Last Updated on April 15, 2022
Police forces across the country source different vehicles to perform various tasks and maximize mobility, but how many different types of police cars are there?
The first time a police force in the US used an automobile (powered by an engine—not a horse) was in 1899. The police force in Akron, Ohio, purchased a car from Collins Buddy Company for $2,400 (or $65,000 in today’s money). The vehicle featured two 4-hp electric motors for a top speed of 18 mph. There was also space for 12 people, headlights, and a gong. The first time this police car saw action was to pick up someone for public intoxication. It was often employed to transport squads of police officers, and eventually earned the nickname “squad car”.
In 1900, as part of a 300-person protest, some people stole the squad car and threw it into a nearby lake. The vehicle was retrieved the following day, restored, and remained in service until 1905. After that, the police department committed to purchasing faster-moving police cars.
A few years later, several manufacturers began producing cars with combustion engines. Naturally, police departments began buying them. However, these first police cars were the same models available to civilians. Police departments decided to paint them with dark colors and their department logo to distinguish them.
By 1920, the first radio was installed inside a police car. Then in the ‘30s, red police lights were also being installed for the first time.
In 1932, Ford introduced the first, low-priced, mass-marketed car with a V-8 engine—the Model 18. Police forces purchased large amounts of them, and they became the most popular police car model during the ‘30s and ‘40s.
In the ‘40s and ‘50s, car manufacturers began offering police packages on models created for general sales. Models available with police packages were all four-door sedans, which was and is the most popular type of police car.
Police Car Types
As the number of police cars grew, so did the number of applications in which they were used. Forces even began buying cars for specific needs.
Here are the most popular police car types:
1. Patrol cars
These cars are standard among most police departments. They are used for driving around the city and looking for criminal activity. Officers also use them to prevent criminal activity simply by being present. Patrol cars bring officers to the locations of crime scenes, and transport officers who work as crowd control at intersections and events.
3. Highway patrol cars
These are similar to patrol cars, except they tend to be equipped with engines that allow for faster speeds. They patrol highways for irregular or suspicious activity and traffic violations, as well as respond to highway traffic accidents or other emergencies.
3. Pursuit vehicle / interceptor
This vehicle does exactly as the name describes. When police believe there will be a car chase, police use a pursuit vehicle (also called an interceptor) to chase and intercept a suspect. These cars have great pick-up speed, as well as a high top speed. They’re also built for damage from the pursuit or from gunfire.
4. Vans and paddy wagons
Paddy wagons or vans are used by police forces to transport large amounts of prisoners and officers. They’re used just like the first police car was in Akron, Ohio. The term “paddy wagon” dates back to when police departments used horse-drawn carriages, and may be based on a derogatory term used against the Irish. Today, police forces differentiate between a “club van”, which is used for transporting prisoners, and a “carrier”, which is used for transporting troops and riot gear. The same van can’t be used for both purposes.
5. SUVs and trucks
Police forces employ trucks and SUVs because they offer great performance, comfort, and cargo space. More space allows for more equipment to be used either in the vehicle or to be transported for use on scene. Some SUVs and trucks now offer similar speeds and road handling as patrol cars. They can also be more intimidating than sedans because of their size. Police departments who serve more rural areas or don’t go off-road frequently will invest in this tpye of vehicle.
6. Unmarked vehicles
Unmarked vehicles are police vehicles that don’t bear the colors and emblems of the police force. They are used for surveillance, undercover work, and other covert operations. They are often sedans of a different model than the sedans that comprise fleets of patrol cars. Though they can be any type of vehicle. Unmarked vehicles often have telltale signs, such as a lot of blinking lights in the cab that can easily be seen by people nearby.
7. Armored vehicles
Armored vehicles are usually employed by Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams when there is a high risk of the vehicle taking on weapon damage. The armor protects the people inside so that they can safely reach their targets. The most popular armored vehicle is a truck with a lot of passenger room and space for riot gear and other weapons, but they can be cars, vans or even tanks.
