What to Look for in a New-to-You Car/Truck

Call it what you will – hoarding, junk collecting or a serious automotive addiction. I’ve got it, and I’ve got it bad. Buying a new-to-you car/truck/motorcycle/whatever motorized vehicle you buy is always exciting. The process must release some endorphin in my automotive-craving brain. The downside of this is that I usually don’t have any money to fix the damn cars, but I’m happy (albeit slightly delusional). The bonus is that I can write and take (bad) pictures, and share my experiences with you. Here’s what I’ve learned.

  • Know what you want: If you have an idea of what vehicle you want to buy, educate yourself on it. Find out what options there were, and what reliability concerns there are. For example, if you’re looking at an older 1980s Toyota 4×4 pickup or 4Runner, know the difference between the 22RE and the 3.0L V6, and which one is right for you. 
  • Walk away if there is no title: Unless you’re planning on parting out the vehicle, or turning it into a race vehicle, walk away from it. Even though the seller might have a very entertaining story to explain the lack of a title, it just means an even bigger headache for you. Just be aware that if you decide to part out the vehicle and decide to send the carcass of it to a salvage yard, many won’t accept it without a title. They just have no way of knowing if it’s stolen or not. Some states are kind to you and allow you to jump through the hoops and get the title with only the bill of sale. It takes a whole lot of patience, dealing with bureaucracy, paperwork, and sometimes it doesn’t have a happy ending. Make sure the vehicle has proper VIN plates and check with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or your insurance company to see if it was ever reported stolen. The last thing you want to do is exchange money and then the cops come and take the car and you.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200 if there is no title!
  • Ask if there are spare parts: Most of the time, the seller just wants the vehicle gone, and you can usually get spare parts for a fraction of what they worth new. You might need those parts in the future. Sometimes the seller will just throw the parts in for free. Even if they say no, it never hurts to ask! 
  • Use parts you don’t like as negotiating points: If the vehicle you want to buy has ugly aftermarket wheels, and you have stock wheels at home, ask the seller if they would consider taking some money off the asking price and keeping the wheels and tires that the vehicle has on it. Fancy wheels you don’t like are worthless until you can sell them, and that takes a lot of time. 
  • Get the nicest one possible: This will save you money, a massive headache, and it will just be a better vehicle. It’s worth the extra money. 
  • Buy vehicles as close to stock as you can: This might seem silly if you’re going to be building an off-road rig or a hot rod, but here’s the thing. A car you want might have all the parts you want on it, but how do you know if they were installed correctly?
  • Try to avoid salvage title cars: This is, for the most part, a huge no-no. Vehicles can be salvaged for a number of reasons, some of which may not be bad, but insurance companies aren’t out there to lose money. Be suspicious if they don’t think it’s worth fixing. Some parts might be missing, but it’s always the little things that kill you. A salvage title always has a stigma attached to it, no matter how much work, time and money you may have poured into it, when you go to sell it, you’re going to lose money on it. At the same time, if you’re going to be building it into a race car, a trail rig, or a beater, does it matter if it’s got a few dents, is missing some trim pieces, or won’t sell for a lot of money?

    Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope
  • Buying most old cars means parts availability: Like it or not, if you buy an old Camaro, Mustang, Chevelle, pickup, Jeep, FJ40, or Bronco, there will be an abundance of aftermarket parts. Many of the parts you will need can be bought online, or you might be able to get them from their salvage yard out back. There are specialty restorers all over the country. If they have a few restorable vehicles out back, don’t bother haggling with them. They know how much the vehicle is worth and what they have. But, you do know that they have good parts, and rest assured that they will want to keep you as a customer.
  • Hang out with pros: Make friends, or become friendly with the people who restore or work on the vehicle you just got. They know what common problems are, how to fix them, and what to look at in a new (to you) vehicle that you’re considering buying. People who have worked on those vehicles know where to look, and chances are high that they will pitch in with your project.
  • Look for late-model 4×4 package (if you’re wanting an off-road truck): There are several late-model 4x4s with special off-road packages installed in the factory. You can score big time if you find one on a dealer lot. Look for Z71, FX4, TRD and Pro-4X. These packages give you deeper gearing, a locking or limited-slip differential, bigger, meatier tires, tuned suspension, and sometimes a beefier drivetrain and skidplates. Just be forewarned that stickers can be added to base vehicles without these packages to fool you. There are also 2wd TRD “Prerunner” Tacomas, and 2wd Jeep Wranglers that lack the front drive components, a transfer case, and all the goodies that come with off-road packages. Just keep an eye out and you’ll be fine. Also, some dealers will slap a sticker onto trucks to fool you into buying it. 

