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Why do people buy old cop cars?

How Police Cars Work

­Police forces began using motorized vehicles sporadically as far back as the final years of the 19th century, but at the time, these were little more than wagons that carried police from place to place. Police forces used motorcycles on a regular basis long before they used cars, as cars were more expensive. Increased reliance on police cars was driven primarily by increased use of cars by criminals.

In the 1920s and ’30s, police departments used police cars to save money. With a car and a radio, one officer could cover a much larger territory. During this period, cars were purchased retail and then modified by the police department. Modifications were limited — rudimentary markings and a variety of lights were the only things that set most early police cars apart from regular cars. It wasn’t until after World War II that U.S. auto companies began offering «police packages.» They simply took the special options most often ordered by police departments and combined them into a special option package. Ford Motor Company debuted its police package in 1950; Chevrolet in 1955 and Dodge in 1956 [source: Sanow].

Over the decades, police cars have gradually evolved. More pieces of specialized equipment were added. Light bars were streamlined. Old cars went out of style, while new designs became popular. Here are just some of the key police cars through history:

  • The Chrysler Enforcer from the early 1960s
  • The Chevrolet Biscayne of the 1960s
  • The Mercury Monterey of the late 1960s and early ’70s
  • The Ford LTD of the 1970s
  • The Ford Torino of the early 1970s
  • The 1975 Chevrolet Nova
  • The Chevy Impala of the late 1970s to mid-’80s
  • The Plymouth Gran Fury from the 1980s
  • The Chevrolet Caprice from the late 1980s to mid-1990s
  • The Ford Crown Victoria of the 1980s to the present

If you’re looking for more information about police cars or other related topics, follow the links below.

Where Can You Buy a Police Car?

If you’re looking to buy a new, modern police package car from the manufacturer, the answer is, «You simply can’t.» New police cars are not for sale to civilians. However, if you’d like to find a vintage or retired patrol car, there are numerous clubs around the world that cater to police car enthusiasts. Old police cars can be found fully restored with all the proper equipment, or in somewhat lesser condition. A restoration job is certainly possible, since a lot of equipment, such as spotlights, sirens and radios, is available for sale to the public. Just remember, finding period-correct parts for older police cars can be a challenge.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

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More Great Links

  • Fleet Safety Equipment, Inc.
  • Police Vehicle Equipment
  • American Power Systems, Inc.
  • Emergency Vehicle Solutions


  • American Power Systems, Inc. «Heavy Duty PCM/RVC Smart Charge controlled alternators for Police Interceptor and Ambulance.» (March 24, 2009)
  • Biggs, Henry. «Revealed: 211mph Police Lamborghini.» Nov. 2, 2006. (March 24, 2009)
  • Emergency Vehicle Solutions. «Run Lock Relay Unit.» Aug. 2, 2006. (March 24, 2009)
  • Hiltunen, Nick. «Suspect kicks out windows of police car.» Goldsboro News-Argus. Feb. 17, 2008. (March 24, 2009)
  • Jones, Amy. «Hoover unveils Porsche as new police vehicle.» Shelby County Reporter. Feb. 20, 2009. (March 24, 2009)
  • Kerr, Ian. «Police Cars.» Chartwell Books.1998.
  • ­McCord, Monty. «Cars of the State Police and Highway Patrol.» Krause Publication. 1994.
  • ­Sanow, Edwin J. «Chevrolet Police Cars.» Krause Publications. 1997.
  • Sanow, Edwin J. «Ford Police Cars.» Motorbooks International. 1997.
  • ­Shapiro, Larry. «Special Police Vehicles.» MBI Publishing. 1999.
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What Are The Pros & Cons of Buying a Used Police Car?

  • Pete Ortiz

In the opening scene of the 1980 musical comedy film, The Blues Brothers, Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) picks up his brother, Jake (James Belushi), from the Joliet Correction Facility in a beat-up, black and white used police car. Jake, less than impressed with his brother’s choice of vehicle, throws out the classic one-liner, “Well, thank you, pal. The day I get out of prison, my own brother picks me up in a police car.”

It’s a stereotypical line but lays out the differing opinions people have about buying used police cars.

Some people, like Jake Blues, couldn’t think of a more ridiculous idea, yet others, like his brother Elwood, see them as being the best thing since sliced bread. For as Elwood replies, “This was a bargain. I picked it up at the Mount Prospect City police auction last spring. It’s an old Mount Prospect police car. They were practically giving them away.”

Whether you love them or hate them, there is a significant civilian market for used cars that started their life on the beat as part of the Thin Blue Line.

Here’s a list of pros and cons to owning your very own ex-police car.

