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How to perform a vehicle security search

Updated March 17, 2017

Many of the world's security checkpoints are set up not only for foot traffic, but for car traffic as well. In this situation, a soldier stationed at such a checkpoint must know how to search a car for explosives or weapons. In such a case, the soldier is usually following an approved procedure for searching each car that attempts to cross through the checkpoint.

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  1. Stand to the side of the lane in a visible place so that the driver can see you. Use hand signals to stop the car.

  2. Introduce yourself to the driver. Ask the driver to turn off the car and explain that you need to search the car in order to pass it through the checkpoint.

  3. Ask each person in the car for an identification card or passport. Check each ID paper to make sure that it matches its owner.

  4. Request proof of ownership of the car and its insurance from the car's owner. If these papers check out, ask other questions such as "do you own this car?" or "do you always drive this car?" of the owner. Ask if the car contains any material that could be used as a weapon.

  5. Ask the people in the car to step out. Ask the driver to open the car's boot and bonnet, as well as the gas tank, before leaving the car.

  6. Search the interior of the car and then the exterior, including underneath the car. Use a flashlight to search underneath the car and/or inside the car if it is dark outside. Use a mirror if necessary in order to reflect objects in or on the car that may be unclear. When inspecting the car, make sure to look for any type of hidden compartment built into the vehicle as well as parts, such as doors, that are heavier than they ought to be.

  7. Tip

    Security questions such as "where are you going?" or "is this the car you normally drive?" may seem unimportant, but they are used to establish a baseline and to observe the body language of the person answering the question. Israeli agents, in particular, use these methods at security checks. When asking these questions and listening to answers, make sure to make eye contact with the people in the car. Always be polite and respectful, as many will see this search as intrusive.


    There is a lot of talk about racial or ethnic profiling in the context of security checks in the U.S. Be careful not to assume anything about someone simply because of his or her appearance. If any part of the security check yields something specific -- an unclear photo or an unusual mark on the car -- step away from the car and call your supervisor. He or she will know what to do next.

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Things You'll Need

  • Flashlight
  • Reflective vest
  • Mirror

About the Author

Lena Freund

Based in Washington, D.C., Lena Freund began writing professionally in 2007, while living in Tel Aviv. She holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in Middle Eastern studies and Hispanic studies from the College of William & Mary and a Master of Arts in Middle Eastern history from Tel Aviv University. Freund's articles about travel, languages and cultures have been published on various websites.

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