Carjacking and Auto Theft: Understanding the Difference


Something that often confuses people is the difference between carjacking and auto theft. While they might seem the same, the two have significant differences. They involve someone taking your beloved vehicle, but the two crimes are different.

What Is Carjacking?

Carjackings are the ones that often make headlines. They occur when a person forcefully takes a vehicle directly from its driver or occupants through intimidation, threats, or violence. Imagine someone approaching your car at a red light with a gun and using physical force to remove you from the driver’s seat. That’s a carjacking.

The goal can vary, from robbing people of their belongings to using the vehicle to commit other crimes. This difference is important because carjacking is more than just taking someone’s property. It is also about threatening or hurting the people who have the car.

What Are the elements of carjacking?

Force is involved: Carjackings are forceful. Criminals might use weapons, physical violence, or the fear of harm to get the driver to give up their vehicle.

Victim is there: A defining characteristic of carjacking is that the victim is present during the crime. This places the occupants and the carjacker in a high-stress situation, often ending in violence.

Immediate Threat: Carjackings directly threaten a person’s safety, making it a dangerous and traumatic experience.

Legal Consequences: Criminals face harsher penalties for carjacking because of the violence.

What Is Auto Theft?

On the other hand, auto theft often occurs without the owner’s knowledge. Auto theft is the unlawful act of taking a vehicle with the intent to deprive the owner of its use permanently. Unlike carjacking, auto theft doesn’t involve a face-to-face confrontation with the victim.

What Are the Elements of Auto Theft?

No Victim Presence: The critical distinction in auto theft is that the owner or driver is typically absent when the crime occurs. The theft usually takes place when the vehicle is unattended.

Property Crime: Auto theft is property theft, and it focuses on the vehicle rather than the people involved. It may be traumatic, but the law doesn’t consider it as severe.

Legal Consequences: it carries lighter legal penalties than carjacking because there is no violence.

Auto theft can happen in many ways, including taking the car when it is left running at the gas pump or parked. Even if you didn’t leave the keys in it, a criminal can back up with a wrecker and drive off. Recently, people in Chicago have had their vehicles taken by tow truck drivers who showed up at auto accidents.

The major difference between carjacking and auto theft is the level of threat involved. Criminals forcefully take the vehicle in carjacking, making it a violent crime. At the same time, the driver or occupants are present, involving threats or physical force. Auto theft, however, doesn’t include violence, typically focusing on the theft of the vehicle itself.

Many people get confused and do not realize when they read news reports of carjacking that the difference between carjacking and auto theft is in the circumstances of the theft and the criminal’s intentions. Keep this in mind when you look at the statistics for carjackings because if you went inside the gas station and someone drove off with it, that was probably listed as auto theft, not a carjacking.

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Brian Armstrong Journalist
Brian Armstrong grew up in a small farm town in rural Indiana and learned to shoot before he learned to drive. His career began in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where he worked as a firefighter and a medic before moving to Chicago. Throughout the years, he has owned multiple businesses, from construction to technology. He is back to his emergency services roots -teaching emergency first aid and firearms courses, along with writing for numerous publications. He believes the best way to learn "HOW" to do something is first to answer "WHY" you do something. He is your average guy with views like yours. Now, he's sharing the knowledge he's gained from teaching, learning from others, and researching topics you don't have time to explore. His feeling about staying safe is "The best way to win a fight is not to get into a fight!" He is always looking for new ideas. If you have a topic, current news you would like covered, or a publication looking for content, please reach out and let him know. You can follow him @LetsTalkDGU and #LetsTalkDGU


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