Auto theft or vehicle theft in California can lead to two different offenses, which are:

  • Grand Theft Auto (GTA) regulated by Penal Code 487 PC, and
  • Joyriding previewed by the Vehicle Code 10851 VC.


The main difference between Grand Theft Auto and Joyriding is in the term of keeping the vehicle. If the offender has an intention to keep the vehicle permanently for a substantial period of time, it is charged with Grand Theft Auto. If the offender took the car without intending to keep it, this is considered joyriding. Joyride is certainly considered an illegal act. It always ends with the vehicle to be returned to the actual owner unharmed. GTA is a more serious crime than joyriding. GTA is considered grand theft and the punishment is more severe as compared with joyriding.

Legal Definition of California Grand Theft Auto

According to California law (Penal Code 487), elements that constitute California GTA are the following:

  1. The offender took the car not belonging to him;
  2. The offender didn’t have a permission from the owner to take the car;
  3. When the offender took the car he had an intention either to
  • Deprive the owner of the car permanently, or
  • Enjoy the situation taking the car from the owner for a solicit period of time so that the owner would become deprived;

        4. The offender moved the car (this can be a short distance) and kept it for a period of time.  

It should be noted that these are elements to be proven in order for the prosecutor to found the offender guilty.

Legal Definition of California Joyriding

Unlawful taking of a vehicle, regulated by the Vehicle Code 10851 VC, is known “Joyriding”. Crime elements that should be proven in Joyriding are the following:

  1. The offender took or drove someone else’s vehicle without their consent;
  2. The offender took the car with the intention to deprive the owner for any period of time.