How to Avoid a Vehicle Search

By: Jen Lamboy March 16, 2012
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Plain and simple, you have the right to refuse consent to a vehicle search. Yet, in the heat of a traffic stop, many drivers with something to hide worsen matters by allowing the cop to snoop inside their cars. Perhaps they think being cooperative will carry more weight and put them in better standing with the cop. When it comes to questioning, one former police officer tells us this is true. But when there’s the potential for heftier charges due to something you’ve got stashed in your car, you’re better off knowing your rights.

Of course your safest bet is to keep your vehicle free of anything illegal. However, if you get pulled over and you’ve ignored this tip, try these on for size:

  1. Give the officer full view of your car’s interior upon his approach.
  2. Be cooperative rather than evasive and during questioning.
  3. Do not consent to a vehicle search.

A cop likely won’t inform you of your right to turn down a vehicle search. In fact, if you’re willing to further incriminate yourself, he’ll probably give you the green light to do so.  That’s where knowing your rights really comes in handy.

“If you have something illegal in your car then don’t say anything,” suggests former Maryland police officer Tod Burke. “It’s just a matter of you maintaining your constitutional right to remain silent.” About refusing consent, Burke adds, “That does not mean the officer cannot find another legal means to search the vehicle (they probably will), it simply will not be through a consent search.  I am surprised by how often people consent, not understanding they have a right to refuse consent, and the officer finds illegal contraband inside the vehicle. For example, 100 pounds of marijuana.”

Especially when illegal drugs are present, you’ll find it wise to just say no. Now there’s a big difference between a joint and a hundred pounds of pot in the eyes of the law, but your rights are exactly the same. For more on what to do, or if you’ve already consented and now face steeper charges, consult an attorney before talking to the cops again.


We polled our users and more than 43% said they’d consent to a vehicle search during a traffic stop. What’s your take? Have you ever refused consent? Keep the conversation going by leaving a comment below or sharing your experience on Facebook.

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