No Fixed Abode: Why Be a Wacker?

no fixed abode why be a wacker

It’s one of the great scenes in modern cinema: Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness and Sean Connery as Malone, the beat cop who requires no proof of Eliot’s claim to be a Treasury Agent because, “Who would claim to be that, who was not?”

Yet there are people who falsely claim to be police, for various and nefarious purposes ranging from to getting a discount on lunch to raping 11 women. This kind of offense is punished with all possible severity, and for the most understandable of reasons: a society where we cannot easily recognize police is a society where enforcement of the law will become increasingly dangerous for all parties involved.

Then you have the crowd that doesn’t want to actually impersonate a cop; rather, they simply want to be briefly “mistaken” for a cop on the freeway, often for no reason other than the petty narcissism of believing they are frightening or impressing fellow motorists. As you’d expect, these people gravitate towards used police cars, which they often retrofit to vaguely resemble undercover or unmarked units. It’s a common enough practice that the Internet has coined a word to define the practitioner: “Wacker.”

Wacking, like any other hobby, is pursued with various degrees of proficiency. The rusted-out 1990s Crown Vic with a drooping spotlight and mismatched tires is the preferred choice of people who are wavering between true wacker status and merely being a broke-ass dude behind the wheel of a blacked-out taxi.

The nearly new Chevrolet Caprice in the photo above, however, represents the apex of wacking, right down to the brand-new and freshly Armor-Alled Michelin Pilot Sport A/S tires. When I saw it on my afternoon commute today, I wasn’t fooled for long, as my little town of Powell, Ohio doesn’t have any unmarked or quasi-undercover units on the street. We also don’t require real license plates on municipal vehicles, meaning that the presence of a legit tag is a dead wacker giveaway. In some states, however, the only way to tell the difference between this and a real freeway speed enforcement unit would be to pull over and wait until the driver gets out.

The flood of used Crown Vics hitting the market as of late means that it’s never been easier to start wacking. The question is: Why do it? And what kind of person heeds that police-siren song?

Back in the days when I owned a Town Car, I strongly considered the purchase of an ex-police Crown Vic to use as a tire hauler and general dirty jobs vehicle. After a day or so looking through the CrownVic forums I realized that some people simply can’t help themselves when it comes to “wacker” modifications. Light bars in whatever color isn’t illegal for your particular state, train horns, limo tint on all the windows — some people even go through the trouble of sourcing the “Police Interceptor” badges for cars that didn’t have them. It caused me to give no small amount of thought to why someone would want to do that.

I think the most frequent, and most compelling reason, to be a wacker is this: It doesn’t take too many years on the American road to become utterly exasperated at the people with whom you have to share it. There’s always somebody ahead of you doing 10 mph under the speed limit and somebody screaming up behind you doing Mach 1.2 and somebody next to you who is half in your lane because they’re browsing Instagram. It’s hugely tempting to come up with some kind of solution, however imperfect, to the brimming surfeit of on-road discourtesy out there.

Some people buy massive trucks to insulate themselves from the stupidity. Others spend outrageous money so they have the power to drive away from anyone who is annoying them. But these are partial solutions at best. The real fix to the problem would be to come up with a vehicle that spontaneously generates respectful behavior from the drivers around you. Like it or not, a wackermobile can do precisely that.

If you have a wacker that really skirts the boundary between “ex-cop car” and “current cop car,” you can enjoy a myriad of benefits. That jerk in the lifted truck or 5 Series BMW swerving through traffic behind you? When he spots the Wack Job, he’s going to suddenly remember that he’s not in that big of a hurry. The vegan hippie in the Forester doing 54 in the fast lane? She’s going to move over once she looks in the rearview — which could be as soon as 10 minutes from now. All around you, people will put down their phones, turn down their stoplight stereos, call a halt to the last-minute cut-ins and cut-offs. All of a sudden, you’re living in the world of the driver’s-ed videos, surrounded by careful, attentive fellow drivers.

Eventually most of them will realize that you’re not a cop, and they will resume speeding/weaving/whatever. In the meantime, however, you’re safe and sound. And it’s better to have that Jersey-plated bully floor the throttle and drive away than it would have been had he just blown by you at a lightly-wobbling buck-oh-five. It’s a real pleasure to be a wacker, you see. No set of fender-mounted diplomatic flags ever generated the kind of respect that an even vaguely convincing wack job does.

There are drawbacks. Decent people will shun your acquaintance. Your Tinder dates will come to a screeching halt when the lady in question sees your car. Since this is America and not Europe, you don’t have wacking options from Bavaria or Stuttgart or even Castle Bromwich. And your interactions with actual cops will always start off on the wrong foot, the degree of wrongness strongly correlating to the degree to which your Crown Vic or Caprice or Explorer looks like the real deal. It might be too much trouble. Your mileage may vary.

