Traffic stops can be tense, anxiety-inducing events even if you did nothing wrong. There is always the potential of encountering an overly aggressive or biased officer.
It is not unheard of to run into a police officer who displays misconduct. It is important to understand your rights and what the law permits an officer to do. One common point of confusion is whether or not the police can search your car during a traffic stop.
If there is probable cause the police may search your car
In general, the Fourth Amendment protects you from searches when the police do not have a warrant, including car searches. However, if the police stop you and have probable cause to believe you committed a crime, they may search your vehicle without a warrant. Examples of probable cause include the sight or scent of drugs, the possibility of a gun or other contraband being in your automobile or even a broken taillight.
If you give consent the police may search your car
Another way police officers may obtain access to your vehicle’s interior without a warrant is if you grant them permission. They may not coerce you, but they may ask, and if you offer consent in any way, they have the legal right to perform a search.
A police officer may search your car regardless of what you do. However, you do have rights, including refusing to grant permission to search your vehicle and avoiding saying anything except what is necessary (especially avoiding admitting to any wrong as an admission may serve as probable cause for a search). You also have protection against coercion and misconduct.