Joyriding is taking a car without intending to keep it. In contrast, a person who steals a car (grand theft auto) does not intend to return it to the owner. Usually, auto theft is a more serious crime than joyriding.
Two teens sneak into a garage late at night. They push the vehicle – a beautiful sports car belonging to one of their parents – out of the garage and down the driveway without turning it on. Once away from the house, they start the engine, hop in, and drive away into the night. Hilarious antics ensue.
Merely riding in a stolen car, without more, cannot result in a criminal conviction. However, a person who rides in a stolen car knowing that the car has been stolen (or under circumstances where the passenger should have known that the car was stolen) could be convicted of a crime, as can any person
California has two different statutes that criminalize auto theft. The biggest difference is whether the defendant intends to take the car temporarily or permanently. Each crime may be punished as a misdemeanor or a felony.