The Law, Defences and Penalties for Stealing a Motor Vehicle or Vessel in NSW

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Steal car

Police in the United States are blaming a TikTok trend for a sharp spike in car thefts across the nation this year.

Videos posted on the social media platform by the “Kia Boys” depict young men breaking into Kia and Hyundai vehicles in as little as a minute and taking the cars for joyrides, often at high speeds, as well as copycat videos of offenders filming themselves committing violent crimes such as armed robberies after stealing the cars.

The TikTokers boast of how easy it is to break into 2010 to 2021 model Kia and Hyundai vehicles, showing their audience exactly what is needed and how it is done, and dozens of videos remain published on both TikTok and YouTube of thieves stealing the cars and engaging in crimes thereafter; conduct which has become known as “the Kia challenge”.

Dramatic spike in motor vehicle thefts

Some jurisdictions in the United States saw as much as a 800% increase in thefts of Kia and Hyundai cars following the posting of the videos early this year, as well as spikes in associated crimes.

Class action

Victims of the conduct have recently launched class action lawsuits against the car manufacturers on the basis that their failure to install safeguards against theft amounts to negligence.

Since that time, both have assured the public that none of their cars manufactured in 2022 or in the future will be susceptible to the issue.

What about Australia?

The method used by the TikTokers is only effective is only effective in vehicles that are not equipped with an engine immobilizer.

The Australian Design Rules 82/00 have required all new cars to have such devices installed since 2001, so it is unlikely the method will work on new cars on the Australian market since that time.

The offence of stealing a motor vehicle or vessel in New South Wales 

Stealing a motor vehicle or vessel is an offence under section 154F of the Crimes Act 1900 which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison

To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  1. You took a motor vehicle,
  2. You were not legally authorised to take that vehicle,
  3. You knew you were not legally authorised to take the vehicle, and
  4. You intended to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle.

What is a motor vehicle?

A ‘motor vehicle’ is defined as:

  1. A vehicle built to be propelled by a motor that forms part of it,
  2. Any part of such a vehicle that contains an identification number, or
  3. A motor that is capable of forming part of a vehicle.

What is a vessel?

A ‘vessel’ is defined as, “a water craft of any description used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water”.


An unsuccessful attempt to steal the motor vehicle or vessel is sufficient for the purpose of establishing the offence.

What penalties are actually imposed for the offence?

According to the Judicial Commission of New South Wales, the actual penalties handed-down by the courts for those who plead guilty to or are found guilty of stealing a motor vehicle or vessel are as follows:

Penalty type Percentage of people receiving the penalty
Prison 50%
Community Correction Order 27.42%
Intensive Correction Order 16.67%
Fine only 2.69%
Conditional Release Order (with conviction) 2.15%
Section 10A (conviction with no further penalty) 2.15%
Section 10(1)(a) (dismissal of charge without conviction) 2.15%

Defences to the charge

In the event you are able to raise evidence of a legal defence to the charge, the onus then shifts to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defence does not apply to the circumstances of your case.

If the prosecution is unable to do so, you are entitled to an ‘acquittal’; in other words, a verdict of not guilty. This is the case even if the prosecution is able to prove all of the above-listed ‘elements’ (ingredients) of the offence.

Legal defences to the charge of stealing a motor vehicle or vessel include self-defence, duress, necessity and having a claim of right over the property.

Self-defence is where you believed your actions were necessary to defend yourself or another person, or to prevent the unlawful deprivation of your liberty or that of another person, or to protect your property from being taken, destroyed, damaged or interfered with, or to prevent criminal trespass to your land, or remove a person criminally trespassing, and your conduct was a reasonable response to the circumstances as you perceived them at the time.

Duress is where your conduct arose due to an imminent threat made to you or someone close to you, in circumstances where the threat was continuing and serious enough to justify your actions.

Necessity is where you engaged in your actions to avoid serious, irreversible consequences to you or someone you were bound to protect, you honestly and reasonably believed you or the other person were immediate danger and your actions were a reasonable and proportionate response to the danger.

And claim is right is where you took or attempted to take the motor vehicle or vessel because you genuinely believed you were legally entitled to it.

Going to court over allegations of stealing a motor vehicle or vessel?

If you have been accused of stealing a motor vehicle or vessel, it is important to secure the services of specialist criminal lawyers who are experienced in dealing with such cases and have a proven track record of having charges withdrawn or thrown out of court, or downgraded to far less-serious charges such as goods in custody reasonably suspected of being stolen, receiving or taking conveyance without consent with a view to achieving the most lenient outcome where the prosecution evidence is very strong and you wish to plead guilty.

The team at Sydney Criminal Lawyers has decades of experience defending and winning these types of cases, and we offer a free first appointment during which you can obtain legal advice about how the law applies in your case including whether the prosecution may be able to satisfy the elements of the offence, any legal defences that may be available to you and the best way forward, and will fight to achieve the best possible outcome if you choose to have us on your side.

So call us anytime on (02) 9261 8881 and let us take care of the legal side of things, so you can get on with your life.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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