Car Vandalism 101: Common Crimes & Penalties

Breaking car windows are a common cause of car vandalism

You may perceive car vandalism as a small problem, not really a crime, with low costs to fix. But it’s actually much more serious. Every year millions of dollars are paid in insurance claims related to car vandalism. There can be serious consequences for this type of crime, which we’ll cover in this article.

What is Car Vandalism?

Car vandalism refers to when someone defaces or destroys another person’s car without their permission. Types of car vandalism could include slashing tires, keying the car, smashing windows, or even egging the vehicle. Vandalism, under state laws, is a crime. Other legal terms that may be used are criminal damage, malicious damage, or malicious trespass.

For the police to arrest someone for the criminal charge of car vandalism charges, they need to have enough information for an arrest. There are different parts, or elements, to car vandalism. First is physical damage, that might be permanent but also might not be serious enough to destroy property. The second element for something to qualify as car vandalism is that it’s owned by someone else. It wouldn’t qualify as vandalism if you destroy your own car, for example. And the third element of car vandalism is that it must be intentional. If you accidentally damage someone’s car, you’ll likely be liable to pay for it, but it won’t be vandalism.

Cars are often vandalized at night when witnesses aren’t present. Most times you won’t know who did it, what time it occurred or the reason why. If your car is vandalized you’ll need to file a police report, and submit a copy of the complaint to your insurance company.

However, if you know who vandalized your car, you can press charges. Whether it’s characterized as a misdemeanor or felony depends on how much damage was done to the vehicle. The guilty person could be enforced to pay fines, damages or sent to prison or all three.

Most Common Types of Car Vandalism

There are different types of car vandalism. Here are the most common:

  • Spray painting someone’s car with the purpose of defacing:  The most common tool used is a can of spray paint for a quick and easy way to vandalize. In this type of destruction, the vandal quite often wants to send a direct message. Many messages of this type are either racist, sexist or something else derogatory. To be repaired, the car owner will either have to have the entire car repainted, or replace panels.
  • “Egging” someone’s car: When an egg is thrown on a vehicle and not removed quickly, the repaint job can be expensive. The eggshell scratch the clear coat on the car. The scratches could be superficial, or they can be deep enough to penetrate to the base coat of paint on the car. The yolk of an egg is acidic and can damage or stain the base coat because it will eat through the clear top coat. Removing the eggs as soon as possible is essential because once the eggs dry, they are difficult to remove.
  • Keying someone’s car: Keying someone’s car is the most common type of car vandalism. It can be done quickly at any time and anywhere, and no one will even notice when it’s being done. Massive damage can be done just by running a key along the side of a car. Small scratches can be buffed out but if the scratches are deeper and require repair at an auto body shop.
  • Breaking car windows: Breaking car windows are a common cause of car vandalism. Side mirrors and headlights are sometimes included as well. Windows are easy to shatter and access can be gained to the vehicle through a broken window. Any valuables that are left in the car will be potentially stolen.
  • Slashing car tires: Not only does having your tires slashed cost money, but it also prohibits your ability to drive anywhere. Tires with big gashes become flat and are useless to drive on. Vandalism can occur quickly by someone just walking by with a knife. One quick stab at the tires and they’re ruined. Since this type of damage can’t be fixed, the tires will need to be replaced with new ones. Depending on what kind of vehicle it is, the cost of a set of tires can run from $400 to $800 for cars and more for trucks and SUV’s.

Penalties for Vandalism

If the person or persons who vandalized your car are caught, there are different penalties. Most states will categorize damage that is less than $500 as a misdemeanor. A felony will be applied to any damage that is $500 or more. The amount can differ from state to state which some states saying that $250 is a misdemeanor. However, in other states, any car vandalism is a felony. Also, every state has its own penalties that cover vandalism. Below are the most common punishments for vandalism:

  • Jail: For vandalism, a jail sentence can range anywhere from a couple of days to several years in prison. This depends on the amount of damage done. Also, if the person has a previous criminal record, there could be an increase in penalties.
  • Fines: Each state has its own penalties for vandalism and can range from several hundred dollars to $25,000 or more if the offense is serious. The fines are paid directly to the court and not to the property owner.
  • Restitution: This refers to the money that’s paid to the owner of the property that has been damaged. It’s what is paid on top of the fine that’s paid to the court. Usually, the amount is enough so the owner can have their vehicle either repaired or if needed, replaced.
  • Community service: As part of the punishment for the vandals, they may be ordered to perform community service. The person has to serve a number of hours in a volunteer organization or other recognized community service as a condition of their probation. If they fair to perform community, the jail sentence and original fines will be reinforced.
  • Probation: The vandal can also be sentenced to probation in addition to or in place of a jail sentence. If any rules or conditions are violated within the probation, then the person can end up severing the original jail sentence instead.

Summary: Car Vandalism Charges

Vandalizing a car can be a serious offense, and the offender can end up in jail, on probation with hefty fines. This is a serious crime and should be treated as such. If your car is vandalized, it needs to be reported to the police and the insurance company immediately. 

If you know who vandalized your car and in need of a lawyer to pursue charges, you can find a local lawyer on