The girl was reunited with her family after the Vauxhall Vectra was discovered three miles away following the terrifying incident in Quarrington Hill, near Durham, at around 7pm on Wednesday.
Durham Police said the family had parked their silver car outside a relative’s house to drop shopping off when a dark Nissan X-Trail pulled up in the street.
The Vauxhall’s engine was still running while a member of the family stood by the car door and others took shopping inside.
A man dressed in a blue hoodie and black joggers jumped out of the Nissan and climbed into the Vauxhall with the two-year-old strapped into a car seat in the rear.
He then took off at speed as the distressed family tried to stop him, the force said.
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The Vectra was discovered about three miles away around Sherburn Beck, near Ludworth, and the girl was unharmed, although the family’s cat, which was in the vehicle, has not been found.
Detective Inspector Malcolm Bell said: “This has been an extremely distressing incident for the family, who were terrified for the welfare of their child.”
Anyone with any information, dashcam or CCTV footage is asked to call 101.