Hidden Loads on the Roads: Tips on Concealment Spots

By Calibre Press  |   Sep 28, 2020

Drug runners are a creative bunch and when it comes to hiding a haul, their “talents” can be tough to beat…unless you’re educated, alert and curious. In a nearly 400-page report titled, Commonly Encountered Concealment Methods in Land Vehicles, the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) shared some common—and some not so common—concealment areas in a variety of vehicles. Although released some years ago, the information and advice shared in the report is still extremely relevant and timely.

Here’s a sample of some of the clues to contraband hauling the report suggests you watch for during traffic patrol:

Mismatched screws and unjustified wiring

A state trooper noticed silver non-factory screws next to flat back factory-installed screws in the right rear arm rest of a Chevy Celebrity he stopped. He also noticed wires running from the front passenger area to the right rear passenger door even though the car wasn’t equipped with power windows or locks. Upon further investigation, the trooper found 1.5 kilos of heroin stashed in a false compartment built into the right rear passenger door held closed by an electrically controlled locking mechanism.

Unusually clean gas tanks or scratches, oil or gas marks on the tank

Gas tanks are a favorite spot to try and hide contraband. In one case, State Police seized 183 lbs. of marijuana hidden in three metal containers submerged in the tank of a Chevy Silverado after a trooper took a look at the underside and noticed the gas tank was considerably cleaner than the rest of the undercarriage. He also noticed that the tank and the metal straps that fastened it to the underside had fresh scratches on them.

In another instance, a Highway Patrol officer looked under a Nissan pickup that had been stopped and noticed fresh oil on the gas tank even though the rest of the undercarriage was dry. This observation led to the discovery of 9 lbs. of meth hidden in PVC tubes wired to the inside of the gas tank. [Warning: Sealed PVC pipes are under pressure. When an officer drove a drill into one of the meth-filled PVC pipes, chemicals sprayed out hitting him in the eyes and mouth. Be sure to wear proper protective gear when handling sealed PVC piping.]

Fresh sealant around windshields

Narc task force agents grabbed almost 5 lbs. of cocaine hidden in the natural void found between the firewall and front dashboard of many vehicles after a K9 alerted to a Mercury Marquis and fresh sealant was found on the windshield. The contraband could only be accessed by removing the windshield.

Mismatching carpet in the trunk

After a K9 alerted on the trunk of a Pontiac Firebird, an officer noticed mismatched carpeting inside. When it was removed, a hidden compartment filled with 22 lbs. of cocaine was revealed.

U-shaped metal clothes hangers

State Police seized 22 lbs. of cocaine hidden in the rear interior side panels of a Chevy Lumina after an officer spotted a U-shaped metal coat hanger in the glove compartment. Two screws were positioned on the right side of the compartment and two on the left. When the ends of the hanger were simultaneously pressed against the screws on the right, the right rear passenger side panel popped open allowing access to a contraband compartment and when the ends were pressed to the left screws, the left rear panel popped open.

Magnets

Highway Patrol officers seized more than 4 lbs. of meth after a traffic stop led to the discovery of a hidden compartment found behind the rear seat of a Nissan Sentra. The compartment was opened after a magnet found in the ashtray was passed over a metal strip found below the clothes hanger hook over the driver’s side rear passenger window.

After a magnet was found in a Mercedes 300, State Police found a .38 revolver, a 12-gauge sawed off shotgun and a 9mm semiautomatic pistol with a silencer along with ammunition hidden in a magnetically controlled compartment between the rear seat and the trunk.

Air bag covers that are out of alignment

After noticing that the air bag cover on the passenger side of a Dodge Intrepid  wasn’t flush with the dashboard as it should be, DEA agents in San Francisco discovered that the air bag had been removed, leaving a void that, although empty in this case, they predicted could hold more than 60 lbs. of cocaine. The air bag container cover was held shut by an electronic lock that could only be released by putting the car in reverse and pushing a switch under the driver’s seat.

Inconsistently attached windshield wipers

20 lbs. of cocaine was discovered in the natural void found between the firewall and dashboard just below the windshield of a Mazda hatchback. The discovery came after a State Trooper noticed that one of the windshield wiper arms was secured differently than the other. The wiper was attached to the wiper motor through a piece of metal cowling that covered the void. When the cowling was removed, the cocaine was revealed.

Silicone or other auto body sealant covering the inside of the wheel wells

Highway Patrol officers seized almost 20 lbs. of marijuana after a drug K9 alerted to a Ford Taurus and an alert officer noticed silicone behind the fender flashing of both front tires. Further investigation revealed that a piece of PVC pipe had been inserted into a hole found in both wheel wells and run along the rocker panel on both sides of the car. The pipes ran the entire length of the running boards, from the front wheel wells to the rear doors. Marijuana packs, which were strung together for easy removal, were inserted into the pipes, which were capped, and the holes in the wheel wells were closed using silicone.

A larger than normal car battery

After a K9 alerted to the front left bumper area of a Volkswagen Golf, a Highway Patrol officer noticed that the battery operating the car was larger than normal. He also noticed that the connector cables were loose and easy to disengage. When the suspicious but fully functional battery was removed, it felt heavier than a normal car battery. The body of the battery was pried open with a screwdriver and $24,000 in cash was discovered.

Floorboards that are higher than normal

142 grams of heroin and $15,500 in cash were discovered after a Highway Patrol officer noticed that the driver’s side floorboard of a Toyota Corolla he had stopped was almost up to the accelerator and brake pedal and that the passenger side floorboard was almost flush with the bottom of the front dash. Officers found a false floor had been installed that created a void between the factory floor. The seats, which tilted back when an electric locking device was activated, were mounted over the access ports in the floor.

Drug odors coming from air released from tires

When a deputy released a small amount of air from one of the tires of a large John Deere farm tractor being hauled on a flatbed pulled by a pick truck, he smelled marijuana. When the tires were removed, bails of pot were found stashed inside. Total haul: More than 500 lbs. of pot.

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