Penal Code § 487, Grand Theft Auto ('GTA'), is the 1) unauthorized taking of another's car, 2) with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the car. It may be by force, trick or false pretenses. Sometimes, the suspect takes the car to a 'chop shop' to have the car disassembled for money, or the suspect intentionally fails to return a rental car.
It can be filed as a misdemeanor or as a felony, depending upon the circumstances, the value of the car, and the defendant's prior criminal record. Most commonly, it is filed as a felony in violation of PC § 487(d)(1). It also filed as a violation of VC § 10851, unlawful taking of a vehicle (including Joyriding).
Regardless of whether the car is valued at $500 or $50,000, the theft of a car is always filed as grand theft auto. In other words, there is no such thing as 'petty theft auto,' even if the value of the car is below $950, the statutory limit between grand theft and petty theft for most other items.
One convicted of misdemeanor grand theft auto faces a maximum one year sentence in county jail. If the client is convicted of felony grand theft auto, he or she faces a minimum of sixteen months and a maximum of three years in state prison.
Grand theft auto often is charged in conjunction with other crimes. These can be Carjacking (Penal Code § 215), Burglary (Penal Code § 459) and Robbery (Penal Code § 211), so understanding the defenses to these similar, yet distinguishable crimes, can be important towards reaching a plea bargain that the client can accept.
Vehicle Tampering (Vehicle Code § 10852) is also closely related; '[n]o person shall either individually or in association with one or more persons, willfully injure or tamper with any vehicle or the contents thereof or break or remove any part of a vehicle without the consent of the owner.'