Types of Motor Vehicle Theft

Most Common Tactics Criminals Use to Steal Cars

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program defines motor vehicle theft as the theft or attempted theft of a motor vehicle. Incidentally, according to Texas Lt. Tommy Hansen, the chair of the Motor Vehicle Crime Prevention Authority, a motor vehicle theft occurs in Texas every six minutes.

Although the crime sounds simple enough, when you hear someone mention motor vehicle theft, they could be referring to a wide variety of crimes, each of which falls under a different category and warrants a different level of punishment. These are some of the most common types of motor vehicle theft and the categories of crime they fall under:

  • VIN scams

Every motor vehicle comes with a VIN number, or a Vehicle Identification Number. These numbers are not difficult to find – they are printed right on the front of the car. It is what can be done with these numbers that is a bit trickier. For one, a VIN number can be switched to disguise the identity of a stolen vehicle. Typically, a thief would take the VIN number from another similar make and model of car and design fraudulent plates and registrations to use on the stolen car.

Thieves can also find salvaged vehicles, which are vehicles that have essentially been doomed to the junkyard, then steal a functioning car and claim that the VIN number from the salvaged vehicle was the one from the stolen car. If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. A high level of forethought must go into committing this type of crime.

  • Selling stolen car parts

When criminals steal car parts, they often replace worn, damaged, or other defective parts with the stolen parts in order to sell them. There is actually a term for this type of business in the motor vehicle theft world, and it is called a chop shop. This is an illegal garage that buys stolen cars, disassembles them, and either puts parts in other cars or sells the individual parts. Owning, operating, and conducting the business of a "chop shop" is a felony charge, punishable by imprisonment for no less than three years and no more than ten years, by a fine of no more than $100,000, or both.

  • Auto dealer fraud

Auto dealer fraud is a general term that refers to deceptive and unlawful practices by automobile dealers. Vehicle fraud can occur at any stage of the vehicle purchase process, from false advertisements to deceptive negotiations or unethical vehicle pricing and financing terms. It is a major investment to purchase an automobile, and those in the market for a car would do well to look out for these types of scams. Types of auto dealer fraud scams include:

Raising the purchase price above the sticker price

Falsely stating that option additions to the vehicle are required

Undervaluing or underpaying for a trade-in vehicle

Claiming that a warranty offers protection that it does not offer

Falsely representing a used vehicle

Withholding essential information about a new or used vehicle

Failing to disclose past damage from an accident in a used car sale

Misrepresenting a consumer’s credit score or eligibility for financing

Backdating new financing documents to the original purchase date

Letting the consumer drive off the lot with a vehicle believing that a loan application is pending and having them return to sign a more expensive loan

  • Carjacking

Carjacking is a specific type of robbery involving a motor vehicle. Carjacking is considered both a federal and a state crime. In order for a crime to be considered carjacking, it must involve stealing a motor vehicle that was in the possession or presence of another person. The vehicle must have been taken against their will with the intent to deprive them of their rightful possession permanently or temporarily. Another aspect of carjacking is that it involves force, fear, or threat of immediate bodily harm.

  • Opportunistic car theft

Opportunistic theft is a particularly duplicitous type of car theft that involves stealing a parked or running car that has been left unattended, but with the keys visible or accessible. Opportunistic car theft is one of the most common types of car theft, but because of that, it is one of the most preventable. Car owners who want to prevent opportunistic thieves from taking advantage of their parked car should always remove valuables from their vehicle, park safely, remove portable accessories and other visible pieces of technology, and update their car with an alarm system.

What Is the Charge for Stealing a Car?

In Texas, theft of a vehicle can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the worth of the car. If the vehicle or vehicle parts in question were worth less than $2500, it would constitute a misdemeanor charge. If the vehicle was worth more than that amount, the crime constitutes a state jail felony, punishable by up to $10,000 and between 180 days to two years in jail. If the vehicle in question is worth between $30,000 and $150,000, the person being charged faces a third-degree felony charge, punishable by two to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Prosecutors usually charge auto theft under Penal Code Section 31.07, Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle.

When it comes to criminal defense for auto theft charges, the prosecutor has to prove each aspect of the case beyond a reasonable doubt. In cases of motor vehicle theft, consent and intent are important and necessary elements. For example, if you were facing a theft or joyriding charge, a criminal defense lawyer could argue they thought they had the owner’s permission or consent to use the vehicle. This can include implied consent, which is often the most arguable case. Intent is another aspect of the crime that can be brought into question. If you were being charged with theft, a criminal defense lawyer could argue that you did not intend to deprive the owner of their possession permanently, which would constitute a charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle instead of theft. Motor vehicle theft is a serious charge, and you will want knowledgeable and skillful criminal defense attorneys on your side if you find yourself in this situation.

To learn about how our experienced criminal defense attorneys can provide legal support for those who are facing theft-related charges, call The Clark Law Firm at (817) 435-4970 or contact us online.


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