Before law enforcement officials can search your car, they must follow a specific protocol. This is done to ensure that the search is conducted according to state and federal laws. Not only is this protocol a safety precaution, it also ensures that any evidence collected by police will be admissible in court.
In order to conduct a stop and search of a vehicle, police offers must first establish probable cause. Probable cause can be something like erratic driving, suspicious activity or a car that fits the description of a car involved in a crime. If probable cause is established, the officer can stop the car and investigate.
If a law enforcement officer believes that there is a reasonable suspicion concerning a certain vehicle, that officer may stop the vehicle. This is called an investigative stop. During this search, if the officer has a reasonable belief that contraband or criminal activity is present inside the car, he or she may detain the occupants and conduct a search.
Some people may not know about another type of search. This is called a plain view search, and it has different requirements.