Motor vehicle theft is a crime of theft. This is generally understood to refer to the stealing of automobiles, buses, motorcycles, snowmobiles, trucks, and the like; but not to aircraft, boats, bulldozers, and spacecraft.
In almost all jurisdictions, theft of a motor vehicle is punishable as a felony due to the extreme emotional and economic distress it causes to the victim and to society.
Colloquially, stealing a motor vehicle while it is occupied by its owner or authorized user is known as carjacking, and is in many legal systems treated as a form of robbery. Stealing a motor vehicle to ride and then abandon it is known as joyriding.
In order to prevent motor vehicle theft, most jurisdictions require that the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN in North America) of motor vehicles be registered with a vehicle licensing authority, making it difficult to resell a stolen vehicle. Most motor vehicle theft involves dismantling the vehicle and selling its parts which are not registered and for which there is a large market, or by moving the vehicle to another country, such as Mexico, that does not have access to the same database, or by sea to the former Soviet Union or some other place that has weak customs controls.
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