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Curbstoning: How to Protect Yourself

Curbstoning: How to Protect Yourself

Curbstoning is selling a car that doesn’t belong to you, or a private party who buys and sells cars like a dealer, but without a license. This practice is illegal and goes around many of the safeguards that are in place to protect used car buyers.

Many cars are bought from private sellers each year. Only a fraction of these are curbstoners, but the victims of curbstoning often end up making expensive repairs to a vehicle because they were led to believe that it had fewer miles, or major issues were not disclosed or were hidden by cosmetic work.

When you buy a car from a private seller, here are some ways to protect yourself from curbstoners:

  • Ask to see the driver’s license of the seller along with the car’s title and/or registration. If the name on the title doesn’t match the name on the license, don’t buy it.
  • Get a detailed CARFAX Vehicle History Report to identify if the car has any reported salvage history, odometer fraud or flood damage. It can also show recent, frequent or excessive title transfers that may contradict the seller’s story.
  • Take the car to a trusted mechanic. A professional inspection can uncover weld marks, water spots and uneven tire treads – all clues to a potentially unsafe vehicle.
  • Check the phone number. Make sure the same phone number appears in multiple ads, and that you have a way to get back in touch with the car seller, not just a cell phone number. Curbstoners often try to change their locations to avoid being caught.
  • Be skeptical if the price seems too good to be true. If something feels wrong, don’t be afraid to walk away.

Herta Soman learned about curbstoning the hard way when she fell for a curbstoner’s story and wound up paying $15,000 for a ’97 Honda only to find out the warranties were void. The vehicle had been totaled nearly three  years earlier.

“I was angry. I was in shock,” said Soman after discovering through CARFAX that the car she purchased from a private seller had once been salvaged. “I was speechless. I feel like I’m driving a fraud.”

Sadly, Soman is not alone. Law enforcement officials estimate that many of the cars advertised in classified ads or sold at the curb may be curbstoned vehicles. Curbstoners often sell vehicles reputable dealers won’t touch because of hidden problems, such as salvage titles, that can affect both safety and value.

“Unfortunately, dishonesty sometimes is very profitable,” laments John Creel, a Consumer Investigator. Creel has been busting curbstoners for years. He explains how this scam works. Curbstoners pick up bad cars, “cars that may have spun odometers or salvage [titles]” for example, from junkyards or wholesale auctions, then pass them off to unsuspecting consumers as quality family cars. By law, a dealer must disclose if a vehicle has a salvage title, or a known inaccurate odometer reading.

“You don’t tell him you got it a week ago… you cleaned it up and now you’re selling it,” reveals a former curbstoner caught by Creel who requested anonymity. “It’s possible even to hide the fact that a car has been totaled by registering it or changing the title in another state,” he adds.

Consumer safety advocates say you can’t be too careful when buying a used car today since poorly rebuilt wrecks are more likely to fail in the event of another crash. It is especially dangerous when the driver has no idea the vehicle has been in a major accident before.

“Your chances of being in a serious auto crash in your lifetime are 1 out of 2,” says Jackie Gillan of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “Those are very high odds, so you want to make sure when you’re buying a used car that it’s not only going to provide the transportation you need, but is also going to provide you and your family with a safe driving environment.”

Creel always recommends that consumers do their homework before buying any pre-owned vehicle, especially from a private seller. “The first thing you want to do is get a CARFAX Report,” he says.

Herta Soman, who, because of a curbstoner, got stuck with a now failing rebuilt wreck echoes Creel’s sentiment. “I wish I would have done that prior to purchasing my car, it could have saved me a lot of grief, and a lot of money.”

4 thoughts on “Curbstoning: How to Protect Yourself”

  1. I’m sorry but Herta Soman sounds dumb for paying $15,000 for a 97 Honda! I own a 96 Accord that’s worth $3k & a 07 Element worth $12k. There is NO WAY someone should pay 15k for ONE 96 Honda anything. They should be driving an 07 for that price, not a 97!

