Used Police Cars Volume 1

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Used Police Cars Volume 1
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Why would you want to buy a police vehicle? The look, the size, the performance, the intimidation factor, the heavy duty everything, or? No matter what the reason you want to buy a used police car, there are lots of things to look out for before you make the leap of faith and click the "bid" or "buy it now" buttons.

NEW Police and Special Service vehicles are NOT sold to the general public, so the seller who says they bought it brand new has to either be a government employee who got the car through some "deal" or an organization who works with the government and has a "demo" unit. Occasionally a police officer has the ability to "piggyback" on a municipal purchase if they use the car in an official capacity. Seldom happens, but it can. Many of the "new" police units sold are units that had some damage and were repaired by a dealer, and then sold as used. Many go through the auction process and are purchased by dealers at auction, usually after another dealer has repaired the damage. Roof, hood, trunk, fender and door damage during transit is not uncommon with these cars, or any other vehicle. Some may only have 5 or 10 or 100 miles and are required to be sold as used, so be aware of that. Also, some factory "executive" cars are sold, and they usually have low mileage. You can equate them to demos. The positive side is both of these categories of used vehicles usually have the remainder of the factory warranty available. The down side is they cost lots more. So if you go to your local dealer and try to buy a brand new Police Interceptor, be aware it is against their contract to sell a Police or Special Service Vehicle to the general public.

If someone says they bought it brand new, have them provide you with a copy of the original title showing the Vehicle Identification Number. (VIN) The title should show them as the first titled owner and the word NEW on the title. Ford police vehicles that have been repaired and are sold through the dealer will show as USED on the title even if they have minimal mileage. The owner could still be the first titled owner outside Ford, Ford Motor Credit or Ford Transport, but the title will show as used. A CarFax should show changes in title for the vehicle, but not accidents, as you will discover further in this guide.

As an aside, I have had several almost new cars (100 miles or so at purchase) that have been great vehicles, although one had roof damage and the roof paint never completely matched the rest of the vehicle in my opinion. Everyone else said it did but I just didn't think so.

If you see a 2006 or 2007 being sold with almost no miles, it's almost certainly been factory transit damaged. One seller didn't disclose this in their auction, until I asked them why they didn't let prospective buyers know the vehicle had door and fender damage before delivery to the original dealer. They then did place that in an addendum to their listing. An oversight? Or simply thinking you wouldn't ever know? You make the call. Frankly, you would have absolutely no way of knowing if it weren't for guides like this one! 

First, let's look at the mileage. A car with over 100,000 miles might not be a bad car, but it all depends on the age of the car and how the mileage was put on. A city car that spends most of its' life in slow speed traffic to rack up that mileage in two or three years, and if you consider all the idling time that is NOT on the odometer, it is usually not a good deal. It likely has run two to three shifts a day and regardless of maintenance, has had a hard life. Plus city cars are subjected to worse road conditions than highway cars. Many reputable dealers sell cars with 60K miles or so and those usually are 18 to 24 month cars owned by a city with some highways and freeways in their jurisdiction. What's the difference between a 60K and a 100K car? Maybe not much depending on where it has been driven, but no matter how you look at it, the more mileage, the more wear, except when you factor in the idling time!

The fact that the vehicle sees "regular" maintenance may or may not have a bearing on the quality of the car. Regular maintenance may be oil changes and lubes on a set schedule, and replacement of items as they wear out. Nothing great about that! It all depends on whether parts are replaced due to a set schedule, such as belts at a particular mileage, or simply waiting for the part to fail. That doesn't mean it has to be a hard driven vehicle to have lots go wrong, either. I had one brand new P71 years ago that was in the shop weekly, and it was a real junk. Everything that could go wrong did, and parts including flywheels, starters, transmissions, rear ends, valves, brakes, master cylinders, power steering pumps, etc. were replaced one after the other. Did the buyer get a good car after we replaced all those parts and then were through with it? I'd guess not, since it was what I would consider a "lemon" from the start. Yet if you had a list of replacement parts and services, you could believe the vehicle was almost "renewed" and a good deal. It's still a case of "caveat emptor" which means Buyer Beware! I do have to say that was one of a kind, and with the exception of one other vehicle with many transmission problems, all have been relatively good vehicles.

Highway cars can have the same mileage in 18 to 24 months that a city cars sees in 36 months but the mileage is easier on the vehicle overall. They see a lot less "pounding", fewer starts and stops and idling than city units. Unmarked detective vehicles and "take home" vehicles that have been assigned to a single driver make a lot more sense too. Take-homes are inspected and if the driver doesn't keep the vehicle in top condition, he loses the vehicle. When you've had take-home vehicles for years, you would not chance failing an inspection and losing your "ride." 

