The Police Car
The police car is the urban legend of the road. For many, including myself, owning a police car is like a childhood dream come true. The power, the aura, everything came with the car, except for the lights and sirens of course.
Working in the film industry, you often find yourself driving to remote locations all over the state, on dirt roads and out of cell service. In 2014 alone, I logged more than 14,000 work-related miles on my personal vehicle. I realized I needed something that was built for that kind of abuse.
The Crown Victoria was the perfect choice for such a profession. It's cheap to maintain, built to withstand just about anything, and had a reputation for 150,000 + miles before serious mechanical problems.
The one thing I didn't expect when I purchased my P71 is the amount of attention I get each and every time I drive down the road. The most common question asked is, "Where can I get one?"
The fast and easy answer is "At the police auction." The problem with that is unless you know what to look for, you will buy nothing but a load of problems. But with some key tips in mind, you can avoid junk cars and instead purchase a powerful, reliable, and cheap set of wheels.
This guide only gives buying tips for the Ford Crown Victoria P71 or P7E. The Dodge Charger, Chevy Caprice, and Ford Taurus are different designs and therefore may not follow the same wear pattern or reliability as the P71.
Why the Crown Victoria?
To answer this question, let's look at the history of the car. From 1992 to 2011, the Ford Crown Victoria dominated the police and taxi industries. The canceling of the old Chevy Caprice in 1996 left the Vic without a running mate and a near-monopoly. For twelve years, the Crown Victoria's physical design did not change. The end of its production marks the extinction of the old V8-powered, rear-wheel drive, steel-on-frame design. The end of an age in American car design.
Ford had its reasons for discontinuing the Vic. Declining sales and simple fuel economics were the bigger ones. Modern police work also requires a faster, more agile, and more efficient cruiser. The Crown Vic's gas-guzzling V8, while greatly improved in later generations, simply could not compete with the more fuel-efficient Dodge Charger and even Ford's own Taurus. The Vic was more durable and rugged but at the cost of speed and maneuverability.
Researching Your Car
Be careful when looking to buy a used Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. The natural tendency is to lean towards the cheap side; however that will guarantee you a worthless money pit. Bottom line, you are buying a used fleet car that has been retired from service due to wear and tear. Here are a couple of things to consider upfront.
- How rough a cruiser was used during service.
- Driving conditions and environments the cruiser was exposed to.
- Pre-existing problems.
- Guaranteed maintenance history.
- Retirement based on mileage.
- Reputation and reliability of the model.
The key to finding the best-used cruisers is to look at the department or agency from which it is being retired from. Each retires their cruisers using different criteria. Some retire based on the age of the car, others by mileage/idle time. The resulting ready-for-purchase vehicles are in various stages of wear from excellent to poor.
|Agency||Average Mileage||Average Idle Hours||Average Condition||Notes|
Retired at 100,000 miles regardless of age.
Usually retired 3-5 years regardless of mileage.
Run hard. Well Maintained.
After a cruiser is retired and stripped of its police equipment, into a yard for storage, it goes. Here it will sit...and sit... easily up to one year before it goes to auction. It is during this mothballed phase where the most damage can occur either by vandalism or the elements. Here are common problems that occur after a car has been sitting for months on end:
Fuel Gum: Cars are parked with whatever fuel is left in the tank without treatment or drainage. Fuel gum can cause the fuel pump float to stick, rendering the gas gauge unreliable. It can also oxidize the fuel lines causing higher than normal emissions for at least the first 100 miles after the restart and premature clogging of the fuel filter.
Yellowing/ Fading Plastic Parts: Being parked in the same position for months or years will expose the car to repetitive, identical strafes of sunlight. This will cause accelerated UV damage to the headlights and other plastic parts such as the mirrors, molding, dash, and seat tops.
Peeling Paint: Perhaps the most infamous problem of the Ford Crown Victoria. A known manufacturing defect, the paint loses its bond with the primer coat due to UV exposure after just 3-4 years. The paint will effortlessly peel clean off the car in large chunks. Sitting idle in the sun will only accelerate this.
Holes in the Dash/Interior: Most police cars are completely stripped of their police equipment when they hit the auction house. The center console has either been partially or completely removed. Holes in the dash and stray wires are everywhere. Some of the OEM equipment such as the power outlets may have also been removed in the gut out process.
Worthless Wipers: Also damaged by UV exposure, the windshield wipers will be stiff, useless pieces of rubber that will smear rather than wipe water from the windshield.
Worn Out Tires: By the time a cruiser is retired, its tires are usually worn out or close to it. Since good tires are still an asset, they are sometimes swapped for worn-out ones just prior to retirement. This varies from department to department.
If you can, it is always best to test drive a Police Interceptor before purchasing. Of course, it is not possible on the auction lot but if you are purchasing from a resale dealer, take a test drive. Some questions you'll want to ask yourself:
- Does the engine sound funny when you accelerate or idle?
- Do the brakes feel rough?
- Is there smoke in the exhaust?
- Do the gears shift slowly?
- Are the tires bald or dry rotted?
- Does the suspension creak?
Chances are the car will need to be maintainced if you answer yes to any of these. How much maintenance is unknown.
Driving a Crown Victoria
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2014 Jason Ponic