  2. The biggest scan artist are the dealers. I worked for a major dealership in the dmv area, and I regret being part of such a huge LEGAL scam. Was this article written by a carfax rep? cause it sound like a sales pitch. It’s all brainwash. So what if a mechanic bought a car at a auction, say car needed timing belt and owner decide to get rid of it, mechanic repair car and sell for half price the stealership sell it for. Mechanic just save that hard working family $$ they can use for Christmas gifts or vacation In this modern day slavery, tough, greedy economy. You don’t hear about those stories. You only hear the ones were some idiot spend $15k on a 97 salvage honda, which I find very hard to beleive. I personally have sold quality 5,6 years old car with less than 70k miles for less than $5k to happy families disclosing accident and show them pictures of previous damages. So what. They were very happy they not stuck paying some finance company $300/mo + interest in order to drive a 5yr old car. So what if the radiator, AC condenser, and bumper had to be replaced. I see nothing wrong with that if the price is right. Example, a 2009 fusion with 50k miles, salvage title selling for $4500. Prior damage include blown airbag radiator, and radiator support. All these parts bolt on and off just like in the factory and the right tool can reset the aibag just like original. By the way, airbags are one of the easiest. fix…don’t let the stealerships scare you. Car is now completely repaired but the salvage title not worth much if a buyer wants to trade in or resell after a couple years. The same fusion, clean title and carfax (of course carfax don’t tell you everything. Some of these clean title vehicles have unreported previous damage, or major mechanical issue. Dealers buy these used cars at the dealers auto auto not even knowing why they selling it or why someone trading. At least with the ” salvage” vehicles at auction, u see the damage and know why they selling it), selling for $9500. ..Good resale and trade in value in the future. I, personally, would buy the salvage vehicle for 4500 and save 5k. I make 50k at the job. Drove my salvage fusion ( mind you salvage is not written on the car so no one knows…the title with the word “recon, rebuitl, or salvage…whatever term they use, is in my drawer not even seeing daylight) back and forth to work for 3yrs now with a 110kmiles. Decide to trade in at the dealer and they said car is only worth 1k. Damn! I bought this car for 4500 3yrs ago. However, I made 150k at the job in the past 3yrs, and this car made it possible. I guess 3500 is not a loss but an investment towards my job, plus all the interest I would’ve have to pay if I had put down payment on the “CLEAN” title fusion. I can even keep my salvage fusion for another 3yrs.
    You hear the bad stories about curbstoners, never the good ones. Ok they don’t pay taxes which is wrong but don’t tell me it’s illegal to protect consumer. No! It’s illegal because state is not getting their cut. Gov cares but one thing , and that’s tax. They don’t give a shit about ur protection from curbstoners or scammers. So they use scare tactics. We live in a brainwash society, so carfax, a giant company, and the dealers will wash off your brain with acid to steer you away from the small guy. My wife bought a 2012 car from a dealer clean title. A year later I notice all the paint job from quater panel area, and I’ve had to replace front tires twice a year…something wrong with a that Damn suspention..definitely been in wreck that carfax don’t know about.
    Take away. Don’t let government, carfax and dealership scare you from buying car from the street even when price is too good to be true..u might have just stumble on a great deal! Government not protecting you, they just upset they can’t track and collect tax from a curbstoners…they already collecting too much money especially in state of MD..and the ridiculous parking fines in DC, Carfax and dealership are in the sales business so go figure. Bottom line have a mechanic check out the car, salvage, previously damage whatever the situation. If PRICE is right, don’t just steer from salvage vehicle by looking at carfax alone, especially for less than 5k. Check out vehicle and test drive. Ask seller what was repaired (previous photos help) and have a professional inspect repairs. Sometimes insurance companies salvage vehicles just because it’s over 5 yrs and a ridiculous repair bill. It took me 10 minute to replace driver wheel airbag on a 2002 bmw 3 series, $25 airbag reset tool on ebay. Dealer wanted 8hrs labor to replace just wheel Airbag claimed they had to remove steering column. My jaw dropped when my ins agent told me the cost of repairs. If you don’t believe me check out a video online how to replace steering wheel airbag on a 2002 bmw 325i…only 2bolts come off in the back 0f wheel, nothing else. Then check out ebay for the price of the wheel airbag and a bmw airbag reset tool. Then call the dealer or any major repair shop and get a price quote for the same job. Then come back and leave a comment base on your observation. my insurance totaled my car and sold back to me for 800. What a deal! I’ve seen lots of salvage car that didn’t require much work to get back on the rd, sometimes it’s just cosmetic work. So next time you shopping for a used car don’t let carfax make the decision for you. Physical inspection and the price are the most important things in buying a used car.

    1. What the guy says about the BMW is right on target! Two places on the 325i you insert two flat bladed screwdrivers & push a spring to release one side of the airbag assuming that you have disconnected the battery’s negative terminal then take out a few screws & unplug some wires and your off to the races! The eBay price for a steering wheel with an airbag are less than $200 & the reset tool was $50 to $100, but it’s too late to call the dealer. I have worked in garages for cheap even as an ASE certified technician. Dealers have scams too!

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