With all of that being said, go out and find that one car/truck/motorcycle/whatever motorized vehicle it is that you’ve always wanted to buy. Build it into what YOU want, not what others want. When they tell you how to build it, tell them to go build their own. It’s your car, and you’ll be much unhappier with the car they wanted you to build. You don’t want that, do you?

Why You Should Road Trip in 2015

Gas is cheap.  You’re going to see more classic and high performance cars out on the road because of this.  Most of us like to drive.  It’s fun.  Road trips with family or friends are a lot of fun.  You don’t need an exciting, fancy car to road trip.  You could go through California in a Kia Rio and still have fun.  Here are some tips to make the most out of a road trip.  You probably know most of these, but some you probably won’t.

  • Have travel companions.  Whether it’s your spouse, sibling(s), friends, co-workers, or a boyfriend/girlfriend, other people make road trips more fun.   Even your dog can make it more fun.
  • Know basically where you’re going.  Unless you have some sort of deadline, or specific place to be, know where you’ll end up within the next couple of days.  Let people know where you’re going, and when you expect to be there.  Let them know when you arrive.
    • That being said, explore some.  Don’t stay on the interstate.  Take some backroads, explore local towns, and have a good time.  If you’re travelling around, say California, and you want to end up in Palm Springs by the weekend, let somebody close to you know, but explore some.  The California desert has plenty to offer.
  • Tell people where you’re going, and when you get there.  Don’t be a total loner when it comes to road trips.  Call your parents/siblings/significant other/friends/whoever you know well.  It’s a simple 2-minute call.
  • Try out the local delicacies.  Most small towns have something that the locals enjoy. For example, Gilroy, California, is the garlic capital of the world.  Try garlic-themed food there.  You get my point.  Try what the locals all recommend.  It’s usually in the specials section of the menu.  Or, you can ask the wait staff what they recommend.
  • Check out museums if there are any where you stop.  It’s a simple, quick Google search. You’d be amazed at what you can find.  Most of the museums are quite interesting.
  • Talk to the locals.  Chat the people who seem nice up.  They might tell you where the good places to eat are, or where a fun or scenic road is.  It’s worth your time, and most people will be nice enough to talk to you.
  • HAVE FUN!!!!!  That’s what most road trips are meant to be.  Make it memorable.  Do burnouts, donuts, drifts, or go off-roading if you want.  Just make sure you won’t cause trouble when you do it.

 

The Most Affordable Project Cars!

If you’re a classic muscle car fan, but don’t have anywhere between $35,000 and $100,000 to spend on that perfectly restored Chevy Camaro, don’t worry!

It’s always possible to find a project car for your budget, even if it’s not a Hemi ‘Cuda, Mustang Boss 302, or a Camaro Z/28.  But, who says it has to be one of those to be the coolest person on the block?

These are my choices that have been proven to be total street/strip demons for not a lot of money (you could buy a new Camry for the price of a well-built one).

I’ve always thought that the most important part of the hot rod building process is buying. The better the car, the less work you’ll have to do.

Obviously, there are far more choices than the cars listed below, but if you’re new to hot rodding, start with one of these!  You’ll thank me later.

