What if You're Caught Driving a Stolen Car Without a License?

So you want to take a joy ride in someone else’s car? What could be more illegal than that? Doing it without a license of course! If you’re concerned about driving a stolen car without a license, you have every right to be.

You can read about countless stories on the web like the 12-year old boy did in Washington D.C. back in 2015. He’s just one of many situations that has played out over and over throughout the country since then.

Looking at his situation, and that of others, it’s obvious what’s going to happen to you if you drive a stolen car without a license – you run a high risk of being arrested.

There are endless ways you could get caught driving a stolen car OR driving without a license, so let’s break it down and talk about what could happen when your luck runs out.

Stolen Car Charges: Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle vs. Grand Theft Auto

While the laws might vary from state to state, what’s happening in Texas is a pretty good guideline. If you get pulled over driving a stolen car there, whether you have a license or not, you are looking at some sort of felony charge.

If you’re pulled over while driving a stolen vehicle, you could receive one of two charges:

  • When charging someone with Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle, the prosecution doesn’t need to go through the trouble of proving that you actually stole a vehicle. All they have to do is determine that you used it without permission of the owner and you pay the price.

  • A Grand Theft Auto charge requires the state to prove that you stole the motor vehicle or that you helped someone else steal it.

So – what’s the penalty for both of these?

Well, in Texas, Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle is a state felony that comes with a maximum punishment of two years in prison.

On the other hand, Grand Theft Auto is a third-degree felony depending on the value of the car. This carries a sentence of up to ten years in prison. Sometimes the prosecution will even push for a GTA charge over the UUMV if you are driving a higher-priced vehicle.

Penalties for Driving Without a License

Let’s be logical for a minute. If you are caught with a stolen car, the last thing the cops are worried about is whether you have a license or not. In fact, in many cases, those charges don’t even seem to come into play.

With that said, it’s not impossible to get charged for that because driving without a license is illegal in all 50 states. Charges vary based on whether you’ve been caught before:

  • First offense: In most states, the first offense results in more than just a simple traffic ticket. Instead, you are looking at a misdemeanor which has larger penalties.

  • Subsequent offenses: If you get caught a second time, you might face a felony depending on what state you live in.

Fines and suspensions. Fines range from $50 to $2,500 based on your state. You’ll also face suspension of your license and up to a year in jail for the first offense. As a second offense, you might be forced to go without a license for up to two years and serve up to another five years of time in jail.

Besides that, your permanent record is going to indicate both the theft charge and the misdemeanor driving without a license.

But I never had a driver’s license. The good news is, if you’ve never had a driver’s license the consequences are less severe than if you are driving with a revoked or suspended license instead. It’s still a misdemeanor, so don’t expect to get away with a simple traffic ticket.

it’s clear that driving a stolen car without a license isn’t a smart choice to make. Your joy ride in a stolen car could land you in the slammer.

What if You Accidentally Bought a Stolen Vehicle?

If you are wondering what to do if you find out the car you just bought is stolen, we’ve answered this in detail already, but I’ll give you a quick review.

First of all, if you’re ever pulled over you are going to get arrested. The police aren’t going to attempt to sort out the situation on the spot. When the cops ran your license plate, all they know is that you are driving a stolen vehicle.

Even if you didn’t know about it, the reality is that it’s stolen. You will have the chance to argue your case at your preliminary hearing. You will have to prove that you bought the car by accident and had no idea it was stolen.

Of course, if you were driving without a license as well, you are also going to have to convince the judge that there was a good reason for that – and there are very few of those.

By that time, the police will have possession of your vehicle. They will recover it and return it to the rightful owner, if possible.

To summarize what happens if you’re caught driving a stolen car without knowing it:

  • If you get pulled over, you will be arrested, no questions asked

  • You won’t get your money back

  • You won’t be able to make an insurance claim on the car since you didn’t technically own it

Want your money back? Everything you spent on that car is now gone. You could attempt to sue the seller to get back your money. The problem is, the seller isn’t often easy to find after selling a stolen vehicle.

Protecting Yourself from Buying a Stolen Car

There are some ways you can protect yourself from purchasing a stolen car in the first place. First, inspect the vehicle or take it to a trusted mechanic. You want to make sure that the VIN matches in every location on the car and on the title as well.

If it is unreadable on the dash or door, this is a warning sign that something might not be right.

Then, you should run the VIN through the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s database. This service is completely free and helps protect you from buying a stolen car.

Of course, we also recommend running a title check as well. The database above only tells you if the car has been reported stolen, but you’ll still need to worry about title liens and scams. Further protect yourself from fraud by running this cheap and simple test.

Bottom Line

If there’s one thing you should learn from this article, it’s that you don’t want to drive a stolen car with or without a license. Your few minutes of pleasure could land you in prison for years and it’s simply not worth it.

If you don’t have a license, take an Uber instead. It’s much more comfortable than prison and you can arrive in style.


Title Gods specializes in recovering lost car titles and solving all kinds of title-related issues. We are not attorneys. This article is not legal advice.

Cover Image Source