16 Pros and Cons of Buying a Used Police Car

You are driving a few miles per hour faster than the speed limit allows. As you take a look across your mirrors, the sight of a police car makes your heart skip a beat. You instinctively tap on the brakes, check your speedometer, and hope that the lights don’t come on behind you. That’s when you realize that the vehicle behind you isn’t a law enforcement official, but a civilian who decided to save some money by purchasing a used police car.

A used police car is a great option for people who need to get behind the wheel every day. It can be a lot of fun to scare people who are texting while driving, and people typically get out of your way when they see you coming. It can also be a headache to manage this vehicle if you get one that was used and abused when it was out on patrol every day.

It is up to you to spot the winners from the losers in this area. That’s why reviewing the pros and cons of buying a used police car will help to reduce the risks of finding a lemon.

List of the Pros of Buying a Used Police Car

1. You will get a powerful engine and heavy-duty components.
If you want to drive a vehicle that has some get-up-and-go, then a used police car is an affordable way to meet that goal. You’re going to have a powerful engine on that vehicle so that you can drive almost anywhere. Heavy-duty equipment works to support the improved acceleration profile to ensure you receive consistent results. You’ll notice a better radiator, transmission cooler, alternator, and suspension on most of the vehicles that go up for sale.

2. The maintenance schedule for the vehicle is almost always followed.
Police departments take good care of their fleet. The vehicles are often a significant tool that helps to keep a community safe. You don’t need to worry as much about the oil or belt changes happening on time. These cars are very well maintained, even if they end up being a high-mileage option for some consumers. You can take over that process once ownership transfers, allowing you to enjoy getting behind the wheel of a car that is surprisingly affordable.

3. Used police cars are surprisingly affordable to purchase.
You can go to a website like Autolist to find used police cars for sale across the United States. Each listing provides the expected price for the vehicle, letting you know what your budget needs to be. You won’t receive any of the specialized law enforcement equipment with the final purchase (although the spotlight sometimes stays), but you can still get a decent price. The average cost is about $6,000 for a car that has 120,000 miles on it. You’ll pay a little more if you want a lower number on the odometer, or you can opt for a higher reading to pay a little less.

4. You can take advantage of the off-duty design for police cars.
Used police cars tend to have a comfortable ride because an upgraded suspension allows the vehicle to travel at high speeds. The patrol cars tend to have an industrial-grade vinyl seating option that will handle almost any situation, but off-duty vehicle designs take a different approach. You’ll find conventional cloth seats with this upgrade, and a chosen few have leather seats and better interiors if they were used by local leadership.

When you see upgraded options available in a used police car, then you can know for certain that it received a high level of care and maintenance over its lifetime.

5. You can find some great deals on used police cars.
Almost every used police car comes at a discount when compared to the standard used market. What you’ll find when you start looking for these vehicles is that most of the agencies who represent them don’t understand what they have. The pictures might be wrong, you won’t have access to the maintenance records, and information about its history may not be known. If you work with an auction house, you’ll find that the working condition, mileage, and mechanical condition are often listed as being unknown.

That means you can purchase a fully functional vehicle for less than $1,000 sometimes because information doesn’t pass from one hand to the other.

6. You are going to get a lot of extra trunk space with a used police car.
Police cars have a massive trunk because a lot of equipment needs to get stored there. That means you can use this vehicle to run errands without piling everything into the back seat when you’re done. There is also extra room in the front part of the interior because of the equipment that officers use in the line of duty. Once those items come out, you’ll discover that the legroom is noticeably comfortable.

7. A lot of miles can get put onto the Ford 4.6L engines found in many used police cars.
One of the knocks against the purchase of a used police car is the fact that officers often leave their engines idling. Some websites equate a car with 120,000 miles on it being closer to having 625,000 miles of wear-and-tear on its gauges. The reality of this engine is that you can easily put over 1 million miles on it without having something break down on you because of how durable the components are. Ford doesn’t hold back on the manufacturing process here, which means even a well-worked engine might still have 50% of its life available to use.

As long as you continue to keep up with the regular maintenance schedule, you’ll find that the engine will typically keep going long after you’re ready to move on from driving a used police vehicle.

8. You will see an exceptional level of performance at higher speeds.
Some used police cars can be a little sluggish pulling off of the line, but you won’t notice that issue when driving at highway speeds. The improvement in your acceleration profile above 70 miles per hour is noticeable to almost every driver. That means you have a better response when passing on two-lane highways, improved control, and enhanced handling so that you can stay safer on the road. Most of the vehicles have a rating for safe operation above 150 miles per hour if your tires are of an equal quality.