  • 1979-1993 Ford Mustang:  Yes, there are always a good dozen of them at the local dragstrip, autocross, or drifting event.  But, that’s why people choose them – you can build a killer “Fox” for under $10,000.  Getting a car made after 1987 is what I would go with – they have sharper styling, more powerful engines due to better airflow and more fuel flow.  They are light, dirt cheap, don’t look too terribly bad, easy to work on, and have more aftermarket support than any other car on this list.  You can buy one from $1,500 to $5,500.  If you own one and want a massive supporting community, check out foxbodyforum.com
  • 1965-1970 Chevy Impala:  Yes, a behemoth is here.  In 1965 alone, Chevy sold a whopping 1 million cars.  Only the top-of-the-line Caprice had more options than the Impala.  They look good, but they have performance to back it up:  They had the infamous 409 cubic-inch big-block V-8, as well as the 396 cubic-inch big block V-8 and thundering, coveted 427 cubic-inch L-88 big-block V-8.  In 1970, the 454 cubic-inch big block took over from the L-88.  These big bruisers also came with a host of small block V-8s.  Though they may not be a canyon carver, there is a thriving aftermarket.  Expect to pay $1,500 to $10,000 for a non-L-88 car.  A good website is impalas.net.
  • 1971-1977 Pontiac Ventura:  The less-popular version of the Chevy Nova is a good way to get into hot rodding.  That being said, get a Nova.  While it’s a badge-engineered version of the Nova, it’s less popular and harder to find parts for.  Early Camaro suspension parts are interchangeable, but other than that, not much other Chevy stuff but engines and transmissions are interchangeable.  Paying somewhere between $3,000 and $12,000 is what you should expect.  
  • 1973-1976 Chevrolet Laguna:  This land barge is one of my favorites.  There’s a guy in Sonoma County who’s trying to sell one.  It was famous way back when for it’s wins in NASCAR (it came in right when the HEMI cars went out).  You can do literally anything to a Laguna.  The big engine bay can accommodate a big block, big headers on a small block, or a stroker engine.  The stock fenders can take very wide tires, which make it a good choice for drag racing or road racing.  Expect to pay $1,500 to $6,000 for one.  A good website is g3gm.com.  
  • 1970-1974 Ford Maverick:  When the Mustang’s rampant sales numbers killed the Falcon, Ford introduced the Maverick.  It directly competed with the Chevrolet Vega, but was more fun to drive with an optional 302 cubic-inch small block V-8.  Next to the Chevy small block, the Ford 302 small block is one of the most popular engines in America, making the modifications nearly endless.  Want to make it turn?  Turn to Global West, who makes tubular control arms for the Maverick, making it handle like a true goose (sorry for the Top Gun joke – I couldn’t help it!).  Pay between $1,500 and $3,500 for one.  Go to fordmaverick.com for a community.  
  • 1971-1977 Chevrolet Vega:  Yeah, this was next on the list.  It only seems logical to put Chevy’s offering below the Ford (it doesn’t have a V-8 stock, so it’s below the Maverick).  It was a glimpse into the future with it’s all-aluminum, overhead-cam four cylinder engine.  It also came with an electrical fuel pump and standard front disc brakes.  The suspension, punchy engine, and light weight means that it can be quite the performer with a modern engine.  If I were you, I would get the 3.6-liter V-6 offered in many of GM’s cars today.  It’s plenty powerful, and coupled with a car that weighs 2,300 pounds, will make this car a rocket ship.  Pay between $1,500 and $6,000.  Go to vega-world.com for a community.  
  • 1965-1973 Plymouth Fury:  If you want a stock big block in the 1965-1973 Fury, get a 1970 Fury Sport GT.  It’s got a 440 cubic inch big block topped with six carburetors.  That being said, you can easily drop just about any engine made by Mopar into one of these without a lot of work.  Go to stockmopar.com for a community.  
  • 1967-1973 Mercury Cougar:  Essentially just a Mustang with better styling (in my humble opinion) and a 3-inch longer wheelbase, the Cougar is an excellent cruiser.  It fits in at just about any motorsports scene, and is a crowd favorite at shows.  Pay between $1,000 and $6,000 for one.  Visit mercurycougar.net for a good website.  
  • 1968-1970 AMC AMX:  AMC’s much less popular competitor to the Camaro and Mustang never really caught on, which is a shame.  Yes, it sat two, so it really competed with the Corvette and lighter European sports cars.  They can be somewhat hard to find, due to their low production numbers.  They are more of a collector car, as their owners take pride in them.  Pay between $3,000 and $15,000 for one.  Get a more expensive one – it will be in better condition.  Go to theamcforum.com
  • 1972-1974 Dodge Challenger:  The reason I chose the 1972-1974 version is that the 1970-1971 models are more coveted and expensive.  Swapping a modern 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 under the hood is a popular, economical choice.  If you want to go over the top, shove a Viper V-10 under the hood.  Most buyers choose to restore them rather than radically modify them, so you likely won’t need to spend a lot of money on paint, trim and interior parts.  Pay $2,000 to $15,000 for one.  A good website is cuda-challenger.com
