Vaults and Safes in Camper


I would like to put in a couple of Safes/lockboxes in my Camper.

Can anyone discuss the legality of storing things in a safe? I think I read somewhere that once the vehicle is registered as an RV that it's technically a home and a warrant is required to search the cabin. If that's true then there would need to be additional warrants to search the locked containers.

Does having locked containers raise enough suspicion that they are more trouble then they are worth?
Some states have passed laws against hidden compartments. Mainly because of people hauling drugs in hidden compartments. I think you should be ok with a safe for storage of personal items. Especially if you are securing for when you are not present.


In the USA a warrant is required to search your car (or you) unless they have reasonable suspicions (Don't remember the technical term). So police in the USA cannot search your vehicle. Also you don't have to answer any of their questions - Other than license and registration. BTW Who would admit to having a safe on a public forum? I think most camper manufacturers have hiding places built in.

Recommended books for Overlanding

Probably cause is the phrase you are looking for. Good example you get stop for a defective light and when you roll the window down he says he smells marijuana. He will then ask if he can search. If you say no then he calls for a Drug K9 dog, He will then take the dog around the outside of your vehicle. The dog can and will crawl all over your vehicle. It does not matter that he leaves claw marks on your paint from climbing. The officer will then tell you that the dog HIT on the smell of drugs. A HIT can be a simple signal from the dog sitting at detection. Claims have been made of false positives or officer provoked HITs. If he claims the dog hit on the smell then he can legally search your vehicle. Even if he has to take it apart. You should see what they do at Border crossings to vehicles.

Most of the time when they ask you questions they are know the answer.


It sounds like vaults and safes are a common feature in overland vehicles. I would like to remain on the right side of the law if possible but I still need a mechanism to secure my valuables from unscrupulous agents. Clearly locking things up protects from casual theft and it sounds like it's the best plan.

I browsed the law about hidden containers in vehicles. The spirit of the law is to avoid containers that are designed to avoid detection. Like entering a code on the radio causes the dash to open with a large cavity. I believe a legitimate safe is not considered to be a hidden container. I'll do more reading and share any legal jargon I can find.

I do realize this is a public forum so I don't expect anyone to detail where or what about their vehicles but I don't mind sharing ideas I have about what "could be" in my vehicle.

I see a need for at least 3 locked containers.

1. small for cash and passports and jewelery
2. larger for laptops and legal documents
3. tamper proof for hard drive storage of security systems

I intend on building a secure data vault to put video footage in. The hopes are any attempt to break into my vehicle will be recorded and I can retrieve this if I get my vehicle back. Also I intend on doing regular backup of the data off the vehicle and when possible streaming the footage to online storage. OWL cam is a good example of such technology. I intend on building my own from open source software and other cameras.

Ideally the other vaults would have cameras in them and feed footage back to the data vault. That way if anyone opens the cash box you have footage of who it was.

4. Key lockbox
keep at least two sets of spare keys for the vehicle and it's lock boxes. Ideally this box would unlock with software so you don't need keys on hand to get it open.


Expedition Leader
There are two issues here:

-- A container that will keep someone who knows it is there from getting to the contents, and,
-- A safe place to stash money/documents/Hi-Val items so that thieves don't find them. (And yes, the latter could be locked, as well.)

Most overlanders who have suffered a theft have suffered from a snatch and grab, in one case, as short as the time one is in a supermarket. In this case, non-obvious (if not hidden) spaces are a good idea, as long as you remember to put stuff there. Many vehicles have voids - under the laundry, near the inverter/heater/batteries/water tanks - which can be used to hide things. Use Zip Loc bags or similar to protect against dirt and water.

As to dealing with customs or police, I remember the time a Peruvian officer ask me to show him where stuff was hidden. He had a lit oxyacetylene in his hand to make sure that I realized that he was serious!


How many hidden storage containers would the Peruvian officers expect? How many unique places do I need to hide spare cash to not get all of it stollen at once?


kodiak guy
beware internet legal advice

that said..... locking glove boxes, locking trunk, lockboxes, gunsafes, etc ... in of themselves are legal. Same as the vehicle itself, if you're using it (vehicle, compartment in the vehicle, doesn't matter) for nefarious reasons then you may have a problem. when crossing international borders the laws are different - country to country and even here in the U.S. what goes for the border is not the same as away from the border within the U.S. If you're on the 'up and up' no real reason to worry


When dealing with regular officers (not boarder crossing) is there any legal protection for locked areas of the vehicle?


Ok next big step in safe/vault design. How strong?

Would putting a safe that is hard to cut with abrasive cut off wheels be worth it? I know most gun safes are easy to cut into and provide only minimal protection.

How about using a fire safe? Would it survive an auto/RV fire?


kodiak guy

rather than building an impenetrable vault .... buy a basic one, put a brick or a book etc in it ... and sorta hide it in plain sight. make it relatively easy to grab and depart with....

don't put anything you care about in it - that goes someplace else. most thieves are opportunistic - give them an easy score and bid them adieu

Recommended books for Overlanding


Kapitis Indagatoris
beware internet legal advice
It always makes me smile when internet K9 experts imply that Narcotics K9 Officers conduct "false positives" in furtherance of some nefarious goal.......with close to 800,000 LEOs and 75,000 K9's in the US that's some conspiracy. Curious if these experts have ever gone through the K9 handler selection process (including S/TS clearance for federal work), handled a K9, conducted a search, trained, certified and documented the use of a K9 (FYI...too many "False Positives" sets the K9 up to be de-certified, lose credibility in the eyes of the LEA, LEO's, Prosecutor, Defense and Judge) in state and federal court, been crossed in court by "experts" and ultimately prevailed in court or their knowledge base comes from a different perspective

In reality, your question has everything to do with the Supreme Court position on the 4th amendment and each states interpretation and application of the current SCOTUS case law. Here's the basic rules regarding motor vehicle search and seizure.

- Search Warrant Exceptions:
- Motor vehicle exception
- Plain view exception
- Extenuating circumstances exception
- Consent (verbal or written)
- Probable Cause based on K9 hit (state by state)

- Search warrant requirement based on totality of circumstances and/or jurisdiction/policy or law.
- The states intrepation of your vehicle as a RV (private residence) or motor vehicle thereby requiring a search warrant or not.

Generally speaking, not legally speaking, a RV may fall into the area requiring a Search Warrant prior to an Officer conducting a search. This includes a positive K9 hit. The Search must either be granted verbally, in writing or by a Warrant issued by a Court. Most states recognize an RV as having a higher level of privacy (similiar to your home) then a car and generally lean towards requiring a Search Warrant versus the the Motor Vehicle exception. Again, this is State by State based on current law or policy.

As for a safe/lockbox, most traffic LEOs aren't worried about a safe in the family RV providing it's not a dashboard drop safe that a weapon could quickly deploy from (again, dependent on current ccw law) If your traveling along the "drug courier" routes and come across drug interdiction units (specially trained LEO's and K9s) and they have traffic PC to stop you, while they maybe a little more interested in your safe since theirtheir training and experience may lead them to believe it may hold contraband. Again, even with reasonable articulable suspicion, trafficstop PC, legal stop, your behavior, drug trafficking route, K9 hit, again depending on jurisdictions interpretation, they may still require consent, written consent or a SW.

I wouldn't worry about it unless crossing borders and then declare it! Common sense will prevail. Good luck.
Last edited: