(Interceptor with glass packs)
Traditionally, police have driven v8, rear wheel drive, body on frame cars. This is for a few reasons: they are reliable, easy to repair (mechanical and body work), cheap, and in general have better performance than front wheel drive cars which are more common today.
In the past, there were a number of models that fit the bill, but at this point, Ford’s Crown Victoria is really the only one left (this is an automobile architecture that started going out of style / became obsolete decades ago).
So what does this mean? Crown Vics are continuously being used (and used up) by Police Departments around the country. This means there are tons on the marketplace that can be bought for very low prices. If you get them directly from federal / state auctions, they can be had for a fraction of the blue book price.
Not only are these cars cheap, they are powerful and super durable. Even though its an American Car, and the design is totally old school, the cars are dead reliable. Basically Ford has been working out the kinks since before I was born. The fit and finish are pretty poor, but you’ll be able to drive one of these things forever. Check out JD Power’s reliability ratings for the stock Crown Vic. For the 2004 model:
- Overall dependability
- Powertrain dependability
- Feature and accessory dependability
- Body and interior dependability
Are all rated as 5 stars, except feature/accesory dependability which is 4.5. Compare that to a 2004 Honda Civic, which has 4.5, 5, 4, and 3.5 stars respectively. The 2004 Toyota Corolla fares even worse. That’s almost hard to believe, an American car more reliable than one of the most reliable Japanese cars ever made? I’m not sure what to say, but the very high numbers may be a result of all the really old people that buy crown vics (since they are old-style cars) and don’t abuse them at all?
So thats the stock Crown Vic. The version that police get, which is called the interceptor (also sometimes the P71 since it is part of all interceptor VINs) has some modifications to make it even better than stock. Some of the enhancements include:
- 200 amp alternator
- Heavy duty suspension
- Transmission/Power Steering oil cooler
- Reinforced body
Basically they have addions that make them more durable. Other upgrades are optional and are not standard, but may be included.
Sold? Now the question is where to find them. The easiest places to look are craigslist and ebay, but Interceptors there are usually sold by dealers, taxi companies, or private parties. Basically people who bought them for much cheaper straight from the government.
In general you can buy these cars either directly from police auctions, or from auctions organized by another group. Basically for these links, if its .gov its directly from the government, and if its .com its a private company that sells the government’s surplus goods.
Generally, the cars you find from these sites will be well under blue book price, and well under the Craigslist / Ebay prices as well.
So here’s the list!:
- Govsales (.gov)
- GSA fleet sales (.gov)
- State surplus sales (.gov)
- Liquidation (.com)
- Municibid (.com)
- GovDeals (.com)
Additionally, there is an excellent interceptor buyers guide on ebay that has more information than you could hope to ask for. If you are in the market, read it.
And a video:
I should point out here that there was a disconcerting issue of fires/explosions when Crown Vics are rear-ended by another car. There was an investigation into the issue and Ford was cleared, but they have since begun offering the car with an extra safe fuel tank. Consider yourself warned, I’m not sure if this happens because of an engineering mistake, or just because police cars are often parked near fast moving traffic – would most cars do this? I’m not sure.
Update: This guide is good for all other fleet vehicles used by branches of the government, including other cars used by police. The Michigan state police dept thoroughly tests all vehicles made for use by police annually and publishes the results, so if you’re in the market, its definitely worth a look.