Another option that I personally find appealing is the municipal car that never saw police service. You can find Crown Victoria Police Interceptor package or Chevrolet Impala Police packages that were owned by a municipality or state and never saw police duty. Some have upgraded exterior trim, interiors, seats and stereos (see street appearance package below) while retaining all the P71 Police Interceptor gear and characteristics as well. I owned one from a water district in Texas that was absolutely beautiful, and even with 77K miles looked like showroom new, other than some gravel chipping on the front air dam and bumper. It also ran like a new car. Again, who drove it, the use and mileage/use/time equation, all figure in to the likelihood you will have a great car, or not.

Look at whether the car has had lots of equipment added and removed. Cages, consoles, gun mounts, lights, sirens, lightbars (with roof holes) antennas with resultant roof and trunk holes, spotlights, dash and deck holes, etc. Ask whether the vehicle was ever a K-9 unit. Don't laugh because I've seen units where the vehicle was deodorized and after the poor buyer got it, it smelled like wet dog forever! Does the vehicle have a plastic or fiberglass rear seat rather than the original fabric or vinyl seat and or evidence of a prisoner partition/cage? Either would tell you it was likely a city unit with significant heavy use. Also, was it a smoking vehicle? Unless you're willing to have it professionally deodorized, a vehicle that has been smoked in will smell like stale smoke forever. All the Fabreze and Glade air freshener won't get rid of the odor completely; it will come back again and again.

Rubber floors are usually purchased for patrol units, and a vehicle with carpeting is a big upgrade for heat and noise. Check whether the rear door locks are operative. On some cars it's an easy fix to make them so; on others not so easy. Also the power windows on some police vehicles will be inoperative in the rear. No biggie unless you're toting friends or family in the back. The interior courtesy lights may be disabled. Again, on some models it's pretty simple to get them operational and on others it's a programming thing you may not be able to do. Look at the front door rub strips. Are they on the vehicle? Most marked vehicles don't have them, to allow for decals to be affixed, but most unmarked units do.

Also, Ford police package vehicles basically come in only two configurations, the standard patrol units and the street appearance package. Major difference in the two is the lack of the Police Interceptor badging, a chrome grille and door handles instead of black, full wheel covers standard instead of center caps, (although full wheel covers can be ordered on any variant) some chrome trim on the front and rear bumpers, and a matching color rear trunk panel rather than the ubiquitous black. Interior choices for all police models are for bucket seats or front split bench seat, and a rear cloth or vinyl seat. Many street appearance packages are "brass" cars meaning they are driven by upper level officers and they frequently have the front split bench seat configuration. Still, there are no deluxe or premium packages here, although some sellers try to tell you their vehicles are higher end than others. 

What's an "unmarked" car? Frankly, the term seems to mean many different things to many people. My impression is that it is a vehicle that had no exterior lightbar, no decals or lettering, usually no pushbar, and any antennas were either very low profile, trunk lip mounted, or disguise antennas. In other words, it was not made to look like a police car. It was the one that pulled up behind you, and the first time you noticed it was when the headlight flashers or grille or dash lights went on. Some people use the word "covert" or "stealth" to describe these cars and I'd agree that's a pretty good description. Detective or special operations cars can best be described as unmarked. The two Crown Vics at the end of this guide are examples of unmarked vehicles. "Slicktops" are used by many departments and these have all the lights and equipment that any other car has, but just not the lightbar on top. That's how they got the name "slicktop". With the new low profile LED lightbars that are difficult to see when not lit, and the need for better primary warning on the road, slicktops are becoming fewer in many jurisdictions. 

Speaking of equipment, don't become obsessed with lights and sirens and the like, unless you are authorized to use and possess them. In some states, the mere possession of police lights and sirens can lead to a nasty fine or worse. In other jurisdictions, the lights and siren pose no problem unless you actually turn them on. Be aware that removal can leave holes, wiring problems, etc. If you know what you need, by all means get it, but, again,be aware of any laws and regulations that apply.

