Types of Auto Theft in North Carolina

By Joel Hancock

Unfortunately, the theft of motor vehicles in North Carolina is not uncommon. It’s important to understand that there are different types of theft as well as other crimes that may apply when an individual uses, damages, or misappropriates an auto vehicle. 

North Carolina varies from some other states in that it does not have a specific motor vehicle theft law. These auto theft crimes are prosecuted under North Carolina’s crime of larceny, or theft. When a person takes another’s motor vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of it or when someone receives or possesses a stolen car, this is considered to be the crime of larceny. 

When someone steals a part or piece of a vehicle that is valued at $1,000 or more, this is considered to be the crime of larceny of a motor vehicle part. This value includes not only the part itself but the cost of labor to have it reinstalled or reattached to the vehicle. Larceny of a motor vehicle part is a Class I felony.

Additional Car-Related Offenses

Aside from motor vehicle theft, North Carolina recognizes and punishes other car-related offenses. 


Carjacking is when someone takes a car by force or threat of force. While North Carolina does not have a specific carjacking statute, it treats such offenses under the crime of robbery.


Joyriding occurs when someone takes another’s vehicle without their permission but also does not intend to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle. In other words, they don’t have permission to borrow it, but they didn’t intend on keeping it. Joyriding is classified as an unauthorized use of a motor-propelled conveyance and is a Class 1 misdemeanor offense.

Keeping a Rental Car

It can be a criminal offense to maintain possession of a rental car after the time period agreed upon has expired. Again, while there is no specific law for this in North Carolina, the state will often charge this as larceny or joyriding. 

Legal Defenses to Auto Theft

While there are a variety of legal defenses to auto theft, here are some of the most common:


One defense to auto theft is consent. The individual accused may have had permission or believe that they have permission from the owner of the vehicle to use it. When this is the case, the individual is not guilty of larceny. Generally, when an individual raises this defense it’s because they had permission on one or more previous occasions and believed that it would be reasonable for that consent to continue. 

Mistake of Fact

Another defense is mistake of fact. This occurs when someone uses or borrows a stolen vehicle but is unaware that it was stolen. This individual cannot be found guilty of larceny of a motor vehicle. 

Permanent Deprivation

In order to commit larceny of a motor vehicle, the individual in question must intend to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle of its use or possession. However, this individual may still be guilty of joyriding. 


Motor vehicle theft can be considered a misdemeanor or a felony depending upon the facts and circumstances of each case. If someone is convicted of larceny, they may face jail or prison, probation, fines, and/or more. 

The Attorneys at Hancock Law Firm, PLLC Help Those in North Carolina Who Have Been Charged with Auto Theft

If you or a loved one has been charged with auto theft or a related crime, it’s imperative that you contact a North Carolina criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. You may have a legal defense. 

At Hancock Law Firm, PLLC, we fully understand what is at stake and will do everything that we can to help you fight your charges and obtain the best possible outcome for you. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!

About the Author
Joel Hancock is a native of Carteret County, NC. He devotes 100% of his practice to defending those accused of traffic infractions, DWI, misdemeanors, and felonies in Carteret County, NC.