After seeing the post Top Tips to Spot a Undercover Police Car, and the comment asking for a U.S. version, I decided to try and put one together, based heavily off of Smiller’s post.
Of course, this isn’t at all a conclusive list, but it should help you keep an eye out for the “hidden enemy”.
(All images used are from google)
What models watch for
This is by no means a conclusive list, this is just a list of some of the most common cars to watch out for. Unmarked units can be anything from Accords to Camaros, Grand Caravans to Tundras, although American manufacturers are the most common. But there are a handful of favorites, and if you see one of these, immediately start searching for more signs.
- Ford Crown Victoria
- Ford Explorer
- Dodge Charger (The LX platform, not the classic one)
- Ford Taurus
- Chevy Tahoe
- Chevy Impala
- Chevy Caprice (The new one. It is ONLY available to Law Enforcement)
This is probably the best way to identify unmarked units, but usually requires you to be fairly close, like at a red light. Not so useful when you’re doing 30 over on a dark country road and see a vehicle heading towards you, but very useful when deciding if you want to drag race that Challenger next to you at the light.
Keep an eye out for extra antennas, although most no longer have the obvious giant antennas we’re used to. I’m seeing a lot of unmarked cars with a black disk, about the size of a quarter, and 3 times as thick, with a wire heading towards the trunk.
Cops love their spotlights. A lot of unmarked cars will still have at least one spotlight, on the drivers side right by the mirror. If you see a car with one of these, quickly double check that you are 100% within the law.
Whatever you call them, they are usually a sign that the vehicle they are attached to is a cop car. Or that some guy bought a used cop car and turned it into an Autocross machine. Best to play it safe.
If you can see a laptop or laptop stand, extra switches, cameras or other strange stuff mounted on the windshield, non-standard center consoles, gun racks, bars on the back windows, a divider between the front and rear seats, or a box of donuts on the dash, you’ve probably got yourself a cop. Smile and wave, and be light on the throttle
Probably the most obvious one. Most commonly in the grille, on the dash, mounted at the top of windshield, mounted on the mirrors, in the back side windows at the bottom, and in the bottom of the back window. My favorite ones to look out for are the lights on the mirrors. Most of the vehicles with lights on the mirrors don’t have turn signals on the mirrors, so you can spot those lights a bit further away than you can spot other hidden lights.
While it varies State to State and City to City, you can spot some cop cars by their plates. Some places require even the unmarked cars to run city plates, so that black 2016 Explorer with steelies, spotlights, a pushbar, and 17 extra antenna with a city plate is probably a cop.
When I was in Honolulu, Hawaii, I noticed all the cop cars I saw had one thing in common, every single one, marked and unmarked, had HPD in the license plate. Aside from the HPD part, those plates looked like every plate in the city. I’ve also seen unmarked units with 911 as the number, although that may have just been a coincidence. Either way, it pays to check for any hints in the plate.
The majority of cop cars are going to skimp on everything that doesn’t directly affect performance. This is most obvious when the chrome trim gets replaced with matte black trim. So if you notice a car with a distinct lack of chrome compared to normal models, and/or with black steel wheels, put your best innocent face on.
Most obvious examples are the Explorers and Chargers: The civilian models had a tasteful amount of chrome around the car, while the police versions have almost none, as can be seen in the examples below.
As mentioned in the UK post, cops love clean cars. Law Enforcement Officers need to look professional, they need to be clean and well trimmed, if not clean-shaven, wear nice, crisp, clean clothes, and their cars also have to look clean. Depending on the area and weather and time of year, they may not stay clean throughout the shift, but the next time they hit the street, they’re probably going to be spotless again.
In conclusion: They’re everywhere man.