  • 1971-1972 Dodge Demon:  This car was very nearly called the Beaver.  It came as a fastback only, so you could tell it apart from the other drab cars of the era.  While it never would beat a HEMI Charger, it could hold it’s own against a big block Camaro.  The V-8s available are popular with racers today, as they can easily rev to 8,000+ RPM with very little modifications.  They are the Mopar version of the Fox-Body Mustang on this list.  Pay between $1,500 and $5,000 for one.  A good resource is valiant.org
  • 1963-1965 Mercury Marauder:  This car is the Mercury version of the Ford Galaxie.  It’s an entry-level version of the Monterey, and it only came with V-8s – the same engines as the Galaxie.  It came with a fastback roof like the Galaxie, as it helped this big bruiser win in NASCAR.  Pay between $4,000 and $15,000 for one.  A good resource is mercurymarauder.org
  • 1960-1970 Ford Galaxie:  The first-year Galaxie had all of the bling of the 1950s.  It’s a pretty car, but in 1960, it didn’t quite cut.  So, Ford redesigned it.  Halfway through 1963, Ford decided to improve it’s aerodynamics to get the upper hand in NASCAR.  This new slope-back style was called the Sports Roof or Scatback hardtop.  Ford also introduced the mighty 427 cubic-inch V-8 that is legendary in drag racing.  In 1968, Ford replaced the 427 with the 428 Cobra Jet designed for drag racing.  It also got better styling.  In terms of suspension, there isn’t much.  However, you don’t need much to go fast – a 427 Roush crate motor, drag shocks, big drag slicks, and a 9-inch rear end are all it needs for speed.  It’s not meant to be a canyon carver.   Pay between $800 and $9,000 for one.  Go to galaxieforum.com for a community.  
  • 1975-1980 Chevy Monza:  A derivative of the Vega, which was produced two years into the Monza’s production span, the Monza replaced the aging, terrible Vega.  Unlike the Vega, the Monza came with a standard V-8.  This makes it very easy to find speed parts for one.  They even have some race breeding in them, as they competed in the IMSA GT series.  You’ll also see many at the drag strip or in standing mile events, as they are fairly aerodynamic.  Pay $1,000 to $3,000 for one.  Go to v8monza.com for a community.
  • 1967-1976 Plymouth Valiant:  The first generation of the Valiant had a look right out of the 1950s.  1967 gave it a redesign that made it look relevant to the 1960s.  Finding a pre-1973 model is the best, as they don’t have the federally-mandated rubber bumpers.  Plus, they are lighter.  In 1974, it was essentially just a rebadged Dart.  This is good because there are twice the parts available.  One of the most common Valiant models you will see is the Valiant Scamp – it accounted for more than half of Plymouth’s sales that year.  Pay between $1,000 and $8,000 for one.  Again, valiant.org is a good resource.  
  • 1973-1976 Chevrolet Nova:  The Nova is a very popular choice with hot rodders because it is cheap, light, and shares parts with the first-generation Camaro.  Many Novas came with a small block Chevy V-8 stock, but they can easily accept big block Chevy V-8s.  In 1973, the government made every automaker put horrible rubber bumpers on their cars.  However, Chevy put an aluminum cover on the bumpers to minimize the horrible look of rubber.  So, the damage is relatively minimal.  The Nova is one of the most popular cars in the autocross and drag racing circuit, as they are cheap, easy to modify, and are light.  Pay $1,500 to $4,500 for one.  A good resource is chevynova.org
  • 1979-1986 Mercury Capri:  The Mercury version of the Ford Fox-Body Mustang is a love-it or hate-it affair for enthusiasts.  Mercury made multiple versions of the Capri, but they are all cheaper than the Mustang, and share the same parts.  Pay anywhere between $1,500 and $3,000 for one.  A good website is foureyepride.com
  • 1963-1969 Mercury Comet:  The first year of the Comet came with a weak 260 cubic-inch V-8.  In 1964, Mercury saw that people wanted better looks and more power.  The Comet was light, and Mercury made 50 cars that did well in the NHRA Super Stock drag racing class.  The next batch of Comets were true comets, with the powerful Ford small block and big block engines.  The sister cars to the Comet open up an aftermarket for it.  Pay $2,000 to $7,500 for one.  Go to cometcentral.com for a community.  
  • 1982-1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme:  This is the Oldsmobile version of the legendary Buick Grand National.  GM sold a lot of these cars, so finding one is easy…and affordable.  You can buy one for $500 to $3,500.  They might not be the best choices for canyon carving, but they are a cheap way into bracket class drag racing.  Go to oldsmobileforum.com for a community.  
  • 1964-1974 Plymouth Satellite:  This was the luxury mid-size Plymouth.  It was the only version of the Plymouth Belvedere to come with a V-8.  You could even get the 426 HEMI in it!  They can get pricey, but are fun cars to cruise around in.  Pay about $2,000 to $13,000 for one.  Go to bbodiesonly.com for a community.

