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How to spot an unmarked police car

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Emergency Services Vehicles

How to spot an unmarked police car

Colin Hubbard
Speedmonkey
April 17, 2013


It used to be easy to spot an unmarked police car because they were all white Vauxhall Omegas - but not so anymore as the police are increasingly sneaky with their choice of cars. Colin Hubbard tells us how to spot an unmarked police car

Unmarked police car BritainA typical unmarked police car in the UK Unmarked police car BritainA Volvo estate utilized as an unmarked police car. Sneaky sneaky Unmarked police car BritainUnmakred police bike are easier to spot Unmarked police car BritainTraffic wombles in their natural environment
It’s a fact of life that every driver breaks the speed limit at some time whether intentionally or by accident - maybe in an unfamiliar car which absorbs the speed better or the driver may misinterpret the speed limit.

The most common place for being caught speeding is on the motorway - from a van on a bridge which is only seen when only it’s too late. Speeding can cost you greatly, not just the initial 3 points and £60 fine but the potential cost of insurance over the following 5 years, and ever increasing if you get caught again and again.

With this is mind I have put together a guide to help you spot the other 'police revenue source for collecting speeding fines' which is the unmarked police car, that the police use over the Jam Sandwich, in a bid to target the impatient, uneducated or distracted motorist.

Firstly lets start with the typical car. Most of the time it’s a large stable saloon car capable of doing over 150 mph and has secure handling to chase down those that do not want to be stopped, or those that are just too stupid to realise there’s a now conspicuous police car with flashing lights and sirens behind them. Listed below are the common cars used in unmarked form by the police;

  • Audi A6
  • BMW 3 and 5 series
  • Jaguar XF
  • Vauxhall Insignia
  • Volvo S60


  • Now that doesn’t really help spot an unmarked car as the cars above are very common but there are trends which feature on many private vehicles that do not appear on unmarked police cars, namely;

  • Personalised number plates
  • Bumper or Window stickers
  • Any form of custom paintwork or bodykits
  • Anything over 5 years old
  • GB stickers
  • Tow Bars
  • Roof racks and Roof boxes
  • Dirt – have you ever seen a dirty police car on the motorway?
  • Bright conspicuous colours (apart from white which is increasing common on private cars)
  • Driver or passenger smoking


  • Now, there are features that will generally be present on an unmarked police car that the keen eyed will spot from a distance as follows;

  • A second rear view mirror just to the left of the normal one so the passenger can also see behind
  • Extra Lights on the tailgate
  • Maybe an extra aerial on the roof
  • Extra mirror sitting on top of the passenger side exterior mirror
  • A dark box on the rear shelf for the pop-up dot matrix display
  • Blue lights hidden in the front grille
  • Blue lights hidden in the rear window
  • A burly man behind the wheel, the Police don’t tend to employ midgets!
  • Generally the driver in uniform and with a fluorescent jacket on


  • So we have determined the type of car, features they won’t have and features they will have but there are other ways to spot the unmarked police car. Like it or not, the drivers of unmarked police cars are exceptionally talented drivers, having racked up hundreds of hours and thousands of miles of high speed training which makes them very smooth and hard to spot.

    You will always notice the idiot in the privately owned BMW driving erratically and some 12 inches from your back bumper but police drivers are very smooth, they don’t drive dangerously (unless in a chase and the interpretation of dangerous comes into scrutiny) or close to you so they can sneak up on you without you knowing. Unmarked police cars will often be seen driving at 60mph in the inside lane waiting for their next target.

    The police also utilise unmarked motorbikes to target speeding motorists as they are harder to spot, can be faster and get through traffic quicker to catch the unaware motorist.

    As with the cars they are very clean, well kept machines ridden by very cool, calculating and smooth riders.

    Typical bikes are large BMWs and Honda Pan Europeans in dark single colour schemes, equipped with side panniers in which to store video and radio equipment, and pies. There will be the lights both front and rear which are harder to hide on a motorcycle but nevertheless need to be there.

    The bike riders are much easier to spot as they wear a white helmet, which is fairly uncommon for a biker, and always wear full black leathers with a hi-visibility belt or waist coat (normally the belt with single diagonal across one shoulder front and back). They will not be seen in the latest power ranger suit and definitely not wearing a dark visor.

    And lastly this brings me onto the HATOs or, to quote their full title, High­ways Agency Traf­fic Offi­cer or, as Jeremy Clarkson affectionately calls them, ‘ Traffic Wombles’.

    The HATOs are not on the motorways to enforce speeding vehicles but to ensure the safety of the road by clearing debris, removing damaged vehicles and supporting the police where incidents occur. More well known for closing the motorway to remove items such as a child's sunglasses or an injured field mouse from the outside lane.

    As HATOs do not enforce the law they cannot currently prosecute you for speeding so you do not need to panic-brake if you see one.

    If you are unfortunate enough to be pulled over by the police for speeding then remember they have a job to do which is to enforce the law. If you act calm, reasonable and apologetic you stand a chance of being let off with a ‘don’t do it again’. If you act stressed, obtrusive and make comments about doing real police work such as catching the guy that stole your TV then you WILL receive a fine and penalty points.

    Please note that Speedmonkey does not condone or recommend speeding, but it does happen so take care and watch out.



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