Car engine

Pros & Cons of Buying a Used Police Car

1. They Really Do Practically Give Them Away

Pro: When it comes down to brass tacks, you are likely to grab yourself a bargain. Almost all used police cars are sold at auction for less than what you would pay for a similar vehicle on the standard used car market. Typically, you’ll find them marked with an indicator price of what each car is expected to fetch at auction. Still, as there usually isn’t a minimum reserve; they can, and often do, sell for considerably less than the expected price.

Con: Used police cars sold at auction don’t typically come with a warranty or mechanical certification. And, as you won’t have an opportunity to test drive them before the sale, it’s a good idea to take somebody with you who knows a bit about cars. That way, you can avoid buying a lemon.

2. You Will Get a Powerful Engine, Heavy-Duty Components and a Reliable Workhorse of a Car

Pro: Police vehicles are designed to be driven hard and fast, so your used cop car will have some serious get-up-and-go. If you’re looking for a vehicle with a powerful engine, this can be a very cost-effective way to meet that goal.

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You will also find that your used police car will have a higher level of performance at high speeds than many similarly priced civilian cars. This is particularly noticeable during highway driving, where improved control and better handling will make overtaking slower-moving cars easier, more comfortable and importantly, safer.

Pro: You may find that your used police car’s upgraded components are very cost-effective. These cars, and the components in them, are designed and built to last, and this can be a huge advantage financially.

Con: Police work can be punishing, and you really don’t know just how hard the department that owned the car pushed it. After all, there may be a reason the department retired your vehicle. When all those upgraded components do fail, they can be expensive to repair or replace. So again, it may pay to have somebody who knows what they are doing look at the vehicle before you get yourself into a bidding war.

3. Police Cars Do a Lot of Miles Over Their Lifetime

Pro: If you are purchasing a vehicle that has spent its life on the highway, there is a good chance that most of its miles have been racked up on long, continuous hours of cruising. This type of driving is much better for a car’s engine than the constant stop-start that is typical of the short trips that many civilian drivers do daily.

Con: The total number of miles on a used police car isn’t an accurate indication of the work the engine has actually done. If you think about it, highway patrol cars don’t just cruise about all day. They are often parked up at the side of the road in a static speed trap, and during these times police leave their vehicles standing with the engine idling. Hence, the actual amount of work the engine has done may be many times the number of miles shown on the odometer.

Con: Vehicles used by patrol police in urban and city areas are involved in a lot of short stop-start trips. Patrol often involves police responding to, and driving to and from, one job to the next all day.

Male driver

4. During Their Working Life, Police Cars Are Fitted With a Lot of Extra Specialist Equipment

Pro: Some makes of police cars, particularly AWD utility vehicles, come equipped with rear cloth seats. These are then replaced by police agencies with hard-wearing vinyl fittings. These vinyl seats will be taken out and the unused cloth seats put back in before the vehicle is sold. This means you may end up with a used car that has some brand-new fittings in it.

Con: Much of the specialist equipment police use, such as their radios, computers and lighting systems, require extra electrical power. Thus, your used police car may come with an upgraded electrical system that will run any additional electronic or radio equipment you want to install.

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Con: Because police cars have a lot of extra equipment fitted to them, used vehicles typically come with holes in the dash where switches were previously installed. There may be holes in the dashboard and console from where police equipment was previously installed, as well as holes in the body and roof panels from lights and radio antennas. You may also find some unsightly, and seriously heavy-duty, brackets fixed to the body of the car from the previously installed police nudge-bar. These don’t look the best and can be hazardous to your shins when walking around the car at night.

5. Police Vehicles Are Almost Always Well Maintained

Pro: Most police agencies take good care of their fleet and follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule. Police cars are an essential and expensive piece of equipment and are typically maintained with high-quality spare parts.

Con: One of the most popular, and recognizable models of police cars, the Ford Crown Victoria is no longer being manufactured.

Since being discontinued in 2011, many police agencies have been hanging onto their vehicle fleet for as long as possible. Some larger police agencies also bought hundreds of new cars and placed them in storage for future use before Ford stopped making the “Crown Vic”. While some other, smaller and less financial departments couldn’t afford to do this, a whole industry has developed around refurbishing these cars. As a result, instead of selling their vehicles, many agencies are now refurbishing their old cars and putting them back into service.

And ultimately, this will mean that when Crown Vics do come up for private sale, they will be considerably older than in the past.

6. Used Police Cars Have Massive Trunks and Lots of Interior Space

Pro: Police cars are designed to have a large amount of trunk space as they have to carry a lot of equipment. That means these vehicles will be great for running errands, carrying around large bulky items like strollers or groceries. You will also find that there is a considerable amount of legroom in both the front and rear seats.

Con: As a result, used police cars in the United States, unlike those used in many European countries, aren’t small. This can make parking in inner-city areas and within tight building parking areas more of a challenge.