9. High miles aren’t a potential disadvantage for highway patrol vehicles.
Police cars that go through a lot of stop-and-go driving can have significant wear-and-tear on them when they reach 100,000 miles. If you purchase a highway patrol vehicle, then you get the advantage of having high-speed miles put on the engine. They have fewer holes drilled into them as well. The Crown Victoria is an incredible vehicle, which is why many of them get retired into taxi work once they reach the end of their life.

List of the Cons of Buying a Used Police Car

1. You have heavy-duty parts that you’ll need to manage.
It might seem like a good idea to purchase a used police car because they’re built to withstand some difficult conditions. One of the ways that automakers achieve this result is to use heavy-duty parts throughout the vehicle. That means you have more versatility when driving, but it also creates cost issues when something breaks down. It might seem nice to have a better alternator to support your driving habits until you realize that it costs three times more to replace it when compared to a standard product.

2. Used police vehicles have a lot of wear-and-tear on them.
You need to look at a used police car through the lens of previous ownership. Unlike a standard vehicle that might sit in the garage for some time, law enforcement puts people in the vehicle for 2-3 shifts per day. That means a model that is only a few years old might have more than a decade of wear-and-tear on it in comparison. You’ll want to have a mechanic you trust review the vehicle that you’re thinking about purchasing to ensure that the price you pay is comparable to the condition of the car.

3. The mileage on the vehicle doesn’t account for all activities.
Police cars go through a lot of idling periods that must be taken into the aging process. When there are indoor investigations and errands taking place, you almost never see the engine being turned off on the vehicle. The car gets left on when an officer pulls over another vehicle because of a violation. Even running the “shop” in the morning to encourage the heater or air conditioner to start working adds more pressure to the craftsmanship of the structure.

Those hours that the car spends idling are never reflected on the odometer. You’ll want to double the figure you see to have an idea of what your maintenance schedule should be going forward if you choose to make a purchase.

4. It is up to you to complete the historical research of the vehicle.
Carfax is only helpful when shopping for a used police car if the agency used independent repair facilities or their local dealership for maintenance. Larger departments usually have their own fleet mechanics available to manage the vehicles so that they stay in the best possible condition. You can look at online pictures to see which vehicles seem to have had a rougher life than others, but it is up to you to inspect and verify any of the cars that you’re considering. That means bringing in an independent mechanic that you trust, so it can take some extra time and planning to get the desired result.

5. People will drive differently when you are around.
Most drivers instinctively slow down when they suspect that a police car is behind them or approaching in the other lane. That means you’re going to be traveling below the speed limit almost everywhere you go. If you don’t mind taking your time when running errands, then you can ignore this disadvantage. When you get frustrated by inconsistent drivers who can’t seem to make up their mind and drive spooked, then you’ll hate what it’s like getting behind the wheel of a used police car.

6. You could be purchasing a police car at the end of its lifespan.
Most police cars are driven until they are no longer worth using from a law enforcement standpoint. That’s a reflection of what it is like to be a police officer in the United States. Most departments are hard-up for cash, so they drive their units until they really can’t be trusted to keep going. The only exceptions here come from police forces that have a wealthy tax base. You’re gaining access to the vehicle because it’s cheaper for the department to replace it instead of repair it.

Even if you grab a vehicle that’s had an excellent record of maintenance, it could be at the end of its life. That means it might be suitable as a teen’s first car, but maybe not as a full-time commuter.

7. Your fuel economy is not going to be very high.
A used police car might be a lot of fun to drive, but it will also go through fuel like you won’t believe. The typical Ford Crown Victoria gets 25 miles per gallon on the highway and only 17 miles for city driving. The gas tank holds 19 gallons of fuel, but its feeding a V8 engine and a curb weight of over two tons. When you purchase one built for police use, those figures drop to 22 and 16 respectively.

Conclusion

Before you decide to complete a purchase, it is essential to review the pros and cons of buying a used police car. Most places allow you to start the vehicle to perform a detailed inspection, but a test drive is almost always out of the question. That means you must go through all of the maintenance records with a fine-tooth comb to ensure you know what you’re thinking about getting into with this transaction.

Most car batteries are DOA when you make your way to a used police car purchasing lot, so bring a jumper with you. If you can purchase one from an independent dealership, then you might receive more testing options at a higher retail price.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you have any doubts about the police car you want to purchase. You can find some great deals with this approach, but there are also a lot of lemons out there that you’ll want to avoid.


Blog Post Author Credentials
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. If you would like to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.