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Matthew A. Radefeld and Daniel A. Juengel

When can the police search my car?

On Behalf of | Feb 23, 2022 | Criminal Law |

Getting pulled over can be an intimidating feeling. You may spend the moments between when you stop your vehicle and when the officer reaches your window wondering why the officer pulled you over and what you can do about it.

Your mind may also go to things in your vehicle that you do not want the officer to find. Whether you have something specifically illegal or merely something suspicious, you may still worry about when an officer can search your car.

Here are the rules police have to follow if they want to search your vehicle.


When an officer has a warrant to search your vehicle, it gives them permission to search your entire car for evidence of a crime.

To get a warrant, the officer had to give a judge the information about the suspected crimes and the evidence they expect to find. A judge granting a warrant is the judge agreeing that the information from the officer warrants further investigation.

Probable cause

While a warrant gives an officer the most permission they could need to search your vehicle, it is not always necessary to get a warrant before performing a search. An officer can also search your car if they have probable cause that you have evidence of a crime in your vehicle.

Ultimately, if an officer uses the probable cause method for justifying a search, they will need to demonstrate in court that they had facts and circumstances to support their suspicion that you committed a crime and that your vehicle contained evidence of the crime.


When an officer asks to search your car, it may seem like you should let them. However, if an officer does not have probable cause or a warrant, you do not have to allow them to search your vehicle.

Often, an officer will make it seem like the search is not a big deal, but the moment you give them permission to search, they can look through your entire vehicle. When an officer asks to search your car, you can politely decline and ask to speak to a lawyer.