7. People Will Think You Are a Plain-Clothes Cop and Drive Differently Around You.

Pro: Drivers of other vehicles always slow down and drive more ‘safely’ around police cars. As the owner of a used police car, you will find that people will mistake you for a plain-clothes cop driving an unmarked vehicle. As a result, they will slow down around you. They will probably show you more curtesy, will let you in when you want to change lanes, and will generally be less aggressive toward you on the road.

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Con: Having everyone slow down around you, come to a complete stop and every intersection, and continuously drive more carefully can become really annoying. When drivers get spooked by a police car, they can become erratic. They may also have difficulty making decisions, and this can make getting around town considerably more frustrating.

car and road divider

As with any used car purchase, you must consider what you need, how much you are prepared to spend, and the pros and cons of the purchase before you part with your money. Used police cars can be an excellent choice for some people, but they aren’t a car for everybody.

Should I buy an ex-police car?

Police cars drink a lot of petrol, or diesel, whichever you prefer, compared to your average model. They also often last longer and offer a firmer ride, which is always good to know.

With very little expense spared when it comes to maintenance etc. ex-police cars generally do tend to be quite attractive for someone looking to buy one. Ex-police cars have been serviced religiously in their past and can shrug off any high mileages.

So, if you don’t mind a flat white ex-police car, say a Ford or a Chevy, that might have a couple of holes in the dash and roof or be a bit battered, then you could quite easily pick one up for a bargain and it still has a lot of life left in it.

How to get your hands on one

First, you need to find someone that is selling one. You might be able to find a couple that has been posted online, but sometimes this can be harder than you think. There’s more variety than in the good old days but you might still need to on the hunt for one.

So long as you have realistic expectations of how long it might take you to find one and what it’s going to be like when you get one, you’ll be laughing.

Buying at auction

Listen up, if you’re serious about getting your hands on an ex-police car then one of the biggest UK suppliers that you need to know about is West Oxford Motor Auctions (WOMA). It holds two auctions each month and has some cracking ex-police cars up for grabs.

There are also sales run by the British Car Auctions (BCA) too, which are fab, just don’t get too ahead of yourself and start googling a load of police car auctions trying to find one as these might not be as legit as you might think.

As with any auction, there’s going to be things that you’re going to want to look out for like whether anything is missing, maybe the radio. This shouldn’t come as a surprise given what the car would have previously been used for.

Things like holes and mileage might be something to keep an eye for too, as most patrol cars enter the market with anything from around 70,000 miles upwards. Your motorway patrol cars are usually sold in when they’ve hit anything from 90,000 upwards and these are like your Volvos and BMWs.

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Buying from a specialist dealer

It’s standard that as well as auctions, you can also purchase ex-police cars from a specialist dealer. The good thing about this is that they’re more than likely going to have any issues that you might have found at an auction, like any holes, or missing equipment as an example.

If you find a specialist dealership that is selling these on, you’ll probably find that there are more miles on the clock than any other forecourts and are obviously less likely to be pristine as you’d like. Most of all, if you’re looking for an honest and cheap, that’s relatively tidy then an ex-police car can be great value for money.

What to look for

This is a difficult one. With so many different ex-police cars out there, from your traffic patrol to incident response, you’ll have to hunt down which one you like the look of the most. Both of these cars are quite similar in that they are heavily lined using vinyl-checked graphics and the traffic patrol ones tend to be a bit swankier and more powerful.

While you’re browsing the market and having a look at what’s out there, you’ll probably come across the BMW 3 and 5 Series models, as well as the X5 and Land Rover Discovery. There are so many ex incident response cars, and will more than likely include your hatchbacks and estate cars too like your Ford Focus and Mondeos.

You’ve also got your high-performance unmarked pursuit cars too, I mean, who doesn’t like the look of these. These would include your Skoda’s and Volkswagen Golf’s and you could definitely get yourself a hot bargain with something like this.

If this is given you an appetite for an ex-police bargain, then why not start your hunt now with an auction or a specialist dealer who will be able to set you on the right path.

Driving and staying legal

So, you’ve got the keys to your ex-police car, now all that’s left to do is jump through the last couple of legal hoops and you should be good to go.

One of the first things to do is look into getting the status of the car changed on the V5C. Sounds complicated but it’s simple and free and only takes a few minutes. What you tend to find too is that most people buy an ex-police car as a piece of history and keep the original livery as there is just a minefield of legislation to sieve through.

Need help getting rid of your car so that you can invest in a snazzy ex-police car? Enter your reg number here and we’ll find you the best prices from across the web. It’s that easy. You’ll discover the best prices and have all the details that you need to be able to make the best decision for you.

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