Strange Things: When Uncovering Questionable Items in Cars Leads to More Questions

by Alana Quartuccio

It’s an automotive repairer’s job to uncover problems with vehicles and to put them back into working order or pre-accident condition. But what happens when a repairer uncovers something else along the way? Things they didn’t expect to find or something that could put themself – or their business – in harm’s way, such as weapons or drugs? 

According to AASP-MN Executive Director Linden Wicklund, who frequently visits member shops, it’s quite a common occurrence. 

“The question is: do you have to say something…or can you turn a blind eye?” queries Wicklund, who has heard multiple accounts of shops discovering weapons or even drugs in vehicles that come into their shops. “I love going into member shops to get the true picture of the challenges and perks of running a shop. One of the frequent remarks is ‘you wouldn’t believe what we find in people’s cars.’ Our members include both mechanical and collision shops in major metro areas and in small towns. Some members are fixing bullet holes on stolen and recovered vehicles, and others are repairing pickup trucks for those who hunt deer. So, there are guns that might have been stolen and ordinary hunting guns that people keep locked in their trunks instead of in their homes. The loyalty of customers increases the likelihood that they are comfortable with a shop, forgetting they just dropped off a gun with the car. How does a repairer know necessarily if that weapon has been used in crime, and with that, concerns come along that if you don’t say something, are you doing something fundamentally wrong?” 

Shops need to understand that they may face consequences if weapons or other items found in cars are not properly dealt with.

“If you find a gun in a car, guns are largely legal, so there may be less of a risk in reaching out to whoever brought in the car; that’s more a business practice decision of whether you want to get the police involved,” suggests Sam Richie of Fryberger, Buchanan, Smith & Frederick. “In Minnesota, the regulations of what you’d run up to with a gun is only if it were loaded and if you were transporting it, so as long as a shop employee isn’t taking the car off premises, they really aren’t running into issues of moving a loaded gun. It comes down to common sense and having some business practice in place as to when you may need to reach out to the customer or authorities.” 

Wicklund shared insight based on conversations with law enforcement, legal counsel and the Alliance’s business insurance provider as to what shops should take into consideration or keep in mind, which includes if there are clear policies in the shop regarding employee expectations and understanding of job risks. 

“Standard shop insurance should cover customer cars when at the shop but likely won’t cover the contents of the car,” she explained. “Does the shop have a clear customer facing statement about not being liable for missing property? A gun walking away wouldn’t likely be covered by insurance, so turning a blind eye presents lots of risks.” 

Another consequence can be in regard to one’s responsibility to society. “What if someone forgot they had a gun in their car, and then you see on the evening news that a little kid found it and the worst happened? There might not be liability, but living with the knowledge that you could have prevented a tragedy is horrible.” 

Wicklund has heard from numerous shops who have reported finding drugs in vehicles, fentanyl being among the most common discoveries. 

“When it comes to drugs, that’s a different type of contraband, so you may want to skip the client and go directly to the authorities in that scenario,” adds Richie. 

“Over the last two to two-and-a-half years, we have been going to, on average, about eight to 10 shops a week testing cars for drugs or biohazard issues at shops,” reports Nate Berg, president and founder of Scene Clean, a specialized crime and trauma decontamination company which works with automotive shops throughout Minnesota. According to Berg, the amount of work they do with shops in relation to drug findings has increased since the pandemic, which is believed to be due to the spike in stolen cars and the increased crime rate. 

Coming in contact with blood is another factor Berg’s team deals with, although he’s found that more shops are “becoming aware of this before exposing their employees to it. 

“If the staff isn’t trained in OSHA guidelines for blood pathogens, they are breaking the law by exposing their employees, so they will need to train or call in someone to come in and handle it properly.“

Berg says in most cases when his business is called in, they are dealing with what is known as “stolen recovery,” in which case it has already been reported. 

“In the case of some of the bigger shops we work with, it’s in their policy to automatically call us if they get a stolen recovery, before they let any of their employees enter it. My advice to the smaller shops that may get a stolen recovery, is to have it tested first before allowing employees to touch it.

“For a time, every single car was coming back positive for either meth or fentanyl, or both,” adds Berg about the severity of the situation. “Now, it’s probably more of a 50/50 mix where it’s coming back positive with drug residue and without. “

Weapons, drugs and blood are all things one can easily see upon inspecting a vehicle, but what about things in cars that aren’t exactly visible, such as the personal information stored in a vehicle’s computer system by way of the car owner’s smartphone? 

Telematics has opened up a new door to what manufacturers have access to. Wicklund pointed to a recent New York Post article ( where Nissan admitted that they can collect information about drivers’ sex lives. 

“Shops need to understand what their insurance policy covers, which is often just the car, not the contents,” suggests Wicklund. “They also need to know how to protect themselves from risk and empower employees with clear education around these topics. And – perhaps more importantly – they need to have policies in writing for customers to sign off on.”

She admits she was shocked to find that only two shops at a recent member meeting said they had a privacy policy for customers to sign. Ideally, shops may want to consider developing a privacy policy.

“As we move forward, there will be more and more information becoming available due to vehicles retaining personal information, so it is smart to think this through now, as it is going to become even more of an issue going forward,” states Richie.

AASP-MN News plans to continue to take a closer look at issues involving things found in cars. If you have dealt with this issue or something similar and want to share with our readers, email

Want more? Check out the October 2023 issue of AASP-MN News!