#15 Surveillance Vehicles and Things to Consider

This blog covers my thoughts on surveillance vehicles.  A surveillance vehicle can sometimes make or break your case.  I hope you enjoy the post.  My next blog will cover some brief highlights in February on some small but meaningful accomplishments.


When I started in the industry fraud industry almost a decade ago I drove a 1998 silver Honda Civic.  The car was simply perfect when it came to blending into a neighborhood. Everyone had a Honda Civic in the early 2000’s.    I had the back three windows tinted (back window and two rear passenger windows).  I didn’t tint the front driver side or passenger side windows for fear of receiving a ticket.  California police officers at the time didn’t mess around when it came to window tint.  I don’t know how hard they are cracking down on it now but back then it was bad.  The vehicle worked very well for me and blend in nicely wherever I worked.


6 things to consider when purchasing a vehicle for surveillance

1.)    Is the vehicle comfortable for you?

If there is anything I have needed over the years it is a comfortable vehicle.  I can’t stress enough how important it has been for me to be comfortable over the years. This is important now more than ever, especially when the trend in the insurance fraud industry is to work more hours for less money.

TIP: Don’t purchase a vehicle on the comfort factor alone.  I have known many investigators that have chosen a huge tacky standout vehicle for comfort rather than a vehicle that was ideal for surveillance.

2.)    What color is the vehicle?

Obviously no flashy colors on your vehicle when conducting surveillance.  Landscape colors (brown, tan, green) blend nicely when on the freeway or when stationary.  The color isn’t going to make you great at surveillance, but every little advantage you can have is worth it.  In my experience, silver is a good color to consider for a vehicle as well.

TIP: Remove all stickers and license plate frames from the vehicle.  Repair any identifiable marks on the vehicle (dents, paint smudges).  The idea is to have nothing that some can focus on to identify your vehicle from another vehicle.

3.)    What vehicle size is appropriate?

I currently use a mid-size SUV for surveillance.  This vehicle blends in wherever I go and it is easy to maneuver.  I enjoy using the mid-size SUV because I am able to see over smaller vehicles.  When I used a Honda Civic I had a hard time seeing over and around vehicles when following someone.  Because of this I found myself losing more people during moving automobile surveillance then I wanted to admit.

If you go with a vehicle that is too large (in most cases), you are likely to stand out much more.  Another thing to consider is that the larger the vehicle is, the more difficult it will be to park or maneuver during the course of a surveillance.

4.)    How much tint do I need on my windows for surveillance?

I worked for almost 5 years using limo tint in the back three windows of my Honda Civic.  At the time I thought it was a great set up until I switched to my SUV and had all my windows (except the front) tinted with limo tint (5%).  I prefer limo tint on all my windows because it provides more flexibility for me to remain in the front seat of my vehicle while conducting surveillance.  

Having only the back three windows tinted comes in handy because it enables your vehicle to look less suspicious in a neighborhood, however it typically forces me to remain in the back of the vehicle which can be inconvenient at times..

Technically you don’t need any tint on your windows to conduct surveillance.  There are two quick ways to black out your windows without spending too much money on tint.

  1. Buy tape and thin foam padding from a fabric store.  Cut the then foam to the size of your window and tape it.
  2. Buying black construction paper is another quick way to black out your windows.  Again just cut it out and tape it.

TIP: It can be tough for some investigators to drive without seeing out the back windows.  I usually use this trick on rental vehicles when working out of state.  

5.)    Gas Mileage

Now more than ever gas mileage is becoming a concern for private investigators around the country.  Ideally we would like to just pass those costs onto the customer.  Consider how many investigation companies are going to beat you on price by not passing those costs to the client.  Consider an economical vehicle when possible.

6.)    New or Used

Both new and used vehicles have their benefits.  Which vehicle will be right for you?  

NEW VEHICLES FOR SURVEILLANCE. A new vehicle is great to have for surveillance for many reasons. Having a new vehicle gives you peace of mind that nothing mechanically is going to happen to the vehicle in the near future, the body and paint of the vehicle will be in excellent condition and it might even get better gas mileage then your previous vehicle.  A downside of a new vehicle is the car payment.  Additionally after only a few months surveillance the vehicle is depreciated quite a bit due to the miles you place on the vehicle in such a short amount of time.

USED VEHICLES FOR SURVEILLANCE- If I had to guess, I believe most investigators are driving around with used vehicles.  Used vehicles in most cases are paid off quickly when purchased which gives the owner some peace of mind knowing there isn’t a car payment.  Downsides of course are potential problems with the vehicle that are unexpected.  Used cars have more of a chance of having paint smudges or small dents on the body that are identifiable.  Also avoid purchasing a vehicle that resembles a police cruiser.

If you decide on a used vehicle make sure to check consumer reports on the vehicle.  Checking reviews on vehicles in new condition can give you some ideas as what is expected in the future with an older used vehicle.

A website that may interest you is CARFAX Lemon Check .  A VIN number is required to conduct the search on the vehicle.

Consumer Reports has a article on how to spot a lemon which can be located at Consumer Reports.  The article covers quite a bit of information on purchasing a used vehicle and what to look for.

TINTING TIP:  A reference I found for tinting laws in each state was at TintCenter.com.

Thank you for reading and I hope some of these topics and experiences help when picking out your next surveillance vehicle.  I know that in some areas specific types of vehicle will be mandatory for weather, road,“fitting in” conditions.  I know from personal experience that trucks help you fit in nicely in parts of Texas and Wyoming.  In Alaska any vehicle will do but you will want a 4 wheel drive in the winter.  All I want during surveillance is to be forgettable and so should you.  Good luck out there and be safe.

Don’t forget to read Surveillance Vehicles. The good, bad and the Ugly


  1. Good article! Found your site through PI Newswire.

    I’m currently a PI in Florida, and one great thing that recently happened, the state changed the tint laws concerning PIs. We are now exempt from the tint laws!

    It’s definitely a huge plus. I still get occasionally hassled about it, but having 5% all around, is a big help. Your vehicle can sometimes stand out more down here, if it’s not tinted!

    Here’s the link to the FL statue if anybody wants to check it. It’s in section 3 near the bottom.


    • Glad you liked the article. Great news for private investigators in Florida. And your right, sometimes your vehicle can stand out more because of your tint. Thanks for sharing the link and letting me know that you found the article through the PI Newswire.

  2. I need advice. I just graduated from a private investigator course going apply for license this month. My car I have is a red car with 114,000 miles year 2006 in good condition. I only make 1500 a month doing security and most of money go to rent and other living expenses. I’m paying 200 a month on credit card bills and can’t afford to paint my car right away. Should I trade my car for a car of equal value or should I look for private investigator company that will supply me with a company vehicle? Are companies like advantage surveillance common since they supply the company vehicle. Or should I go into another feild and save for paint job and just keep my license current by doing continuing education every two years? I live in state of Louisiana.

  3. Hello i am trying to track down my first car can you help me with this

  4. Not that I am a PI but I would say one important tip since just had this experience use a car for that area. driving a sporty nice car in the middle of the ghetto with nothing but old dying cars a few times ur bound to get notice. That’s how I noticed my follower (s) other 3 cars, by that one nice sporty looking car that had no business in this county.