8. Specialty vehicles
This category is a kind of catch-all for all the other niche vehicles employed by police forces. It includes motorcycles, helicopters, hummers, snowmobiles, and RVs. Oftentimes, these vehicles are employed in a lot of the same applications as the vehicles that comprise their main fleet, but specialty vehicles offer better access to some areas. RVs even serve as mobile command centers.
Popular police car models
Some car models have served as police cars for so long and for so many police departments that their appearance has become iconic. Here are the most popular model police cars:
1. Dodge Charger
In 2006, DaimlerChrysler released a new police version of the Charger featuring heavy-duty brakes, a severe-duty cooling system, a shifter mounted to the steering wheel column, enhanced steering, and electronic stability control. Its 370 hp Hemi V8 allows it to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.0 seconds and reach a top speed of 152 mph. The Charger is employed both as a marked and an unmarked patrol car.
2. Ford Crown Victoria
Ford produced a police version of their Crown Victoria, beginning in 1979. This four-door, body-on-frame sedan has features styled after the Mercury Grand Marquis. It was used by police departments as a pursuit vehicle / interceptor. The 1998 police package (P71) featured a chrome grille, chrome door handle trim, chrome bumper strips, and a chrome-trimmed flat-black rear fascia. The last model year for the Crown Victoria is 2011—more than three decades since the first model year.
3. Ford Taurus
When retiring the Crown Victoria, Ford used the sixth generation Taurus as the base for its new line of Ford Police Interceptor Sedan. It features a naturally-aspirated 3.5L V6 engine, all-wheel drive standard, and front-wheel drive option. The sedan includes Ford’s latest safety technology: blind spot assist, rear view camera, reverse sensing system, and electronic stability control. Ford discontinued the model in 2018. Later, in 2020, it was succeeded by the Ford Fusion Hybrid Police Responder.
4. Ford Explorer
Ford began manufacturing an SUV based on the Ford Explorer beginning in 2013. It’s called the Ford Police Interceptor Utility. The vehicle shares a lot of part commonalities with the Ford Taurus-based Ford Police Interceptor Sedan. This makes repairs and parts storage easier. Instead of a V8 engine, it features a 3.7L Cyclone V6 (the same engine used in the Ford Mustang) and produces 304 hp and 279 lb-ft (pound-feet) of torque. It stands out from the standard Ford Explorer due to several stylistic and police-specific features.
5. Chevy Impala
The Impala is a nameplate that has been applied to different cars beginning with the 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala—the company’s new, top-of-the-line car. The company sold police versions of these vehicles to police departments beginning that year. In 1985, the Impala nameplate was dropped until it was reintroduced for its eighth generation, 2000-2005. The police package was later offered on those models, as well as the ninth generation models (2006-2016).
6. Chevy Caprice
Beginning with model year 1986, the Caprice replaced the Impala as the company’s fleet car. It came available with either a V6 or V8 engine and after only one year on the market, received a facelift. A few years later, Chevrolet dropped the rear fender skirts from the car, making it more attractive to police departments. In the mid ‘90s, many police departments requested these vehicles with the same engine found on the fourth generation Chevrolet Corvette. Then in 2017, General Motors shut down the plant that produced these models and there was no successor.
7. Chevy Tahoe
The Chevrolet Tahoe has been in production since model year 1994, but it wasn’t until 1997 that the company offered the police package for it. The package included suspension components from the company’s discontinued 454SS truck and was originally available only as a two-wheel drive version. A few years later, Chevrolet introduced a four-wheel drive version, which was embraced by police departments who deal with snow, ice, flooding, rough terrain, and ground clearance issues. Tahoes are still being produced for police fleets today.
While police departments can and will continue to make use of these various vehicles, many of them inevitably go out of commission. If you’re looking to procure your own, then there’s no better time to start looking than today! Start your search online and find a wide variety of vehicles and similar items at an affordable price.