The Supreme Court gave government agents broader authority Tuesday to search and even dismantle cars' gas tanks in their battle against smuggling at the nation's borders.

Several times a day people are caught at the California-Mexico border with drugs in their gas tanks, justices said. And at least several times a month, people are found in the tanks.

The court was unanimous in giving border officers permission to randomly search gas tanks, despite the absence of specific indication that a particular car is suspect. People crossing the border have less expectation of privacy than elsewhere, and searching the inner reaches of a car is not the same thing as a strip search or other intrusive search of the driver, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the court.

He said officers may disassemble the tanks, then put them back together if nothing is found.