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Your Used Crown Victoria Police Interceptor Buyer's Guide

Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.

My 2010 P71 Crown Victoria Police Interceptor

My 2010 P71 Crown Victoria Police Interceptor

The Police Car

The police car, 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 the junk cars and instead purchase a powerful, reliable and cheap set of wheels.

Note

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.

The Chevy Caprice, the Crown Victoria's running mate until 1996. The Caprice too has proven its durability over time. Many are still on the road.

The Chevy Caprice, the Crown Victoria's running mate until 1996. The Caprice too has proven its durability over time. Many are still on the road.

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 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.

Unknown Factors:

  1. How rough a cruiser was used during service.
  2. Driving conditions and environments the cruiser was exposed to.
  3. Pre-existing problems.

Known Factors:

  1. Guaranteed maintenance history.
  2. Retirement based on mileage.
  3. Reputation and reliability of the model.
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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.

A typical interior of a retired police car.

A typical interior of a retired police car.

AgencyAverage MileageAverage Idle HoursAverage ConditionNotes

Federal

100,000

4,000

Good

Retired at 100,000 miles regardless of age.

State

150,000

10,000

Fair

Run hard

County

100,000

7,500

Good

Usually retired 3-5 years regardless of mileage.

City

120,000

15,000

Average

Run hard. Well Maintained.

Crown Victoria Headlights with UV damage

Crown Victoria Headlights with UV damage

Common Problems

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 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.

Crown Victoria with peeling paint. This is a very common problem with old Crown Vics particularly the 2000-2011 series.

Crown Victoria with peeling paint. This is a very common problem with old Crown Vics particularly the 2000-2011 series.

Test Driving

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 be maintenance 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

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