Auto Theft Laws in Illinois

Motor vehicle theft and related crimes carry serious penalties and can result in long prison sentences, hefty fines, and restitution payments.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated September 30, 2020

Illinois law prohibits a broad range of conduct relating to motor vehicle theft. In addition to the general theft provisions, Illinois prohibits criminal trespass to vehicles (joyriding), selling or disposing of stolen vehicles, vehicle hijacking (carjacking), vehicle invasion (breaking into a vehicle), and failure to return a rental vehicle.

Motor Vehicle Theft

Motor vehicle theft falls under Illinois' general theft law, which prohibits:

  • knowingly taking or obtaining control over another's property
  • without authorization, or by threat or deception, or knowing it's stolen, and
  • with intent to permanently deprive the owner of their property.

A person commits theft under this section when they steal a vehicle intending not to return it or intending to abandon, conceal, or dispose of it. Deceiving someone into giving up their vehicle also constitutes theft. When the end result is the owner loses the benefit of their property, it's a permanent deprivation and, thus, theft.

Illinois' theft law also applies when a person fails to return a rental vehicle. The law presumes that the renter intended to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle if the renter fails to return the vehicle within 10 days of receiving an owner's written demand.

Examples of Vehicle Theft

A theft occurs when someone (a) takes a vehicle without permission and (b) intends to keep it for their own use, bring it to a chop shop, or abandon it in an old shed so it won't be found. It's also theft to deceive someone into believing their vehicle no longer runs with the intent to take the vehicle for their own use. And even when the initial use was authorized—as in the case of the rental car—failure to return the vehicle constitutes theft.

Penalties for Vehicle Theft

Penalties for vehicle theft depend on the value of the vehicle stolen, as well as the circumstances surrounding the theft. Theft of a vehicle worth less than $500 is a Class A misdemeanor. All other vehicle thefts are felonies with penalties ranging from two to 15 years' incarceration. (Punishment by offense level can be found below.)

It's a Class 3 felony to steal a vehicle valued between $500 and $10,000 and a Class 2 felony for a vehicle valued at $10,000 to $100,000. Enhanced penalties apply when the vehicle is a government vehicle, the victim was 60 or older, or the offender has prior theft-related convictions. Check out our article on Illinois Laws on Misdemeanor and Felony Theft to learn more. (720 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/16-1 (2020).)

Receiving a Stolen Vehicle

A person who knowingly takes possession of a stolen vehicle commits a Class 2 felony. For instance, it's a Class 2 felony for a chop shop to take in a stolen vehicle and strip it for parts or alter the vehicle's identification number. The crime becomes a Class 1 felony when the vehicle is worth $25,000 or more or three or more vehicles are involved. A person who should have known the vehicle was stolen based on the circumstances also commits a crime under this section. (625 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 5/4-103 to 103.3 (2020).)

Criminal Trespass of a Vehicle (Joyriding)

Illinois refers to joyriding as criminal trespass of a vehicle. A person commits criminal trespass—a Class A misdemeanor—by knowingly and without permission entering or operating a vehicle (including aircraft, watercraft, and snowmobiles). Unlike theft, criminal trespass involves a temporary, rather than permanent, taking of a vehicle. And unlike burglary, an offender committing criminal trespass doesn't have the additional intent to commit a theft or other crime. (720 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/21-2 (2020).)

Vehicular Hijacking or Invasion (Carjacking)

Two offenses penalize entry or taking of a vehicle when people are present. Vehicular invasion involves an unauthorized entry into a vehicle with intent to commit a crime, while vehicular hijacking stems from taking a vehicle by force or threat of force. Both carry harsh penalties.

Vehicular Invasion

A person commits vehicular invasion by using force to unlawfully enter or reach into an occupied vehicle with intent to commit a theft or felony. This offense addresses "smash and grab" crimes where the car occupants are present. It also includes crimes where the "use of force" is against a person (rather than the vehicle)—for instance, a defendant who thrusts a knife at a passenger (aggravated battery) through an open car window commits vehicular invasion. Vehicular invasion is a Class 1 felony. (720 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/18-6 (2020).)

Vehicular Hijacking

A person who, by force or threat of force, knowingly takes a vehicle from or in the immediate presence of a person commits vehicular hijacking—a Class 1 felony. If any of the following circumstances were involved during the crime, the person commits aggravated vehicular hijacking and faces Class X felony penalties:

  • the victim has a physical disability or is 60 or older
  • a passenger younger than 16 was in the vehicle
  • the offender was armed with a dangerous weapon or firearm
  • the offender fired the firearm, or
  • the offender fired the firearm and caused great bodily harm, permanent disability or disfigurement, or death.

A class X felony generally carries a prison sentence of six to 30 years. For aggravated vehicular hijacking involving a firearm, Illinois adds 15 to 25 years or life to the underlying sentence. (720 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 5/18-3, 18-4 (2020).)

Punishment for Vehicle Theft and Related Crimes

Illinois law provides the following penalties based on offense level. The sentencing ranges listed show the general penalty range. If the crime involved aggravating factors or the offender has a criminal history, enhanced penalties could apply. For all theft offenses, a judge can order restitution (payments to the victim for losses associated with the crime), in addition to imprisonment and fines.

Class A misdemeanor. The typical penalty for a Class A misdemeanor is up to one year in jail and up to a $2,500 fine for each offense.

Class 4 felony. Punishment for a Class 4 felony is typically a sentence of one to three years' imprisonment and a fine not to exceed $25,000.

Class 3 felony. A Class 3 felony conviction usually results in a sentence of two to five years of imprisonment and a fine not to exceed $25,000.

Class 2 felony. A Class 2 felony conviction generally carries a sentence of imprisonment ranging from three to seven years and a fine of not more than $25,000.

Class 1 felony. A Class 1 felony conviction typically results in four to 15 years' imprisonment and a fine of not more than $25,000.

Class X felony. A Class X felony conviction generally carries a sentence of imprisonment ranging from six to 30 years and a fine of not more than $25,000.

(730 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 5/5-4.5-25 to -55; 5/5-5-6 (2020).)

Consult an Attorney

If you are charged with a motor vehicle theft offense, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney right away. A conviction for vehicle theft may result in a prison sentence and hefty fine. An attorney will evaluate your case and discuss possible defenses. An experienced attorney is your most valuable asset in fighting motor vehicle theft charges.

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