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Used cars: how to cop a bargin

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We do the detective work to reveal that ex-police cars make good used buys. They’re well maintained and specced – and very cheap!

Who would have thought canny buyers would now be turning to the boys in blue when sourcing their next car? Well, it’s true.

When searching for a late-plate vehicle that’s been meticulously maintained – for a fraction of the usual forecourt price – buying an ex-police car could well prove the perfect solution.

Paul Kourellias from West Oxford Motor Auctions, which holds regular sales for some of the UK’s biggest forces, agrees.

“In the current climate, buying an ex-police vehicle makes sense,” he told us. “If you want an 05-plate Vauxhall Astra for £2,100, this is the place to come. Ex-police cars are stunning value.” What’s more, buying from a respected source means while the mileage will probably be higher than average, you’re unlikely to end up with a dud. “As well as being significantly cheaper, they will also be better maintained,” added Paul.

“Some are serviced every six weeks, and the workshops only use genuine parts. So, if a car left the factory with Pirelli tyres, only Pirellis will be refitted, and if there is a specific fault, they will declare it.”

Nothing but the truth

There are plenty of myths about ex-police motors, and many are nothing more than hearsay. Firstly, they’re not all white – check out the dark blue Ford Focus (opposite) that sold for £1,950 – and they’re not always low spec. For instance, many cars up for sale are unmarked vehicles, used to catch speeders or driven by the CID during covert operations. Paul even recalls an ex-Royal Protection Squad Range Rover that came up for sale in Balmoral green!

Also, with an increasing focus on end-of-life value, more forces now choose higher spec models to aid resale. Paul explained: “People have the perception that police cars are always white with cloth trim and wind-up windows, but that’s far from the case.

“Spec varies between forces, and to what use the vehicle has been put. Sure, some BMW 530ds we see have cloth trim, but an equal number have leather – and as car firms have improved the overall spec of their models, items such as alloys are often standard.” And if your search stretches beyond an Astra or Ford Focus squad car, there are plenty of more exotic models to choose from.

How does a 63,000-mile ’02 Audi A6 2.5 TDi quattro SE for £4,700 sound? Or an ’06 BMW X5 3.0d with 110,000 miles for £8,600? If you fancy something sporty, another car to go under the hammer at WOMA was a 54-plate Skoda Octavia vRS with 74,000 miles, which went for £2,600 – a fraction of what it would have been at a dealer.

As for the rumour that police cars are ‘chipped’ for extra performance, Paul Kourellias is keen to put the record straight. “While there can be a few subtle differences to the suspension and brakes, tales of police cars being lightning quick are mostly down to the simple fact that they are running well due to proper maintenance,” he said.

Hard labour?

Perhaps the biggest put-off for buyers is that ex-police motors will have covered an above-average mileage when they are sold. Additionally, returning them to civvy use may involve a bit of cosmetic work along the way.

The first point goes back to maintenance. Arguably, a car run 21 hours a day but regularly maintained is likely to be in better health than a low-mileage motor that’s neglected.

Furthermore, as London-based Metropolitan Police driving instructor Damien Finbow confirmed, officers are now instructed to demonstrate ‘vehicle sympathy’ on patrol, which prolongs the life of cars.

“It’s a condition of our advanced driving test that police show that they can be ‘smooth and fluid with the controls’. Also, we’ve been working closely with the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) to consider green issues and apply ‘eco-safe’ techniques, such as changing up to a higher gear earlier and anticipating road conditions to cut down on the need to accelerate and brake hard. That means there’s likely to be less wear on the drivetrain.”

At decommissioning time, the amount of cosmetic work needed varies according to the vehicle’s use and the force that owned it, adds Paul Kourellias. “Some will have holes in the roof, others won’t. Thames Valley Police, for example, don’t make any holes in their cars,” he said. “None of the vehicles will have radios/CD players, and on some you will need to rewire them directly to the battery. However, firms such as Volvo are working on this, making conversion back to civvy use even more straightforward.”

If you still have the jitters, dealers like expolicecar.co.uk will do all the preparation work for you – so much so that you wouldn’t even know the car’s previous occupation. Now you can’t say fairer than that!

Where can I buy a police car?

An auction house is a good bet. Try.

West Oxford Motor Auctions, (www.woma.co.uk; 01993 774413)

British Car Auctions, (www.british-car-auctions.co.uk; 0845 600 6644)

Both of these have regular police car sales.

Alternatively, specialist dealers such as www.expolicecar.co.uk, Ex Police Cars Direct (autoexposure.co.uk/expolicecarsdirect) and www.xpcarsales.co.uk all supply ex-cop cars from police force fleets from across the country.

Extra Info

Don’t get banged to rights

Follow our useful tips to help you bag the best ex-police car:

• Spec varies, so shop around to find the best models.

• Not all ex-police cars are white – many are silver. But in any case, white is enjoying a bit of a revival as a car colour!

• Look out for wear to the side seat bolster. The big belts worn by officers catch as they get in and out of their vehicles.

• Many motorway patrol cars will have carried heavy loads in the boot, so check for any rear suspension wear.

• Some people are more careful than others when removing police transfers, so look for any scratches to the paintwork.

• Patrol cars may have the occasional knock or bumper scrape, so factor in the cost of repairs when buying.


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