Your Used Crown Victoria Police Interceptor Buyer's Guide
This guide only gives buying tips for the Ford Crown Victoria. 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 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.
Why the Crown Victoria?
To answer this question, let 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. 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 era in American car design.
Ford had its reasons for discontinuing the Vic. Declining sales and simple fuel economics didn't help. Modern police work also required 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 Ford 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 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 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.
Average Idle Hours
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...and sit for up to one year before it goes to auction. It is during this mothballed process is were the most damage can occur either by vandalism or mother nature. 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 can cause the fuel sender float to stick, rendering the gas gauge unreliable.
Yellowing/ Fading Plastic Parts: Parked in the same angle of the sun for months will cause UV damage to the headlights and other plastic parts such as the mirrors, molding and dash.
Peeling Paint: Perhaps the most infamous defect of the Crown Victoria. A manufacturing defect, the paint looses its bond after just 3-4 years and will 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.
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?
- How dirty is the oil?
- Do the gears shift slowly?
- Are the tires bald or dry rotted?
- Does the suspension creak?
Answering yes to any of these, you'll want to avoid purchasing that car. Chances are it will be in need of major maintenance.