I'd vote for Mr Smooth's reply as the answer for this one. But here's a corollary tactic you can use if the driver suddenly figures out you're there.
Sometimes a driver will jump out of the vehicle and try to attack you directly. This can happen if they see you running up with a kit that carries C4 or anti-tank mines, or if they hear the repair tool and see their vehicle's health going down.
I saw this behavior numerous times in Bad Company 2, where I was constantly C4ing tanks. I also saw it when I played engineer, which was less frequent. I haven't unlocked C4 yet in BF3 but I'm pretty confident we'll see the same behavior in BF3.
Depending on the situation, it's not totally stupid to jump out and confront your saboteur directly. For example, if you see the C4 coming too late you might have as little as 1-2 seconds before the attacker clears the blast radius and detonates. You can only stop that by eliminating the attacker.
When you hear the engine stop it means the driver has jumped out. That's your cue to try jumping in. (You won't always be able to: I need to confirm this, but I believe the engine stops even if a gunner is still in the vehicle.) Once you're in, start driving immediately. At worst you get away with the tank, and by driving immediately you sometimes get lucky and roll over the former driver.
So keep your options open. Disabling a heavy vehicle with a sneak attack is fun, but stealing the vehicle and pancaking its former driver is way, way more fun.