For your peace of mind, subscribe to CarFax when you're looking at vehicles and get the unlimited subscription. That way you get to check the entire history of numerous vehicles you might be interested in, and see the mileage at state inspections or smog checks, any accidents reported. (Be aware that most accidents with police and municipal vehicles are NOT reported outside the governmental entity, as very few agencies run vehicle collisions resulting in vehicle damage only through any insurance company. Most governmental agencies are "self-insured" and have what is known as a "self-insured retention" or SIR, meaning they pick up a certain amount of the dollar amount of a loss. For larger cities it can be as high as 5 million dollars, so it's unlikely any vehicle damage will be reported to any insurer. So. it's possible to purchase a vehicle that has been greatly damaged and not see that on the CARFAX report or any other report). Look at the title to assure it's not a salvage title. See who the owner was and how many times it's been sold. As for the "lemon law" check, it may NOT apply to a police vehicle since Ford or GM will often take the car back and repair it, resell it to a dealer, and if it has been purchased by a private party and being resold, you may never know. Remember, these vehicles are different in the way they are sold and marketed, so many of your consumer protections may not apply. Also, look carefully for rust on any interior parts of the vehicle, especially for vehicles in "rust-free' markets, such as the southwest. Rust can be a sign of a flood damage vehicle, or one that has been in climates other than the one you are buying it from. Rust also can be a sign of a repaired vehicle that sat in weather conditions waiting to be repaired. You'd be surprised how fast exposed metal rusts. Look at body side molding strip placement. Missing front door strips are common due to decals, but strange body side molding configurations almost always means a repaint following an accident.

As a warning, be very suspicious of units that are relatively new and low mileage, (way under 60K) and are being sold by persons who indicate the vehicle has had no past accidents, have no knowledge of past accidents, or state that the vehicle appears to have had no body work. Police agencies just do not get rid of almost new cars with very low mileage unless it's for a reason. One non-accident reason is the dissolution of the department; a CarFax should allow you to look up the original purchasing agency, and a quick internet search will tell if they are still a viable agency. If so, something isn't right. Also, agency specific paint color cars don't get turned in at low mileage unless there is a good reason. Look at their average turn-in mileage and that should clue you in.

Be a wise buyer and look at what's available. Aftermarket warranties range from good to awful, so choose carefully and see what's being covered. Some exclude a lot of items and others exclude little. Do your research and remember you usually get what you pay for.

What color car do you want? Black and white and combinations thereof are the most common, followed by blue, gray or silver, tan or brown and other colors. Some colors are specific to an agency, such as Michigan State Police blue. It is only factory provided on cars sold to them and it is not generally available. You may be able to have some custom mixed, but there is a good chance you might not be able to match the color easily if you have body damage. When you get a car, remember that in some states, such as California, a black and white is illegal, unless it is clearly marked as a movie car or a demonstrator by a recognized vendor. All black or all white is fine, but drive a black CVPI with white doors around and you're likely to see a red light behind you accompanied by a citation. 

Beware of vehicles that are sold as having damage that is "easily" fixed. If it's easily fixed, then why isn't the seller fixing it, and then selling the repaired car? Police departments get rid of cars that are T-boned or have other significant collision damage, as it impacts the reliability of the vehicle in police service, no matter who fixes it. The repair job may be immaculate and excellent, but an agency can't chance having something happen that will expose them to liability if the vehicle does not perform as intended. Neither can I.

And, check for original tires if you are buying a vehicle that is almost new or has very low mileage. The Ford Police Interceptor comes with specific tires and if the car has other than original tires, I'd ask why. Usually tires are changed as a result of an accident or some type of damage that requires it. No, they don't change 4 tires to some other brand because somebody went curb hopping and bent a wheel with one tire damaged. Be sure the tires you are getting are at least V speed rated if that was the original tire, or Z speed rated if you're buying a used Camaro or Mustang Special Service Package. Specifications dictate that replacement tires have the same or greater speed rating as the original equipment tires.

To add one more thing, the only "pursuit" vehicles are those sold as such, limited to the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor (P71 only; not the P72 with a police package which is essentially a taxi) Chevy Impala Police Package, the new Dodge Charger Police Package, and the 2005 and 2006 pursuit rated Chevy Tahoe 2 wheel drive. None of the other vehicles, including the Dodge Magnum are considered pursuit or interceptor vehicles. The Michigan State Police hold annual tests for all police category vehicles annually and are considered the experts in the field. The tests are attended by departments from across the country. To quote them "The MSP does not test special service package vehicles, like the Dodge Magnum, Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Tahoe 4X4, Ford Expedition or Chevrolet Silverado on the road course. This is an emphasis that, in addition to clear and frequent written disclaimers from each manufacturer, these vehicles are not designed nor intended for high-speed or pursuit-style driving." So, be aware that "special service" does not equate to "pursuit" by any stretch of the imagination.

