Would you recommend buying a used police cruiser?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 2001

Dear Tom and Ray:

I hope this letter gets the attention of some carbon-based life form! I am thinking of buying an early- to mid-'90s ex-police cruiser from one of those outfits that acquires them and converts them into civilian cars. What do you think about these cars? Are they a good deal? -- Ian

TOM: Well, first of all, we want to assure you -- and all of our readers -- that every single letter that comes to us gets the attention of a carbon-based life form. Even if we don't read the letters, the dog sniffs though all of them in search of errant bacon bits.

RAY: I'm not a big fan of used police cars, Ian, for three reasons. One is that they typically have a number of special, heavy-duty parts. And while a heavy-duty alternator, for example, might seem like a good thing to have, when it breaks you'll be surprised to learn that a new one costs three times as much as a standard alternator.

TOM: Second, unlike the typical used car, police vehicles are in pretty much constant use. Most police cars are driven two or three shifts a day. So even though it's only a '95 or '96 model, it's been "used" far more than the average car of that vintage.

RAY: And finally, the recorded mileage doesn't account for time spent on indoor investigations and doughnut dalliances. When you see a cruiser that's parked in front of a building, is the engine off? Never. It's got the windows down and the air conditioner on full-blast ... cooling off the whole neighborhood. And none of those hours of engine idling time is accounted for on the odometer.

TOM: So even if the odometer has only 120,000 miles on it, the engine could have the EQUIVALENT of 620,000 miles on it.

RAY: On the plus side, you do get powerful engines and some heavy-duty equipment -- usually an alternator, radiator, transmission cooler and maybe suspension. And the cars are often very well-maintained.

TOM: But unless they're selling at a very steep discount over similar used cars (like half or less), I'd let this cruiser idea pass, Ian. However, we do have a used New York taxi cab for sale. Are you interested?

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