TodayApril 15, 2022

Tips to Buy Used Police Cars from Cops

Thinking of buying a used police car? Here’s how to do it

The idea of buying an old cop car seems kind of strange to most people. Why would you want a vehicle that makes you look like an officer of the law, and that’s probably been in a fair few car chases in its time? Well, for the fundamental reason that they are often among the best value vehicles on the road.

Cop cars come with all sorts of accouterments. The majority of vehicles have a “police package,” which is essentially a bunch of features that manufacturers install to make the cars more durable. What’s more, you also get more power than you usually would in run-of-the-mill vehicles. Cop cars survive simply because of the amount the police expect to use them. The average law enforcement vehicle can do more than 30,000 miles per year, which is considerable. And those aren’t always easy highway miles. They’re often swerving in and out of inner-city traffic, which puts even more strain on the chassis.

People love cop cars for other reasons too. One is the fact that they have a long history. When you buy a police vehicle, you’re getting something that has a story to tell. Who knows what action the car has seen. Then there’s the fact that many cop cars are worth more in pieces than they are whole. Scrapping them and selling off the bits can net you more cash than you paid initially.

Most cop cars have indeed seen a lot of abuse, but that’s all part of what makes them so popular. You’re getting a wreck, but you’re also benefiting from something that could become a passion project.

So what should you look for before you part with your cash? Let’s take a look.

Always Start It Up And Take A Look Around

Cop cars can be temperamental. There’s usually a reason they reach the end of their service life, besides being old. Pay particular attention to the gearbox, as this is one of the first things that can fail on older models.

A lot of cop cars go to an auction without working batteries. That’s pretty much standard in the industry. Thus, you’ll want to take a battery jumper with you so you can get the engine ticking over to listen to any problems. You can always replace or charge the battery later if it proves problematic.

Once the car is up and running, do a detailed inspection. Compare your observations of the vehicle to the records held by the seller. Usually, they’ll have a sheet of problems buyers need to know. If you’re not sure what you’re listening out for, then ask somebody who knows what they’re doing to come with you.

Research Your Vehicle

The police have to keep vehicle records, just like everyone else. So as the buyer, you can find out the service history.

Records often look quite different for police vehicles than they do for regular private cars. For these emergency vehicles, there are three significant expenses: the transmission, engine, and suspension. Ideally, you want to see that two or three of these components are freshly serviced or replaced.

The suspension tends to fail on police vehicles because of the demands of high-speed chases. Cop cars will often mount curbs and fly over speed bumps, slowly degrading the suspension over time. Police will also use the maximum engine output when chasing suspects or rushing to a crime scene, putting additional strain on components like the fuel injectors and radiator.

For these reasons, it is always vital that you do your research. Always ask for the official service record of the vehicle. If the seller refuses to hand it over, there are still plenty of other vendors who will grant you access to the information.

Be Careful Of Listings

People who sell police vehicles don’t always know what they’re doing. They’ll get hold of a car from auction or another seller for a few hundred dollars and then attempt to sell it for, perhaps, $300 more.

Usually, they base the price on what they buy it for, not how the market values it, so you can wind up with some incredible bargains. For instance, you could land a $700 car that should sell for more than $5,000. A lot of the time, the seller doesn’t know what they have in their inventory.

You should also be aware that most listings for police vehicles use stock photos, not images of the car itself. So when you buy a cop car, always view the car in person. Don’t rely on the pictures to give you an accurate impression of what you’re getting. It might look like the vehicle you want, but it probably isn’t the actual unit in question. That could be sitting in a shed somewhere, accumulating dust and rust.

If you see statements like “mileage unknown” or “mechanical condition unknown,” it could be a positive sign. Many sellers genuinely don’t know how far a vehicle has gone because there’s a problem with the odometer. This fact then leads them to lower prices to compensate the buyer for the risk they take.

If you have a way of confirming the likely mileage, you can often bag yourself a bargain. Is the vehicle is still using its original tires and the amount of wear and tear on the upholstery? New cars can often make their way into the market at bargain prices, just because dealers can’t verify the actual number of miles.

Find A Vehicle That Fits Your Lifestyle

Cop cars aren’t one-size-fits-all. Local municipalities might try to flog all sorts of different varieties when they update their fleets.

It would help if you thought about how you plan on using the vehicle. If you need emergency vehicle lights for some other purpose other than policing, then you’ll probably want to opt for an off-duty car of some descriptions. These tend to come with the most comfortable leather seats or, at the very least soft cloth, instead of the regular vinyl.

You also want to think about where you’ll drive your cop car. Taking it to the office might be kosher, but driving across the border with it could create annoying issues.

Remember That Not All Cop Cars Get The Same Upgrades

Most cop cars have extensive upgrades that make them better than the average vehicle that rolls off the production line. You get things like beefed-up internals, extra cooling systems, and heavy-duty suspension. Most of the time, you need those things for the vehicles to have any longevity after you buy them. But remember, not all police cars get equal treatment. Some are in exceptional condition.

It all depends on the department and the kind of action the vehicle has seen. Some cars spend their entire lives gently cruising around the suburbs, never getting involved in high-speed chases or extreme activities. Others do it daily.

Also, note that the drivers of the vehicle matter considerably too. Police commissioners and chiefs tend to have the best-maintained vehicles, primarily because of their position. Those under them tend not to look after their cars and often have to do more dangerous work, again harming the vehicle.

Don’t assume that all patrol cars are junk, even if they’re incredibly cheap. What you want is a vehicle whose value is not well understood by the seller. Remember, the cost of major jobs like rebuilding suspension is usually less than buying a new vehicle outright. Often, it pays to go down the DIY route or cough up the money for repairs as you go along. It still works out less expensive than regular monthly car payments totaling hundreds of dollars per month.

Find Out Where The Police Serviced The Car

Usually, you can gain more information by finding out where the police decided to maintain the vehicle. It makes a difference.

In many cases, the police will arrange with a third-party garage to care for all their maintenance needs. Rural communities usually do this to save on costs.

In larger cities where the police vehicle fleet is much more extensive, police departments will usually maintain a central facility for all their repairs.

Which is better often depends on the local area. The central facilities often have more experience dealing with police cars’ kinds of problems are likely to face. Mechanics are often better at identifying upcoming issues and solving them before they develop into something more serious.

When it comes to buying cop cars, the rules are slightly different. You have to consider things like the type of work the vehicle did before you bought it and the upgrades you can expect. You also have to find out who drove it – whether it was a police chief or patrol officer – both of whom will have different driving styles. Always check vehicles in person. You don’t want the seller to rip you off for a vehicle you later find out is worthless.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.

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