Auto Theft Laws in Ohio

Ohio law criminalizes car theft and joyriding (using another person’s vehicle without permission). For more general information on motor vehicle theft, see Grand Theft Auto.

Theft Under Ohio Law

Ohio has a general theft statute that applies to thefts of all sorts of property, including motor vehicles. (For more information on other thefts, see Ohio Petty Theft and Other Theft Laws.) In Ohio, a person commits the crime of theft by taking or exerting control over the property of another with the intent to deprive the owner of the property either:

  • without the owner’s consent
  • outside the scope of the owner’s consent (such as a mechanic who keeps a customer’s car after the customer has paid for the repair)
  • by fraud or deception, or
  • by threats or intimidation.

(Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2913.02.) For example, a person who forces entry into someone else’s car and drives away without the owner’s permission has committed car theft, as has a man who convinces a person to let him use the person’s car due to an emergency, and drives away when in fact there is no emergency. Usually, the prosecutor can prove that the defendant intended to deprive the owner of the vehicle by relying on the circumstances of the crime, without showing exactly what the defendant was thinking.


Carjacking – taking a vehicle from the owner or driver by force or violence – can be prosecuted under Ohio’s robbery law. The difference between carjacking and other auto thefts is that in a carjacking, the defendant takes the car from a person using violence or threats of violence. A defendant who uses some other kind of threat to steal a car – such as a threat to damage property – could be prosecuted under Ohio’s theft statute.


In Ohio, it is also a crime, called unauthorized use or joyriding, to use or operate a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner or driver. Joyriding is punished more severely if the defendant takes the car out of the state, keeps the car for more than 48 hours, or if the victim is an elderly or disabled person and the crime causes the victim to suffer some financial loss. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2913.03.) Unlike the thief, the joyrider does not intend to keep the vehicle from the owner indefinitely. Ohio’s unauthorized use law would apply to a child who, without permission, takes her sister’s car for a ride to a friend’s home and back. For more information, see What is the Difference Between Joyriding and Stealing a Car?

Failing to Return a Rental Car

Unlike some states, Ohio does not have a specific law that criminalizes failing to return a rental car. Doing so could, however, be prosecuted under Ohio’s theft law.


One common defense asserted in theft and joyriding cases is that the defendant had (or believed he or she had) the owner’s permission or consent to use the vehicle. Even when a person occasionally has permission to use a vehicle, the issue is whether the person had permission on the instance in question. In theft cases, a defendant could also claim that he or she did not intend to deprive the owner of the vehicle, in which case the crime would be joyriding, not motor vehicle theft.


Theft of a motor vehicle is a felony of the fourth degree, punishable by six to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. If a person fails to return a rental car, the court can also order the defendant to pay restitution (repayment) to the car’s owner either for any damages sustained to the car or for any financial losses, such as loss of revenue, suffered due to the theft. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2913.02.)

Joyriding is a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, unless the defendant leaves the state or keeps the car for more than 48 hours, in which case the offense is a felony of the fifth degree, punishable by six to 12 months in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. If the victim is an elderly person or disabled adult and the crime results in a financial loss for the victim, then the crime may be punishable by as much as eight years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. For more information on sentencing, see Ohio Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences and Ohio Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

A conviction for any crime, including joyriding, carjacking, or auto theft, can result in serious penalties, such as time in jail or prison, a fine, and a lasting criminal record. If you are charged with a crime, you should always talk to a local criminal defense attorney before making any statements to police. An experienced Ohio criminal defense attorney can tell you what to expect in court and how to protect your rights and obtain the best possible outcome in your case.

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