Vehicle and Auto Theft Laws in Arizona

Learn about the penalties for vehicle theft and related crimes, like carjacking and joyriding.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 2/09/2024

The penalties for vehicle theft in Arizona depend on whether the person intends to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle or take it for a joyride. If the defendant took the vehicle by force, it's considered robbery. Stealing parts of a car can also land a person in trouble. Read on to learn how Arizona law punishes vehicle theft and related crimes.

Arizona's Vehicle Theft Crimes

You'll find vehicle theft and related crimes under the following sections of Arizona's criminal code:

  • theft of a vehicle (means of transportation) (§ 13-1814)
  • joyriding (unlawful use of means of transportation) (§ 13-1803), and
  • general theft for stealing an engine or transmission (§ 13-1802).

"Means of transportation" refers to any vehicle that can be used on a highway, waterway, or airway, such as a car, truck, motorcycle, or boat. Stealing a vehicle by force or threat of force—commonly known as carjacking—falls under Arizona's robbery laws. These crimes all carry felony penalties. (More on penalties below.)

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-105, 13-1902 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Stealing a Vehicle in Arizona?

Stealing a car—not intending to return it—carries felony penalties in Arizona. It's theft even if the person doesn't intend to keep the vehicle for themself. Selling it to a chop shop or ditching it miles away deprives the owner of their vehicle, which makes it a theft. It's also theft to obtain or buy a vehicle knowing it's stolen.

A person who steals another's vehicle commits a class 3 felony. The presumptive prison sentence for a first-time felon is 3½ years. The maximum sentence is 25 years.

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-1814 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Theft of a Vehicle Transmission or Engine in Arizona?

Arizona law also carves out felony penalties specific to stealing a vehicle transmission or engine. Under the general theft law, it's a class 4 felony to steal a vehicle engine or transmission, regardless of its value. A class 4 felony in Arizona carries a presumptive sentence of 2½ years for a first felony and a maximum sentence of 15 years.

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-1802 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Carjacking in Arizona?

Arizona doesn't have a law specific to carjacking. This offense falls under the state's robbery laws. A person commits robbery by taking another's property against their will (and in their presence) by use of force or threat of force.

Robbery carries class 4 felony penalties unless the defendant is armed or threatens to use a deadly weapon against the victim. Armed robbery is a class 2 felony. A class 4 felony in Arizona carries a presumptive sentence of 2½ years for a first felony and a maximum sentence of 15 years. Class 2 felonies have a 5-year presumptive sentence for a first felony and a maximum 35-year sentence.

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-1902, 13-1904 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Unlawful Use of a Vehicle (Joyriding) in Arizona?

A person commits the crime of unlawful use of means of transportation (often called joyriding) by taking a vehicle without authorization but not intending to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. Taking a vehicle for a joyride is a felony whether you're the driver or passenger. The driver or person who took control of the vehicle commits a class 5 felony. A passenger who knowingly participates in a joyride can be punished for a class 6 felony.

A person convicted of a class 5 felony faces a presumptive sentence of one and a half years for a first offense and a maximum sentence of 7½ years. A class 6 felony carries a presumptive sentence of one year for a first offense and a maximum sentence of 5 years and 9 months.

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-1803 (2024).)

Talk to a Lawyer

A conviction for any of Arizona's motor vehicle crimes is a felony conviction and becomes part of your permanent criminal record. If you're convicted later of another crime, the court can consider your prior conviction and impose a harsher sentence in the new case. A felony conviction can hurt you when you are looking for a job or applying to rent a house or apartment. A convicted felon also loses the right to vote and carry firearms and can lose certain professional licenses. If you face charges for vehicle theft, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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