Due to an overwhelming lack of reader questions for the Car Forum, I have been forced to delay the Forum until Friday. Please think of a question (a bad question is one that you don’t ask) so I can answer it for you on Friday. There must be SOMETHING about cars that’s burning a hole in your brain!
When you think of police cars, the Ford Crown Victoria comes to mind. For those of you older than that 30-year span of the Ford Crown Vic, you might remember the Chevy Caprice 9C1, the legendary AMC Javelin Alabama State Patrol cars, the Dodge Monaco, and countless others. Most used police cars these days consist of the Ford Crown Victoria, the occasional Ford Expedition or Explorer, maybe a Dodge Charger, or the Chevrolet Impala. Here’s what to look for in these powerful bare-bones cars.
For the dollar-per-dollar factor, it’s hard to beat a used police car. If you don’t drive that much, or if you carpool with a few buddies, a used police car is well worth the money. However, you shouldn’t EVER go to a police auction and bid on the first police car that goes on the block. This is a bad, bad, bad idea! You have to do a lot of homework to find a good one among the thrashed and abused ones.
Most city auctions don’t allow private buyers that aren’t dealers or salvage pickers. This way, they don’t have to deal with the major hassle of the fact that “as is” means “you bought the car. It’s your problem that it won’t start now.”
So, how does one figure out what a good used police car is when the description says something like, “should start with a boost, minor body damage, minor interior damage on seats, exposed wires on interior and holes on the exterior.”
Start with realistic expectations. Don’t expect a brand-new car. The chance of that happening are slim to none. Some of these cars may have been sitting on a back lot for weeks, months, even years after they were after on the road. Some could have a bad engine or transmission, and you, the unlucky buyer, will be saddled with a car that has terrible rod knock or a hole in the headers. It’s practically guaranteed that you will have to replace the battery. Bring a jump box to get the car running, if you go to check the car out in person, which I strongly advise you do.
There’s a pecking order when it comes to Police Interceptors. Cars that are used in the line of duty often have crummy cloth seats and vinyl rear seats that often have rips or holes in them. You WILL see wires and holes where police equipment was – don’t be alarmed! Most used Police Interceptors will have this.
In terms of paint, these cars are exceptionally well-kept. This allows for scratches to be fixed easily, and for decals and logos to show better. Black and white cars will often sell for less money than a single-color car, like a black, silver, or white car. Single colors are often easier to retail, so my advice is get a black and white car and take it to a paint shop and paint it a single color. A step above both of those is the Police Interceptor that has an all-cloth interior and no hanging wires or gaping holes like the active duty cars. These cars tend to be abused far less, as they are usually used by government employees or police officials who don’t engage in high-speed chases (like lieutenants or captains). These cars will go for more money, thanks to their lower mechanical wear and retail-ready interiors. Another thing that adds retail value is police equipment. Push bumpers, radios, spotlights, and the like will add a few hundred or so to the value of the car.
Always focus on no more than two vehicles, as it will allow you to put a lot more effort into looking at those cars. Always, always, always inspect the car(s) with a professional mechanic or knowledgeable person before bidding. Try to find out as much about how well the vehicle in question was maintained as you can. Take a picture of the VIN so you can do a CarFax search when you get home. Online descriptions are laughable, but sometimes you’ll luck out and get a real gem.
Not everything you’ll buy from a police auction is going to run like a top the moment you buy it. The Ford Crown Victoria in particular has become well-known among car dealers for being the “almost car” because a full-sized car that people “kinda sorta” want with rear-wheel-drive, fuel economy that is worse than dismal, and more cheap plastic bits than your local LEGO store isn’t something that people exactly flock to in hordes.
Throw in exposed sometimes-live wires from the police-only parts that were removed, heavily worn seats, and you can sometimes buy a car for about 10% of it’s original retail price after 7 years.
If you want a cop car so that a cop will wave you by when you’re speeding to get to work, or that you can do burnouts, drifts, and cruise all day long in comfort while scaring the general public half to death when you zoom up in their rear-view mirror, take your time getting one. Nobody’s going to laugh at you when you get a gem and they have to fork over a couple of thousand for a new engine because they bid on the first car they saw. You’ll be the one laughing. But, PLEASE, don’t lock yourself in the backseat. You’ll get to listen to the entire 9-1-1 dispatch center, then the fire dispatch center, and then the tow truck driver and the fire crew laugh at you. The worst will be if you lock your friends in the backseat while you go into the gas station to use the bathroom.
If you own or have owned a previous police car, tell us what to look for in the comment section. We’d love to hear what you have to say about these cars. They are surprisingly fun to drive, despite a transmission best suited for intergalactic travel and an engine that’s better on the bottom of the ocean. If you want really good reliability and power, suck it up and buy a 5.0-liter V8 crate motor from Ford Racing. Oh, and get a new transmission while you’re at it. Also, tell us your funny stories involving police cars. I’m sure that all of us have plenty.