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Failing to return a rented car can lead to criminal charges

On Behalf of | Aug 21, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Car rental services can be incredibly useful for anyone who needs a temporary vehicle. Whether you’re out of town but didn’t bring a vehicle of your own or your automobile is still in the shop for repairs, a rented car can help you get around quickly and for less than the full price of a new car.

When you rent a car, you enter into an agreement with a car rental agency to return the vehicle after a specified amount of time. But what happens if you’re unable to give back the vehicle in time?

Under Indiana law, you’re committing a theft crime if you fail to return a rental car. What are the specifics of this law and what kind of penalties do you face on conviction?

State law on rental car theft

According to the law, a person who rents a motor vehicle but fails to return the car to the rental agency’s specified location within a set time frame can be charged with criminal conversion.

The law specifies that state officials can charge you if you fail to return the rented car within 30 days of the specified time or within three days after the rental agency sends you a written demand for the vehicle.

If you’re convicted of criminal conversion of a rented car, you face the penalties of a Level 6 felony. You will have to serve a prison sentence between six months up to two and a half years and pay a maximum fine of $10,000.

Reasons for late car rental returns

Even if you’re not actually stealing a rented car, there could be several reasons why you could fail to bring it back to an agency in time. They include:

  • Forgetting that your rental has a deadline
  • Last-minute extensions to vacation or business trip plans
  • Mechanical issues with the vehicle
  • Traffic delays

But even if these unfortunate circumstances cause a delay, the law will not distinguish between being unable to return the rented car on time and a theft attempt.

As useful as car rental services are, there are strict laws for borrowing a vehicle. Remember always to return a rented automobile on time. And if you face charges of criminal conversion, consider legal counsel if you’re going to make a case.