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What Are The Pros & Cons of Buying a Used Police Car?

Police car

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
Image credit: Car engine by paulbr75, Pixabay

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.

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
Image credit: Male driver by StockSnap, Pixabay

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.

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.

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.

Conclusion

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.

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