Police cars get a second life as passenger cars after they’ve served a minimum number years or at a certain mileage. Once a significant portion of police cars reach that milestone, the police departments sell their cars and invest in a new fleet.
Used police cars can be purchased by anyone just as you would purchase any used vehicle at an auction. You’ve probably seen them on the road and slowed your speed until you realized it’s not a police car.
Should you buy a used police car?
Many people have never considered the idea of owning a used police car. However, for some, the idea that their vehicle used to serve in the police force (or military) is a source of pride and joy.
Here are the pros and cons of buying a used police car to keep in mind as you search the used police car market.
Pros of buying a used police car
1. Old police cars are significantly discounted
Used police cars often are listed for a lesser price than a similar car that hasn’t served in a police department.
The best way to get a deal on a police car is to examine auction results for the car you want, get as much information about any cars of interest prior to the auction and then perform a thorough inspection of the cars in-person.
2. Built on quality; built for performance
Police cars are manufactured with quality components. Components such as brakes, shocks, fuel lines and more are enhanced for greater performance and longevity before entering police service. Upgraded suspensions delivers a noticeably smoother ride. Also, police vehicles are 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 enhanced 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 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.
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Police departments often have specialized automotive needs. Some features are desirable. For example, some cars come equipped with an upgraded power system. Police cars have 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 it goes to auction. The center console is fitted with police electronics, which get removed and replaced with the original center console when it goes to auction. Or it 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 sears. They also come equipped with large trunks, since they often have to carry a lot of equipment. Large trunk space is great for groceries, errands and larger items, such as 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 will also treat you with more curtesy 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, and it’s up to you to do the legwork to find out as much as you can about them.
2. They get worked like a dog
Police cars can run two or three shifts per day, so a lot of wear and tear accumulates 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. Ask how the car was used. A police chief’s car and a take-home probably didn’t have much hard usage.
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 and the removal of vinyl signs sometimes scratches the surface. When equipment is removed, the car may need cosmetic attention. You may also need to repaint it.
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 a lot of hours, which isn’t recorded by the odometer. Idling will wear on engine components, as well as on any components in use at that time, such as heat/air conditioning, radio and seats. The police officer utility belt wears heavily 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 speed at which you want to drive. Some people startle when they see a police car in their rearview mirror, and this can lead to brief erratic behavior.
Top police cars
Police cars have an iconic look. Here are the most popular models of police car of 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 it 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 as 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 cancelled 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.
How to buy a used police car at police car auctions
Follow these tips when buying used police cars.
- Read all the information provided about vehicles that interest you before attending an auction. If possible, contact the government agency’s maintenance department to find out more about the vehicle’s back story.
- 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.) just to 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. Its 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.