Types of Police Cars

What is the difference between a patrol car, a cruiser and an interceptor? They're all just different names for the same thing. Some police departments might use one term for a certain kind of duty (cars mainly used for high-speed chases might be called interceptors, for example), and car companies might use a different term to refer to a certain police version of a car, but there's no clearly defined nomenclature.

­The term "squad car," incidentally, dates to the early 20th century, when the primary function of a police car was to carry an entire group, or squad, of officers to a crime scene [source: Kerr].

Police Car Models

All po­lice cars are based on standard production models of civilian cars, except in rare cases where military vehicles are converted for police use. There are no companies making cars solely for use as police cars, with a few very rare exceptions. Instead, car companies make special "interceptor" or "police" versions of certain models -- typically large sedans. In addition, police departments occasionally purchase civilian vehicles that fit their particular needs and customize them for a specific use.

The most common police vehicles in North America are the Ford Crown Victoria, the Chevrolet Caprice or Impala, and, in recent years, the Dodge Charger. All of these fit the typical police car profile -- large sedans with plenty of room in the trunk for equipment, lots of room in the back seat for suspects and a relatively large engine. Countries outside of North America typically use domestic cars of a similar nature: For example, in Italy, a police department may choose to use a Fiat as a service vehicle while in Germany, a BMW may be a logical choice.

There are lots of police vehicles that don't fit the standard patrol car mold, however. For example, SUVs and pickup trucks are often used in areas with rough terrain, or in situations when the officers need to carry around a lot of extra equipment. Police departments have even been known to use more exotic cars. Sports cars are sometimes used as special chase vehicles -- police Camaros, Mustangs and even Corvettes are not unheard of. In Italy, there are even a few police Lamborghinis. At one time, these Italian exotics were unique custom police cars, but recently, Lamborghini started equipping its Gallardo models for police work at the factory [source: Biggs]. These ostentatious police cars are usually used as public relations tools rather than working patrol cars, and in many cases they were originally confiscated by the department during drug raids [source: Jones]. However, it's reported that the Italians use their Gallardos for daily patrol duties.

Next, we'll get under the hood of a police car and find out what sets it apart from the average car.