Overall, however, I’m not sure that wacking is all that bad of a thing. Having a bunch of maybe-kinda-sorta-cop-cars around might raise the pulse of habitual speeders but it’s probably better for road safety as a whole. The question is: Could we turn this occasional phenomenon into an everyday occurrence, in a way that doesn’t endanger or upset anyone? I’m glad you asked.

It’s this simple: The era of dedicated police cars needs to come to an end. The era of butched-up police cruisers, complete with shadow graphics and bully bars, should be terminated with extreme prejudice as well. Instead, cops should just drive plain-Jane cars and SUVs. Camry. Explorer. CR-V. Cop cars should look like regular cars. We would all behave better as a result. Is that RAV4 behind you a soccer mom or a county mountie? You’d better pay attention to the road just in case. There would be no losers in this scenario.

Well, that’s not true. I don’t think today’s wackers would like it too much. Not that any of them would admit to it. Who would claim to be a wacker — even if such were the case?

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  • Ronnie Schreiber Ronnie Schreiber on Nov 22, 2017

    As far as I know, in Michigan, even unmarked police cars have to wear municipal license plates, so as long as you're behind them, you can spot them. One problem with current police vehicles, at least for drivers who don't want attention from Johnny Law, is that Ford offers the Explorer in trims and colors that are hard to distinguish from their Police Interceptor versions.

  • JohnTaurus JohnTaurus on Nov 22, 2017

    I once met a guy who was the classic cop wanna be. Had a Crown Vic, traded in on a Charger. He was arrogant and so full of himself. Wanted to hang out and get to know each other. Nahh, I'm cool man, I got to know enough that I don't want to know anymore. No thanks.

  • MaintenanceCosts A bit after that experience, my family ended up owning an '88 Accord and an '87 Taurus--Detroit's big triumph--at the same time. The win for the Accord wasn't total; the Taurus's engine was better and it was quieter. But the difference in build quality and refinement can't be overstated.There were no rattles in the Accord, the materials are to this day some of the best in any car I've ever owned, every control operated with precision and just the right feel, and the ergonomics were perfect. By contrast, the Taurus was full of rattles from the day we got it, had hard plastic and slapdash fits all over the interior, had mouse-fur upholstery that showed wear by 60k miles, some parts of the control layout were nonsensical, and my car had a number of obvious assembly defects (including silver front bumper paint that all peeled off within five years). The cars' records in service also contrasted dramatically; the Taurus's lower purchase price (as a used car with similar mileage) was totally offset within a few years by higher repair costs.The thing that really puts an exclamation point on the contrast between the two cars is just how much better the Taurus was than its Fox-based predecessors.
  • Art Vandelay I am sure somewhere, somebody is saddened by this.
  • Dukeisduke It's becoming the norm for cats to be moved out of state for sale, and even out of the country. The thieves are looking for the easiest places to get rid of them, as laws tighten down in some places. Here in Texas, catalytic converter theft became a felony last September 1, so the stakes are going up.A couple months back, an off-duty Harris County (Houston) sheriff's deputy leaving a grocery store was murdered in the parking lot by a thief that was in the process of stealing the cat from his truck. As far as I know, they're still looking for the suspect, who would be charged with capital murder, and subject to the death penalty.
  • Dukeisduke Here's a real horror story: A friend of mine that's a commercial wallpaper installer owned an '09 Tundra, and had his cat stolen while he was working on a job in Dallas. He would normally have driven his work truck (an '03 Silverado with a zillion miles on it, and one engine replacement), but it was out of commission that day.At the end of the day when he got in the truck and started it, he noticed the noise, *and* saw smoke and flames. The thief had somehow cut or nicked the fuel line, causing gas to spray out. The truck burned to the ground in just a few minutes.He replaced it with a '19 Tundra, and the dealer installed a steel plate attached to the frame rails below the cats, and it's riveted (or maybe security bolts?) to the rails (I only saw it after dark, so I didn't get a really good look). He said the plate cost $750 to install. He says he'll never take the new one to work.
  • Dukeisduke I'll probably own some kind of EV someday, but I don't see it happening in the near future. Any kind of really large scale production is going to be hindered by the availability of rare earth minerals, so I don't see EVs taking over anytime soon, despite the wishful thinking of some folks. Instead, people in urban areas will be "encouraged" (shamed) into riding public transportation, and for people that live further out, or in the country, will still mainly drive ICE vehicles.I don't have anything against EVs, I just think the hype is overblown.Speaking of Dodge, I was watching the "Roadkill Nights" stream on Motortrend+ on Saturday, and Tim Kuniskis was interviewed live, and said there was a huge announce coming about the future of Dodge muscle, at the Woodward Cruise this weekend. I assume it'll be something about EVs. By the way, it was mentioned after the interview that Kuniskis started his career working as a service technician at a Dodge dealership. I'd never heard that before.