Auto Theft Laws in North Carolina

Motor vehicle theft is a significant crime in North Carolina. In addition to motor vehicle theft, other crimes can apply when someone uses, damages, or misappropriates a vehicle.

Motor Vehicle Theft in North Carolina

North Carolina does not have a law that punishes auto theft as a distinct crime. Instead, motor vehicle thefts in the state are prosecuted under North Carolina's general crime of larceny (theft).

Someone who takes another's motor vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of it commits the crime of larceny. Larceny also applies when a person receives or possesses a stolen car. (North Carolina General Statutes section 14-72)

Larceny of a Motor Vehicle Part

The crime of larceny of a motor vehicle part occurs when a person steals a car part or piece that is valued at $1,000 or more. For the purposes of this law, the total cost of the part includes the replacement cost of the part plus any labor costs involved in having it re-attached or installed.

Larceny of a motor vehicle part is a Class I felony offense. (North Carolina General Statutes section 14-72.8)

Other Car Related Crimes

In addition to motor vehicle theft, North Carolina law punishes other car-related crimes.

  • Carjacking. Carjacking occurs when someone takes a car by force or threat of force. North Carolina does not have a specific carjacking statute, and carjacking offenses are prosecuted as robberies.
  • Joyriding. People commit the crime of joyriding when they take another's vehicle without permission but without the intent to permanently deprive the owner of its use or possession. Joyriding, known as unauthorized use of a motor-propelled conveyance, is a Class 1 misdemeanor offense in North Carolina. (North Carolina General Statutes section 14-72.2)
  • Keeping a rental car. Keeping a rental car beyond the agreed upon time period can constitute a criminal offense as well, though North Carolina does not have a specific rental car theft law. Such cases would likely be charged as a joyriding, larceny, or a related offense.

Legal Defenses

The availability of any legal defense will depend upon the circumstances of each case. However, there are some defenses that are more commonly used in motor vehicle theft charges.

  • Consent. People who have, or believe they have, permission from the motor vehicle's owner to use it do not commit the crime of larceny when they take a car. When this defense is raised, often the issue is whether a defendant who had consent on one or more prior occasions could reasonably consider that consent to be continuing, covering the incident in question.
  • Mistake of fact. A person who borrows or uses a stolen vehicle without knowing it is stolen does not commit larceny of a motor vehicle.
  • Permanent deprivation. Motor vehicle larceny requires the intent to permanently deprive a vehicle's owner of its use or possession. Someone who has no such intent commits joyriding, but not larceny.


The crime of motor vehicle theft is either a felony or misdemeanor offense, depending on the circumstances. For example, if you steal a car worth less than $1,000 the crime is a Class 1 misdemeanor, while theft of a vehicle worth more than $1,000 is a Class H felony.

A conviction for larceny can result in incarceration, probation, fines, and other penalties. For more information about felony and misdemeanor crimes and penalties, read North Carolina Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences, and North Carolina Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.

Legal Advice

Whenever you're facing a criminal charge, investigation, or merely have a question about criminal law, you need to talk to a lawyer in your area. Experienced criminal defense lawyers in your area are the only people who can give you advice about your situation. The potential punishments involved, and the availability of various legal defenses will all differ depending on your individual circumstances. You should always consult a lawyer before you make any decision about your motor vehicle theft case.

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