This post took a lot of research, and I hope that you enjoy it.  Don’t take the Internet verbatim.  Even what you think is common knowledge should be double-checked.  I recommend getting books on muscle cars.  One of the best out there is the Encyclopedia of American Cars:  A comprehensive history of the automakers and the cars they built, including every major American automobile and scores of minor makes.  It’s a good read, and an even better research.  0912phr 45 O+20 Affordable Project Cars+american Cars Book

 

The Best Way to Get Into Racing

Hi wonderful readers, I’m back!  I’ve had a wonderful vacation – I hope you have too!  I have a post planned about our rental car – you’ll get a kick!  Anyhow, here’s a good post to start the new year off with.

Autocross.  It’s easy to do.  Just find a big, empty parking lot, put down a lot of traffic cones in any configuration you want, drive around it as quickly as possible, and have a friend time you.  If you spin out, so be it.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a Ford F-550 or a Ferrari LaFerrari.  Any car can do an autocross.

I can practically guarantee you that there is at least one big parking lot in your town/city/area.  Go to the Home Depot and get $50 worth of traffic cones.  It doesn’t matter what size they are.  Even those little ones they use at soccer games work.

Go to that big parking lot with some friends, a stopwatch (or an iPhone), some food and cold drinks, and have a fun afternoon/morning.  Take your friend’s car out for a spin, and vice versa.  Have fun.  You’ll be surprised at how well your car can handle.  Go as fast as you are comfortable with, and work up from their.  Even professional race car drivers sometimes have trouble finding a car’s limits.  You won’t – probably.

When you get bored with the course, redo it.  There are infinite possibilities for autocross courses.

Also, look online at local car clubs to see where they will be doing an autocross.  They will do cones and white chalk lines.  Go and watch.  It will be professionally done, you will meet great people, have fun, likely join the club, and learn what parts to put on your car.  If you’re interested in doing it with them, join the club.  It will probably be in your price range, and if not, they will find a way for you to be a member.

Here are good cars to use.  You can use your daily driver by simply putting on summer tires, better shocks, and other stuff.  Use the internet to find parts.  Somebody will have made an autocross warrior out one similar to yours.

