How Police Cars Work

The History of Police Cars

­Police forces began using motorized vehicles sporadically as far back as the final years of the 19th century, but at the time, these were little more than wagons that carried police from place to place. Police forces used motorcycles on a regular basis long before they used cars, as cars were more expensive. Increased reliance on police cars was driven primarily by increased use of cars by criminals.

In the 1920s and '30s, police departments used police cars to save money. With a car and a radio, one officer could cover a much larger territory. During this period, cars were purchased retail and then modified by the police department. Modifications were limited -- rudimentary markings and a variety of lights were the only things that set most early police cars apart from regular cars. It wasn't until after World War II that U.S. auto companies began offering "police packages." They simply took the special options most often ordered by police departments and combined them into a special option package. Ford Motor Company debuted its police package in 1950; Chevrolet in 1955 and Dodge in 1956 [source: Sanow].

Over the decades, police cars have gradually evolved. More pieces of specialized equipment were added. Light bars were streamlined. Old cars went out of style, while new designs became popular. Here are just some of the key police cars through history:

If you're looking for more information about police cars or other related topics, follow the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • American Power Systems, Inc. "Heavy Duty PCM/RVC Smart Charge controlled alternators for Police Interceptor and Ambulance." (March 24, 2009)
  • Biggs, Henry. "Revealed: 211mph Police Lamborghini." Nov. 2, 2006. (March 24, 2009)
  • Emergency Vehicle Solutions. "Run Lock Relay Unit." Aug. 2, 2006. (March 24, 2009)
  • Hiltunen, Nick. "Suspect kicks out windows of police car." Goldsboro News-Argus. Feb. 17, 2008. (March 24, 2009)
  • Jones, Amy. "Hoover unveils Porsche as new police vehicle." Shelby County Reporter. Feb. 20, 2009. (March 24, 2009)
  • Kerr, Ian. "Police Cars." Chartwell Books.1998.
  • ­McCord, Monty. "Cars of the State Police and Highway Patrol." Krause Publication. 1994.
  • ­Sanow, Edwin J. "Chevrolet Police Cars." Krause Publications. 1997.
  • Sanow, Edwin J. "Ford Police Cars." Motorbooks International. 1997.
  • ­Shapiro, Larry. "Special Police Vehicles." MBI Publishing. 1999.