The term "Police Interceptor" is bantered about rather freely in describing police cars, but currently only belongs to one vehicle, the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. Ford has held the rights to this nomenclature for many years, dating back to the 1950's, I believe, when the first Police Interceptor engines hit the market. In my younger days I drove 60's Ford Custom 500 cars with the Police Interceptor engines that were marketed as Police Interceptor packages. While there are many newer police package vehicles out there, only the current models of the Crown Vic with the VIN bearing the P71 code are rightfully called a Police Interceptor. I don't know how much difference this makes to anyone but it's provided for history of the name.

Finally, I can't stress the "no accident" issue enough. Do your homework, have the car inspected throughly by a knowledgeable mechanic and/or body shop before you finalize the deal if you even suspect there could have been an accident in the history. I've looked at a number of vehicles that show as clean through the registries, that I know have been in wrecks, some severe. They just do not show up because they do not get reported to the insurance companies, so they won't be reported to CarFax or anyone else. Also, remember that records on repairs by a dealer on a "damaged in transit" vehicle may or may not be available. It depends on who did the repairs. Ask the dealer for a print-out on the repair, since if it was paid by Ford, there will be a record of the exact damage, parts used in the repair, the time charged for the repair, if not a dollar cost, and the date the repair was done as well as the name of the dealer or dealer authorized facility doing the repair. I've personally seen a number of these repair orders and know they should be available.

Some cars are listed on eBay, and then reappear again some months later with an entirely different story and frequently by an entirely new seller. I've checked the VIN on several and find they are indeed the same cars, and that the story does not fit the original story or vice-versa. One says it was an overstock car for the local PD and the other says it was a movie car and then you find it was neither. Again, it's buyer beware. And remember when you buy a newer vehicle with warranty remaining, any modifications that have been made that are not factory authorized can void the warranty. Then you are stuck with the repair bills. And, no, Moss-Magnuson doesn't apply if you override the speed limiter or change gears or tranny pressure valving, etc.

Several last thoughts: Some sellers on eBay, or anywhere else for that matter, who advertise police vehicles as "one owner" and somehow think that should give any buyer a good impression that the vehicle is better? Let's see, the typical police vehicle could be driven by one or a hundred different officers. It could idle for thousands of hours, putting engine wear way above the actual speedometer mileage. (The very latest models have engine hour meters, but that's only on the last two model years) The "one owner" could beat the heck out of the car and whether that one owner is Seattle, Detroit or an upscale luxury area, you can bet the car gets plenty of use. Sellers like to tell you the cars are used in really nice areas, but the car that is used in police work doesn't really care where it's abused. It does make a difference where the vehicle is operated, meaning the weather, as far as salt damage, rust, rot and suspension damage from road conditions. In that regard, you're lots better off with a car from Florida or California than New York or Ohio. 

Also, those who tell you the car was a "chief's car" or other such jargon. In my career, I've known small towns with one or two officers, and one of the officers, or the only officer, was the chief. In one jurisdiction I know all too well, the chief wrecked almost every car we had, and those he didn't total, he damaged. So being driven by the chief or anyone else doesn't mean a thing if the chief drives poorly. In fact, many officers who have moved far up the line seem to lose the ability to drive under EVOC conditions, and as a result are involved in some pretty nasty wrecks. I believe it's simply because they are not used to driving under those conditions on a daily basis; also some jurisdictions don't require them to  requalify regularly, as they are not expected to be running code on a regular basis.  

Lastly, in December 2007, one car kept showing up on eBay with the inside full of white powder dust. On the latest go-around the seller has had it detailed inside, or at least an attempt at detailing, but the powder still shows in the crevices in the car. Anyone want to guess what that white powder might be from? I asked about airbag deployment since the vehicle has such low mileage and the paint appears perfect as well, and he denies it, so it's simply buyer beware. As pointed out in my guides, always look for fine white talc type powder in cracks and crevices all over the interior of a vehicle with low mileage that's being sold at what you believe is a below-market price. There's usually a reason vehicles are sold cheaply, and the powder ain't from changing baby's diapers either! 

Be safe and enjoy your search for the perfect police cruiser. And check my other guides: Used Police Cars 12-07 Update ,  Used Police Vehicles & Prior Damage 2007! , Police Interceptor Never in Police Service? 1-08 Update and all my guides on Police Cars, Emergency Lighting, radar and more!

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