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Facts about police cars

Updated April 17, 2017

The highly visible police car has been around for more than a century. Its wailing siren and flashing lights can put even the most innocent driver into a guilty panic. Built for speed, endurance and power, the police car is an essential law enforcement tool in our highly mobile society.

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Makes and Models

Though some police vehicles are pickups or SUVs in rural or mountainous areas, most police cars in the United States are Dodge Chargers, Ford Crown Victorias or Chevrolet Impalas. Police cars need to be sturdy, roomy and have a powerful engine so a four-door sedan is the most practical.


Due to the unusual demands on police cars, they are usually given structural modifications at the factory, including enhancements to the alternator, engine, steering, suspension and electrical system. Heavy-duty bumpers for ramming and upgraded cooling systems for the additional electrical demands may also be added. Back seat areas are modified for prisoner containment and cages are added in canine units.


Most police cars have both audible and visual alert systems, like sirens and flashing coloured lights. Other standard equipment includes two-way radios, on-board computer terminals, GPS tracking units, video cameras for inside and outside the vehicle, antitheft devices and crowd control loudspeakers.


The first police car in the United States ran on electricity in Akron, Ohio in 1899. With a full charge it reached 16 miles per hour speeds and lasted about 30 miles before needing to be recharged. Though gasoline-powered cars became the overwhelming choice over the next century, the electric police car is making a comeback. In 2007, an all-electric police car debuted in Connellsville, Pennsylvania.


Police cars also are known as squad cars, patrol cars, police cruisers, black and whites, cop cars and cherry tops. They are also sometimes designated as either marked or unmarked law enforcement vehicles.

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About the Author

A freelance writer for more than 30 years, D.M. Gutierrez has had nonfiction, fiction and poetry published in women's, mystery, academic, children's, disability and teen print publications and websites including "Psychological Reports" and "Highlights for Children." She has an advanced degree in psychology from the University of California at Davis.

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