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When is it legal for your car to be searched?

California residents who get pulled over on suspicion of a DUI may end up in a situation where the police ask to search the car, or go ahead with a search regardless of your permission. But is it legal for them to search without a warrant? Just when the police search your vehicle?

According to, police do not need a warrant to search your car. During routine traffic stops, they only need what’s called “probable cause”. What’s probable cause? If you, for example, have empty liquor bottles on the floor, or if the vehicle smells of marijuana, that’s all the “probable cause” that police will need to give your car a more thorough search. Either facts or evidence can be used in a probable cause scenario. The admission of guilt regarding crimes can be considered fact or evidence, as well.

However, just getting pulled over for an expired registration, a broken tail light, or speeding are not enough reasons for an officer to have a probable cause to search your vehicle. Be aware of the fact that in some scenarios, officers may request consent in a way that seems like a demand. However, as long as there is no probable cause, you do not have to consent to the search.

Being aware of your rights may make the difference between how well possible court cases may go later on if you’re detained. Just be aware that non-combative behavior will generally be the better option to take, even if you do know your rights.

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