What is a Carjacking?

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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 08 February 2020
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A carjacking is an event in which a car is stolen or hijacked. The term can be used to describe a theft of a car that has been left unattended, but more often refers to a violent crime in which a car is stolen while the owner is inside of it. In many cases, a carjacking is an armed robbery in which the owner or driver of the car is forced to relinquish the vehicle at gunpoint or knifepoint. In some rare cases, a carjacking is coupled with a kidnapping, but the criminal usually forces the driver and any other members of the car to exit the vehicle before driving away. In the United States carjacking is a federal crime.

The event may be premeditated or may be the act of an opportunistic criminal. If the purpose of the carjacking is not to abduct the driver or other people riding in the vehicle, then the main objective is usually to sell the car and its contents on the black market. Cars that are stolen in this method may be taken to a chop shop, which is a place where stolen motor vehicles are disassembled and sold for their parts. Cars that are outfitted with expensive amenities, like high-end stereo systems, are sometimes targeted.


In many cases, the victims of a carjacking are not injured by the criminals who steal their cars although there have been cases in which victims have sustained serious injuries. It is most common for carjackers to threaten bodily harm, but not to act on these threats. The experience is, nonetheless, very unsettling. There are some areas in the United States and abroad where carjacking is prevalent. Depending on the area in which the crimes occur, there may be a certain population that is targeted or a certain class of vehicles that thieves look for.

There are similar crimes in which trucks carrying loads of goods are hijacked by criminals. In these crimes, the vehicles are stolen for their contents, not for their parts. These crimes are not usually referred to as "carjackings" but the criminal act that is involved in these events are quite similar to carjackings. The forcible theft of both cars and trucks has been incorporated into some video games in which the players gain points for certain crimes. These games have received a great deal of criticism.


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