A Comprehensive Guide to Texas Auto Theft

Auto theft in Texas can result in serious consequences, including substantial fines and required imprisonment. Regrettably, individuals might face accusations of motor vehicle theft even if they borrowed a car without knowing it was stolen. Some may be charged even if they only meant to use the vehicle briefly.

In Texas, it’s against the law to take stuff that isn’t yours without permission, especially if you mean to keep it from the owner. If you take something without planning to give it back, it’s considered theft. So, if a person steals a car to escape a crime and later leaves it, they could be charged with auto theft. Even knowingly accepting stolen property can get you in trouble and lead to a theft conviction.

This article covers rules, penalties, self-protection tips, and stresses the need for an excellent defense attorney for car theft cases in Texas.

Texas Auto Theft Statute

Stealing a vehicle is considered part of the overall theft law in Texas. According to Section 31.03 of the Texas Penal Code, theft crimes mean taking someone’s stuff without permission, intending to keep it from the owner. When it comes to vehicles, here’s how it works:

  • Grabbing the car without permission from the owner;
  • Taking the car, fully aware it’s stolen;
  • A person supposedly took a car from law enforcement, knowing it was stolen.

Types of Auto Theft


Stealing a car when someone is inside is a bigger deal than regular theft. Carjacking is a kind of robbery where the thief intentionally hurts or threatens the driver to steal the car. Forceful taking doesn’t mean the driver has to be seriously hurt. Additionally, even minor injuries such as cuts or scrapes resulting from pulling the driver out can be considered bodily harm, potentially leading to robbery charges.


If you drive a car without asking the owner’s consent, it’s called joyriding in Texas. It’s not as serious as grand theft auto because the person intends to give the car back. So, if you take a car depriving the owner’s permission, you could be charged with joyriding.

Failure to Return a Rental Vehicle

Not giving back or keeping a rental car after the rental period without the owner’s permission is seen as “theft of service” in Texas. Returning a rental car late and neglecting to settle the charges within 10 days is also deemed theft of service.

Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) Tampering

Cars have VIN numbers, easy to find on the front. Thieves might swap VINs to mask stolen cars or use salvaged vehicle VINs for cover, pulling off tricks with fake plates and registrations.

Car Theft on the Fly

Opportunistic theft is a sneaky kind of car stealing. It happens when someone takes an unattended car left with keys visible or easy to get. Though it’s common, it’s also preventable.

Penalties for Auto Theft in Texas

We classify the penalties for stealing based on the worth and type of the pilfered goods. The higher the value of the property, the harsher the penalties get. Prosecutors consider either the fair market value or the cost of replacing the stolen property. In Texas, auto theft penalties vary depending on how it’s categorized, stretching from a class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony.

Taking a car valued under $2,500 is a misdemeanor, but anything more is a felony. Stealing a car worth $2,500 to $30,000 is a state jail felony, with a fine up to $10,000 and 180 days to two years in jail. If the car’s value is $30,000 to $150,000, it’s a third-degree felony, carrying a two to ten-year prison term and a fine up to $10,000.

For more details on theft penalties, check out our article about Levels of Theft in Texas.

Factors that could make charges more serious include:

  • The person accused was a public servant or government contractor when they stole the car that was under their job-related control.
  • The property owner was an elderly adult or a nonprofit entity.
  • The person triggered a fire alarm or disabled it during the theft.
  • They have a previous criminal record.
  • They had a weapon.
  • They caused property damage.
  • They harmed someone or caused a fatality.

Arrested? Don’t Plea, Call Me!

In the vast expanse of Texas, auto theft charges can cast a long shadow. With the right info and a good lawyer, you can handle the law and aim for the best result.

Remember, facing charges doesn’t make you guilty. Everyone deserves a fair chance to present their case. So, if you find yourself in the crosshairs of auto theft accusations, don’t ride solo – consult with a reliable criminal defense attorney and stand up for your rights.