DennisBeaverAugust 9, 2014   •  By Dennis Beaver

When you rent a car, it’s reasonable to ask for a non-smoking vehicle, and that’s exactly what Lemoore readers, Ted Knecht and his wife told the staff at the Enterprise car rental office in Hanford. They needed a rental as their own car was going in the shop for repairs.

Despite being assured of receiving a “car that had not been smoked in,” the couple would face far more than the odor of cigarette smoke. After driving away from the Enterprise office, they would soon be living a real nightmare, at risk of being arrested for possession of drugs found in the rental vehicle.

Their story is a good lesson for all of us, precautions to take when we either rent or buy a used car through an auction, lien sale, from a private party, or from a used car lot. Ted’s email set out a scary chain of events:

“During the rental inspection, my wife specifically asked if the vehicle had been smoked in and the manager said that it had not. I followed her to the repair shop, and she smelled what seemed to be smoke. We found ashes throughout the vehicle, called Enterprise, spoke with the manager who still denied that the car had been smoked in.

“At this point, the manager said that he did not want to go ‘back and forth,’ to return the car for an exchange. After hanging up, we then discovered what seemed like marijuana in the passenger door handle. We contacted the Hanford Police Department, and an officer confirmed our fears.

“Next, we again spoke with Enterprise and received an apology plus an offer of a free rental, which we declined. We had to cancel our service appointment,” Ted wrote.

Of course the real issue is just how much harm could this incident have caused Ted and his wife? It was potentially very serious, as he explained:

“I am a career, active duty member of the U.S. Navy. Had we not discovered the marijuana and driven the rental car home to Naval Air Station Lemoore and been charged with possession of this illegal substance, it could have ruined or even ended my career, as the Navy has a zero tolerance drug policy.

“These oversights and incompetence could have cost me everything, and who would believe that it was not our marijuana? This is probably a good story idea for your column,” Ted concluded.

We agree and spoke with Captain Parker Sever and Officer Frank Martinez of the Hanford Police Department who gave these recommendations:

“Anyone who rents or buys a car should thoroughly search it when taking possession. If you find what appears to be drugs of any kind, call your local law enforcement agency immediately to have them check it out and take possession of the substance,” Sever maintains.

“The absolute worst thing you could do would be to toss it in your pocket or purse, then get pulled over and try to tell law enforcement that you were getting ready to call. The crime is possession, and by doing that, you reveal having knowingly completed the crime. We hear all the time the same old song, It wasn’t mine! I didn’t know it was there!” observes Martinez, who adds:

“Law enforcement knows that people who transport drugs frequently rent vehicles. Sometimes that cargo remains well-hidden, occasionally discovered after a car is sold,” he notes.

“So, if you have doubts about a rental car, a vehicle you have purchased or are considering buying, then take it to local law enforcement and ask that they have one of their drug detecting K-9’s inspect the vehicle, Martinez suggests, and lists these indicators which are red flags:

  • Strange odors, or a feeling when driving the car that something is just not right.
  • Does it rattle more than would be usual? Does it sound or feel that things are loose?
  • Does it seem not well put together? Is the car’s suspension just not right?
  • Are the seats loose?
  • Do seams in the car not match? Does the dashboard not fit like it should?

“If so,” notes Sever, “These are signs that this vehicle has been taken apart. For what reason, you will not know, but you need to be concerned.

“Finally, when you go to local law enforcement, tell them, ‘I do not want to get in trouble, but just have this funny feeling. Would you please have a K-9 inspect the vehicle?”

And we add these observations:

There is a risk with cars purchased in lien sales, from auctions, and individuals, not only if the vehicle is safe to drive, but where has it been?

What has it been used for?

And, hats off to Avionics Technician Ted Knecht.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.