So, you’re looking to buy a car, and during your Craigslist escapades you notice some former police vehicles for sale. These tend to be extremely affordable cars, or up for auction to grab fairly cheap. So you might be asking yourself, what’s the catch? We are going to rundown some of the pros and cons of owning a former police vehicle.
Let’s first take a look at the car that pops into most people’s minds when you say “cop car”, the legendary Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor.
Produced from 1998 to 2011, Ford dominated the police cruiser market with the Crown Vic, and with good reason. The Crown Vic was a rear-wheel drive, 4-speed, body-on-frame, sedan with a notoriously reliable eight-cylinder sedan. The V8’s power was in it’s reliability, as the 250-ish horsepower it produces was lack-luster, to say the least. With only a 4-speed transmission, having fewer gears to shift into meant the transmission would shift fewer times over its lifespan, also increasing reliability. The fact that it is rear-wheel drive may cause some less-experienced drivers, or those who live in snowy climates, to shy away from the Crown Vic.
What does body-on-frame mean?
Body on frame construction simply means that the body of the vehicle (the exterior you see) is separate from the chassis, or frame, of the car that carries the vehicle’s drivetrain. This type of vehicle construction is seeing less and less widespread use, instead vehicle manufacturers tend to opt for ‘unibody’ construction, as these vehicles send to be lighter and cost less to produce. Unibody construction means that the car’s frame and body are one in the same, the chassis acts as the body and vice-versa.
Why is body-on-frame a good thing?
The main advantage of body-on-frame, and why it was such a boon for police vehicles, was that the body could sustain damage from collisions without damaging the frame of the vehicle. This means that the repair cost of a minor collision is significantly less on a body-on-frame vehicle.
So, is it a good idea to buy a Crown Victoria Police Interceptor?
You can easily pick up one of these vehicles for less than $1,000. That being said, the less you spend the more maintenance the vehicle most likely needs. On the up side, being a fleet vehicle, you can most likely find out the maintenance history of the vehicle, and be fairly certain it has been maintained regularly. Being that these vehicles were built around being as reliable as possible, I would never shy away from a good deal on a Crown Vic. Do keep in mind, as rugged as these vehicles may be, they were also driven hard. One piece of advice I was given when buying an old police car, double the miles on the odometer, and ask yourself if it still sounds like a good deal.
Now let’s look at Ford’s newer police interceptor: the Taurus.
Here’s a pic of my very own Taurus Police Interceptor
Ford’s replacement for the Crown Vic was the redesigned Taurus. Now, keep in mind I might be a little biased towards this vehicle, as I currently own a 2013 Ford Taurus Police Interceptor, and love it.
The Taurus has quite a few differences compared to the Crown Vic, in fact, almost everything is different. The Taurus is a unibody, V6 (some non-police trims have an in-line 4), all-wheel drive (usually an optional upgrade from the front-wheel drive variants), 6-speed transmission sedan. As you can see, nothing I listed here is the same as what was available in the Crown Vic.
What are the advantageous of the Taurus?
Speed. Short and simple, as mentioned earlier the Crown Vic’s V8 had an unimpressive 250 horsepower, while the Taurus’s more fuel-efficient V6 can put out upwards of 350 horsepower. This gave the Police Interceptor the power to much more easily “intercept” when needed.
All-wheel drive is another huge boon available from the Taurus, making traversing snow, ice, and gravel much easier.
So, does the Taurus make as good of a car to own as the Crown Vic?
As a proud owner of a Ford Taurus Police Interceptor, I can firmly say that a Crown Vic is going to be more bang for your buck, as the Taurus is not nearly as inexpensive, and doesn’t seem to have been built with as much reliability in mind. Granted my 2013 has well over 100,000 miles and still runs strong, but I’ve had to do my fair share of work to keep it running in top shape. I personally went with the Taurus primarily for the All-wheel drive, as Iowan winters tend to be long and brutal to roads and vehicles alike.
What if you want a SUV?
For also offers a police variant of the Ford Explorer. With the growing popularity of SUV’s, you may be more interested in purchasing one of these larger vehicles over one of the sedans. The Ford Explorer Police Utility vehicles are outfitted with the same AWD drivetrain as the Taurus, simply offering the added utility of an SUV. Over a standard Explorer, the Utility is fitted with larger brake rotors, more advanced ABS and traction control systems, and a more efficient cooling system. I have similar thoughts about owning these as daily drivers as the Taurus, however a former fleet vehicle Explorer presents itself as an inexpensive way to own a large, all-wheel drive SUV that can take a beating.
Need something a bit more sporty?
If you’re looking for something rear-wheel drive like the Crown Vic, but a bit faster on its feet like the Taurus, the Dodge Charger might be your best option. For newer Chargers, the only way to get both the V8 and AWD is actually to purchase a former police vehicle. With 0-60 times sub 5 and a half seconds, this car is a force to be reckoned with. The Charger may not be as ideal as a daily driver, however. The large engine suffers from poor fuel economy, and repairs can be costly. To top all that off, for a former police Charger in good shape, is going to cost quite a bit more than the previous options on this list. (But have you seen how cool they are?)
Owning a cop car not unique enough for you?
If you have upwards of $30,000 burning a hole in your pocket and want one of the most unique vehicles out there, look no further than the Holden, er, Chevy SS. The Chevy SS, or VF Commodore, is a rear-wheel drive, V8, six-speed monster with over 400 horsepower under the hood. Now, I imagine most of you came to this article to find out if former police vehicles were an affordable daily-driver option. The SS doesn’t really fit that bill, given the price tag and Holden’s questionable history. But, no list of notable cop-cars would be complete without this car. Keep in mind I’m a sucker for unique vehicles, and these are a rare sight. With fewer than 13,000 total sold over its short 4-year production life, it’s not too hard to see why production was discontinued. To the uninitiated appears no different than any other 4-door Chevrolet, which makes these one hell of a sleeper straight out of the factory. Being both costly and by no means fuel-efficient, these are definitely not an affordable daily driver. However, to car enthusiasts out there, these are quite the gem.
Is buying a used cop car a good idea?
Buying a used cop car is, at the end of the day, not much different than buying any other used car. Do your homework and when checking out your potential purchase, keep an eye out for any common issues the vehicle may have. Just keep in mind these vehicles are driven harder than most. On the flip side, they often have a strict maintenance schedule that has been kept its entire life. So you may be getting a vehicle that’s been driven hard, but you know what you’re getting into. And if you pick up a solid Crown Vic at auction for $1,000, can you really complain when you have a repair or two down the line?
It comes down to what you are looking for in a vehicle. If you are alright with a minor repair here or there, in trade for owning any of the solid choices on this list at a heavy discount just for having been formerly a fleet vehicle, a former cop car will treat you well. That is, as long as you treat it well. If you want to buy a car and have it run for the next year without any issues, I would look elsewhere.
As always, what vehicle is best for you comes down to what you find most important in a vehicle, and your budget. I hope this information shed some light on what options are out there and what to expect from each.