Picking a panda: How the police choose their cars

British police forces use a variety of cars for different operations. Individual forces used to have something of a free hand in selecting the vehicles but the government has standardised on procurement in a bid to save money and this has narrowed the choice.

For regular patrol cars, the police now have to choose from Ford, Vauxhall, Peugeot or Hyundai. These cars can be driven by any police officer with just a standard licence.

Police forces have done a great deal of work in assessing different manufacturers against criteria like purchase price, running costs and reliability, so many drivers may take this as something of a seal of approval when choosing their own car.

Standard police patrols


Be careful, though. It is quite possible that these purchasing decisions were made on the basis of steep bulk discounts, which are not available to the private buyer.

It is also possible that the detailed criteria used to assess these cars is different from your own requirements. Nevertheless, it is clear that inclusion on this shortlist says a lot about the value and reliability of the manufacturers.


In the same way that foreign taxi drivers buy Mercedes E-Class cars or Skoda Octavias, it is a sign that those who depend on their cars recognise the quality of these marques.

Specialist police cars

Volvo V70 police car

Clearly, not all of these cars are suitable for all duties and the police require more powerful cars for motorway patrols and other specialist duties.  For these cars, approved manufacturers include Volvo, BMW and Audi.

High-performance Volvo V70 estates are popular for motorway patrols. They combine performance with lots of load space for the equipment the motorway patrols need to carry. Clearly, these cars need to be able to drive very quickly, as any will be involved in pursuit of speeding cars.

The police are also involved in escort duties for politicians and dignitaries. For these tasks, they are able to select armoured limousines from Jaguar.

Officer training

Skoda Superb police car
Image (c) MSN cars

Not all police officers are able to drive all of these cars. The standard pandas only require a normal licence but to be allowed to put the blue flashing lights and sirens on, the officer must complete a two week Standard Response driving course.

This also allows the officer to break the speed limit where and when it is safe to do so in the line of his duties. In order to drive the higher powered cars, the officer must complete a four week Advanced Response course.

There are also a number of specialist courses, such as defensive driving anti-hijack and off-road work.

Buying police cars is big business. Together UK forces spend around £83 million on 5,600 cars annually. Many of these cars regularly come up for auction and being well maintained they can make excellent secondhand buys.

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Stuart Masson
Stuart Massonhttps://www.thecarexpert.co.uk/
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

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