the maintenance schedule provided by the manufacturer. They can’t afford to have vehicle malfunctions interrupt their work. Plus, parts are often plentiful.
Police departments often have specialized automotive needs. Some features are desirable, for example, some come equipped with an upgraded power system. This gives police cars a boosted power capability for the lights, sirens, radios, laptops and other devices that require electrical power.
Another modification to police cars, particularly AWD (all-wheel drive) utility vehicles, is the replacement of the rear seats. The vehicles come equipped with cloth seats, and the police department removes them and installs hard-wearing vinyl fittings. When the vehicle goes to auction, the vinyl is removed, and the cloth seats are re-installed. This means the vehicle’s seat will be like new when going to auction.
The center console is fitted with police electronics, which get removed and replaced with the original center console when going to auction too. Though sometimes, the car may be sold without one.
6. Police cars give you room to breathe
Police cars have ample interior space and legroom in both the front and rear seats. They also come equipped with larger trunks since they often have to carry a lot of equipment. Large trunk space is great for groceries, errands, and larger items like strollers or scooters.
7. High mileage isn’t always bad
Some police cars patrol highways, and highway driving isn’t as damaging to a vehicle as inner city driving. Cars that patrol highways have little demand put on them except speed and these cars are built for speed.
8. People will drive differently around you
When people see your vehicle, they may think it’s an unmarked police car and modify their driving or put down their cell phone. They may also treat you with more courtesy and respect.
Cons of buying a used police car
Now that you think buying an old police car is a great idea, here are some points to make you reconsider.
1. Sold as is
Government surplus vehicles are usually sold as is, so there can be a wide variance in working condition among old police cars. This means you have to do the legwork to find out as much as you can about them before buying.
2. They get worked like a dog
Police cars can run two or three shifts per day and thus incur a lot of wear and tear quickly. A car that is a few years old may have a decade’s worth of wear and tear. Vehicles used in urban areas perform short stop-start trips all day long. However, a police chief’s car and a take-home probably didn’t have much hard usage at all.
In order to help you figure out which is the case with your desired car, ask the seller how the car was used.
Old police cars often have holes in the dash and bear other signs of modification, such as brackets attached to the body of the car—the remnants of a previously installed police nudge-bar—lightbars that leave holes in the roof once removed or the removal of vinyl signs sometimes scratches the surface. When equipment is removed, the car may need cosmetic attention such as a new coat of paint.
4. Fuel and replacement parts cost more
The flip side to having a vehicle with a lot of room (and are built heavy) is a low fuel economy. It is going to cost you more at the pumps. And the flip side to owning a car manufactured with long-lasting, quality parts is that once parts need to be replaced, it will cost you significantly more.
5. Mileage only tells part of the story
A number of police cars idle for lots of hours, which isn’t recorded by the odometer. Idling will wear on engines as well as on any components in use at that time like the AC, radio, or the seats. Other forms of wear and tear initially go unnoticed too, like when a police officer’s utility belt wears on the front seats.
6. People will drive differently around you
Having traffic-calming powers isn’t appreciated when the person in front of you starts driving slower than the legal speed. Some people get startled when they see a police car in their rearview mirror, and this can lead to brief erratic behavior.
Top police cars
Without a doubt, certain police cars have an iconic look. As you consider purchasing one, here are the most popular models of police cars over the last five decades.
Dodge Polara (1960s and 1970s)
Fairly lightweight and slightly overpowered, this is one of the police cars featured in the Dukes of Hazard original TV show title sequence. The car could reach 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, but Sheriff Rosco could never seem to catch the Duke brothers in it.
Ford Mustang (1980s)
Built explicitly as a pursuit vehicle, the Mustang Special Service Package mixed a lightweight two-door coupe body with a 157-horsepower, 5.0-liter V8, and a four-speed manual transmission. The car was known as “the Mustang that chases Porsches for a living.”
Chevrolet Caprice (1980s and 1990s)
The car looked like a whale and people jokingly referred to black-and-white police cars as “Shamu.” Then, in the mid-90’s, it received a new 260-horsepower, 5.7-liter “LT1” V8, and became one of the best all-around police vehicles of all time.
Ford Crown Victoria (1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s)
No car on this list claims as much market dominance as this police car. And just about everyone has ridden in the back of one, since many of them get a second life as a taxi. Ford canceled the production of the car in 2012.
Ford Police Interceptor (2010s, 2020s)
The Interceptor isn’t a car, it’s an SUV. This modified Ford Explorer has become the most popular motorized vehicle in police fleets today.
Where to Buy a Police Car
There are two options for attending government surplus auctions. Buyers either have a choice of bidding on vehicles in-person, or choosing to do so online. When choosing the latter, sites like Municibid help buyers find cars based on type, such as police vehicles, and even help them search for items based on their specific location.
Speaking of location, many municipalities advertise their public surplus through government websites. There you can find specific times, prices. contact information, and more.
Not all government surplus will be advertised publicly, as some police departments sell to other departments or sometimes privately to small businesses. One major buyer of police cars happens to be taxi companies who desire vehicles that share aesthetic uniformity and will have the same technical issues instead of multiple different problems. Sometimes dealerships also buy police cars in bulk.
When items are sold publicly, expect to see other everyday citizens, some small business owners, and maybe even a big-name movie producer who needs a police car for his latest flick.
Tips for inspecting police car at auctions
- Read all the information provided about vehicles that interest you before attending the auction. If possible, contact the government agency’s maintenance department to find out more about the vehicle’s history.
- If you’re not a mechanic, bring one with you.
- Perform a walkaround inspection of the car, turn it on, and do everything you can do in it (start the wipers, play the radio, roll down the windows, etc.). Make sure everything is in working order. Many times, the batteries in these police cars will be dead by the time they get to auction, so bring jumper cables.
- Take notice of the VIN (vehicle identification number).
- Not all police vehicles are equal. The car’s use within the service will influence its value. A police captain’s car will likely feature a nicer interior and will have been used more lightly than a patrol vehicle.
Should you buy a used police car?
Now that you’ve seen the pros and cons of buying a used police car, do you think a used police vehicle is for you? If you like the look of the vehicle, appreciate the extra space and decreased capital cost, and don’t mind paying more for fuel, then it’s a great option, especially if you do your homework.Here’s what you should do next – peruse through the Municibid’s catalog and consider which police car will make a great fit for you. Your next ride awaits!