When Can Police Search My Vehicle? Do I Have to Let Them?

In Canada, there are specific laws that govern when and under what circumstances police can stop and search your vehicle. The failure of police to follow these guidelines or overstep their authority may constitute a violation of Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and may mean that any incriminating evidence they find in such a search will not be allowed to be used against you in court.

Police May Not Search Your Car or Trunk During a Routine Stop Without Reasonable Grounds

Under Canadian law, police can generally pull over a driver under the following circumstances:

  • To check your sobriety;
  • To determine whether you have a legitimate driver’s licence;
  • To check if the car is properly registered and insured; and
  • To see if the car is in good working order.

Being pulled over for any of these reasons, however, does not in and of itself give police the right to search your car. They can look in your windows and may even use a flashlight at night to do so, but they cannot, without more, search the interior of your car and trunk.

Police are only allowed to search your car during routine traffic stops (including sobriety stops) if they have “reasonable” and “probable” cause to do so.

Courts have held that police may conduct “warrantless searches” of a vehicle where the following factors exist:

  • The vehicle contains illegal items;
  • Waiting to get a warrant may lead to destruction of the evidence; and
  • An offence has been, is being, or is about to be committed and that a search will disclose evidence relevant to that offence.

The interpretation of what is “reasonable” and “probable” has been subject to significant scrutiny by the courts. Police searches of your car without reasonable grounds may violate your Section 8 Charter rights, leading courts to exclude all evidence collected pursuant to that search.

Police May Search Your Car If They Have a Search Warrant

Police may also search your vehicle if they have already obtained a search warrant. In these situations, the police have previously established reasonable and probable grounds for the search.


In certain situations, police may request to conduct a search of your vehicle where they don’t otherwise have the authority to do so – such as during a routine stop to check your licence and registration.

Many individuals automatically consent to a vehicle search after being pulled over for a simple traffic offence because they do not know they have the right to refuse the search or because the “request” may sound more like a demand. This is a grave mistake with potentially damaging consequences, especially when there is evidence of illegal activity inside of the vehicle. You should never give consent to a vehicle search.If the police are asking or demanding that you let them search your car, make sure you politely yet firmly insist on calling a lawyer right away, before you make any decision or give any permission.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defence Lawyer If Your Vehicle Has Been Searched

Any time you have been detained by police and they conduct a search of your vehicle, it’s a good idea to speak to an experienced criminal defence lawyer right away. By successfully challenging a search of your vehicle, it may be possible to get any improperly collected evidence against you thrown out. Many times, this means that any charges against you may be dismissed or reduced.

Ottawa Criminal Defence Firm Engel & Associates Defends Against Even The Most Complicated Charges

Criminal lawyers Bruce Engel and Elena Davies have represented individuals and businesses charged with hundreds of different offences throughout Canada for more than two decades. From the start of a criminal investigation to the close of a trial, we will take a balanced and forceful approach to your defence. We have the experience and know-how to effectively navigate the constantly changing justice system in Canada.


The materials provided on this site are for information purposes only. These materials constitute general information relating to areas of law familiar to our firm lawyers. They do NOT constitute legal advice or other professional advice and you may not rely on the contents of this website as such.

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Engel & Associates
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