Auto Theft Laws in New York

Motor vehicle theft is a serious crime in the state of New York. In addition to theft, New York penalizes several other behaviors involving motor vehicles.

Motor Vehicle Theft

When someone in the state of New York takes a motor vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive an owner of its use or possession, and the vehicle taken is worth more than $100, that person commits the crime of grand larceny in the 4th degree. The crime of grand larceny in the 4th degree is a Class E felony offense. (New York Penal Law section 155.30.)

Other Car Related Crimes

Apart from stealing a motor vehicle, there are several other vehicle-related crimes in New York.

  • Joyriding. Joyriding is taking or using a vehicle without the intent to permanently deprive the owner it. Anyone who takes, controls, operates, or otherwise uses a vehicle without the owner’s permission commits the crime of unauthorized use of a vehicle. Unauthorized use of a vehicle is either a Class E or D felony, or a Class A misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances. (New York Penal Law sections 165.06, 165.07, and 165.08.)
  • Carjacking. Carjacking occurs when a person, through use of force, threat of force, or display of a weapon, takes a vehicle from someone. Carjacking in New York is punished as a robbery in the second degree, and is a Class C felony offense. (New York Penal Law section 160.10.)
  • Failure to return a rental vehicle. New York does not have a specific law that addresses misappropriation of, or failure to return, a rental car law. Someone who takes or keeps a rental car outside of the terms of a rental agreement could face joyriding or motor vehicle theft charges, depending on the circumstances.


One or more legal defenses could be available to someone faced with a motor vehicle-related charge, though the particular defenses available will differ significantly from case to case. The following defenses are sometimes used in motor vehicle theft cases.

  • Consent. If you have an owner’s consent to take a vehicle, you do not commit auto theft. This defense sometimes arises because the person taking the vehicle might have misunderstood the terms of permission the owner granted. For example, if your friend agrees to let you borrow his car on Thursday but you mistakenly believed it was Tuesday, you do not commit motor vehicle theft if you take the car on Tuesday.
  • Mistake of fact. Mistakenly taking a car you believed was yours, or one you mistakenly believed you had permission to take, is not motor vehicle theft. For example, if you drive a car off a car dealer lot believing it was the car you purchased, you have not committed a motor vehicle theft if it turns out that the vehicle is an identical make and model of the car you bought, but not your car.
  • Permanent deprivation. You have to have the intent to permanently deprive an owner of a vehicle’s use or possession to be convicted of motor vehicle theft. Intending to use the car and later return it, though without the owner’s consent, is joyriding, not theft.


Someone in New York convicted of motor vehicle theft or other vehicle-related crimes can face a range of potential penalties that include fines, probation, and incarceration. The specific penalty a court imposes will differ depending on the particular crime committed and the circumstances under which it occurred.

For example, someone convicted of motor vehicle theft commits a Class E felony, and faces up to four years in prison. On the other hand, someone who commits a carjacking, a Class C felony, faces up to 15 years in prison

For more information about New York’s criminal sentencing laws, read New York Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentence, and New York Felony Crimes by Class and Sentence.

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Motor vehicle theft and related crimes are serious offenses. Any time you face a criminal charge, are approached by investigators, or need legal advice, you should talk to a local criminal defense lawyer. Only local attorneys who have experience representing clients in local courts can give you advice about your case.

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