All about buying a used police car

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Police car

Want to buy a used police car? It’s just like buying any used car; it all comes down to the one you’re looking at. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

You know you’ve thought about buying a used police car and many people do for a variety of reasons. They’re cheap, some are better cared for than most normal vehicles and they usually are cost-effective route to picking up some muscle.

Buying a used police car sounds good on paper

Hey, if buying a used police car is good enough for Elwood Blues, it’s good enough for you, right? One can ostensibly get a decent performance car for cheaper than a similar used vehicle. Heck, it’s a decent way to pick up a cheap vehicle anyway.

Police vehicles generally have stouter components than passenger vehicles. Uprated brakes, shocks, fuel lines and ancillaries are among the modifications for a car to enter police service. Then there’s the power. The Ford Crown Vic packed a V-8, the Chevrolet Caprice cop car had running gear from a Corvette, and many current police vehicles have a brawny V-6. They also get much more regular maintenance.

Seems good, right? Halt in the name of prudent buying, because not all are created equal.

Before you go to auction

The idea of buying a used police car and actually buying one are two different things.

First is that many things vary. Regardless of the fact that it’s a cop car that’s been professionally maintained, it’s still a used car. Whether it’s a shambling, barely-held-together wreck or a thoroughbred that’s done a few miles depends on a few things, such as what it was used for. Was it an urban patroller that idled in traffic a lot? Was it a captain’s car? A highway vehicle? These things matter, because they dictate how the vehicle was used.

Also, each department’s replacement schedule is different. Some retire cars after 100,000 miles, some much sooner. Guidelines vary by exactly who used it and what they were doing. A city council, fire chief or police captain’s car likely saw lighter use but will have higher mileage once it hits auction; a city patrol car may have fewer miles but endured much harder use.

Bear in mind that mileage won’t tell you everything either; police cars spend hours at idle, in heat or cold. The hours of operation will give you a more accurate picture of how the car has been treated.

Also, government surplus vehicles are sold “As-Is” – whether they’re running or not. The transmission might be blown, or the battery may be dead. Seller’s descriptions rarely are extensive and you aren’t likely to find everything out until you get to an auction. The better the condition, the more you’ll probably pay upfront.

Economy of scale

So, buying a used police car involves an economy of scale – just as all used vehicle purchases do – that can’t always be anticipated ahead of time.

However, let’s say for sake of argument that you can find one that runs and you pick it up cheap. The benefits are that components are likely going to be stouter, cheaper (police cars generally use beefier and simpler parts than standard passenger cars) and easier to replace if one is the DIY type.


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