  • Honda CRX:  OK, this one is going to generate a lot of controversy, but I’m prepared to take it.  It’s popular in the modified car world, which means that Honda fans don’t like it much.  It can be difficult to find an unmolested example, but there are some out there.  It’s worth the effort to track one down.  It’s light and agile – it tips the scales at about 1,800 pounds.  It came with a multitude of engines, the best of which was a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine sending 150 horsepower to the front wheels.  Yes, the infamous VTEC system helped.  The combination of a light body and decently-powered engine make it a perfect beginners car for the autocross.
  • Toyota MR2:  This was the last Toyota sports car until the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT86 trio came out a couple of years ago.  When you look at it, it becomes immediately clear that this car is an autocross weapon waiting to happen.  It weighs 2,195 pounds, has an all-aluminum engine making 138 horsepower, has a limited-slip differential, and has a low center of gravity.  It’s a college kid’s version of the Porsche Boxster.  They aren’t very well loved by the general public, but autocrossers love them.
  • Mazda Miata:  Ever since it debuted in 1990, this cute little roadster that took what we love about classic British roadsters, and added reliability.  It’s been a smash hit ever since.  Each generation weighs about 2,100 pounds, and with anywhere between 89-167 horsepower available, they are a true rocket on racetracks and autocross courses alike.  It’s got perfect weight distribution, RWD, a limitless amount of aftermarket parts, and thousands of cars up for sale on eBay, classified ads, you name it.
  • Ford Focus SVT:  This is the car that started the performance Focus craze.  It’s got a 2.0-liter Cosworth-tuned 4-cylinder engine making a respectable 170 horsepower.  It’s also got the same bulletproof six-speed manual found in the Mini Cooper S of the same era.
  • Subaru Impreza WRX/STi:  Unless you’ve been in a coma for the last ten years, you’ve heard of the Subaru Impreza WRX/STi.  They have an impressive history in WRC rallycross, so it only seems natural that a car that requires so much finesse on dirt and gravel would be at home on asphalt.  It is.  The 2015 STi has been described as a “305 horsepower merry go round.”  The earlier models (2003-2007) are best suited for autocross duty.  They have permanent AWD mated to a burbling 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and a tricky 5-speed manual.  The STi models are faster, but more expensive.  Stick with the WRX for better bang for the buck.
  • BMW E30 3-Series:  This car is truly legendary in every arena of motorsports.  Rally, stock car racing in Europe, IMSA, DTM, WTCC, BTCC, you get the idea.  It came with a lot of engines, all of which are good.  The four-cylinder may be down on power compared to the inline six, but it gives a far better weight distribution.
  • Mitsubishi 3000GT:  It’s certainly fair to say that it’s one of the most underrated sports cars of the past 25 years.  You get AWD, active four-wheel steering, active aerodynamics with self-adjusting front AND rear spoilers, and electronically-controlled suspension.  It was the first real electronic sports car.  So, why aren’t people buying these?  Well, the electronic systems, which help make it a great drivers car, often fail.  They aren’t cheap to replace or fix.  Become an automotive electrician if you buy one.  If you’re willing to take the reliability risk into hand, you’re going to find yourself behind the wheel of an immensely capable car that will absolutely dominate an autocross course.
  • Chevrolet C10:  This is a wild card, but hear me out.  There are many pro-touring shops and companies out there who will build you a killer truck for about $20,000.  You can haul all of your spare tires, parts, etc. to the track.  You can even haul your other toys out to the track and dominate at the autocross.  Using a Chevrolet small-block V-8 will mean that you can squeeze a lot of power out of it for a few thousand dollars, give you reasonable fuel economy, and will be simple to work on no matter what you put on it.

Overall, autocross is a cheap, simple way to have a lot of fun with your friends on the weekend.  Taking an EVOC course through your local Sheriff’s office will help your driving skills enormously, and you will have fun doing it.  Most of the instructors autocross, so ask them which club is best.  Also, join a big sanctioning body like SCCA or NASA for autocross.  Once you start autocrossing, you’ll get hooked.

Out and About

A little while ago, I saw this wonderful old Jaguar at a local restaurant that is a favorite amongst the Sonoma County locals.  I just had to post this picture.

20140925_140831

I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.  This picture truly doesn’t do justice to the car…it’s beautiful.  Not exactly fast, but it’s not meant for outright speed.  It’s meant to put a big smile on your face, whether you are driving it or just looking at it.

The World’s Hardest Car Quiz!

No, I haven’t passed it yet.  I recommend taking it…over and over again.  My best score to date on this has been 60%.  And I thought I knew a lot about cars.  Go figure.  Try to take the quiz and pass – it’s harder than you’d think (even if you ARE a natural test-taker!).

http://www.carwow.co.uk/world-hardest-car-quiz

Tell us your score(s) – we won’t make fun of you for failing (I’ve done that a few times with this quiz)!

The whole point of this quiz is to have fun…so do that!

What to Look for in Used Police Cars!

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.