Curbstoning: Facts And Tips To Avoid Car Title Fraud
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 because the vehicle had been totaled nearly three (3) 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, salvage cars for sale-vehicles sold by scam artists who pose as private sellers. These curbstoners often sell vehicles reputable dealers won't touch because of hidden problems, such as those with a salvaged car title, that can affect both safety and value.
"Unfortunately, dishonesty sometimes is very profitable," laments John Creel, 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 cars" for example-from junkyards or wholesale auctions, then pass them off to unsuspecting consumers as quality family cars.
"You don't tell him you got it a week ago, and 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 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 would have saved me a lot of grief, and a lot of money."
What Is Curbstoning?
All too often a consumer goes to a curbstoner thinking that they will get a better deal. They may feel less intimidated approaching an individual seller they perceive to be a neighbor versus a professional salesman. They may think they can't afford a vehicle from a reputable, reliable dealer. Unfortunately, whatever the reason for going to a private seller, shoppers who buy from them without checking the vehicle's history can end up paying too much money for a poorly rebuilt wreck, a lemon or may be even stolen vehicle.
Victims of curbstoners often end up making expensive repairs because a rolled back odometer led them to believe the vehicle was in better shape. Or, they may find themselves in a dangerous vehicle that has already been totaled due to a severe accident.
According to Larry Gamache, Director of Communications for CARFAX, "Law enforcement officials agree that many of the cars advertised in classified ads may be curbstoned vehicles. Curbstoning is nothing new, but it is now reaching epidemic proportions, which is bad news for consumers and dealers, alike. Curbstoners weave elaborate, seemingly sincere, stories to gain a buyer's confidence or pity. Usually they're variations on the same stories, such as: a relative passed-away, they are sending a child off to college, a friend or relative has asked them to sell it for them, they are getting married, moving or getting a company car, etc. By recognizing these 'tall tales,' consumers can know to say 'no.'"
Guarding Against CurbstonersBuy from a reputable dealer -- More than 25,000 dealers nationwide subscribe to CARFAX to ensure that the vehicles they sell on their lots are safe and reliable. Through CARFAX, consumers can find a dealer and even find a car locally that meets their needs. Most CARFAX dealer subscribers even offer free copies of the Vehicle History Reports to their customers-all you need to do is ask.
But, if you still want to buy from an individual, there are ways to guard against curbstoners:
What Local Dealers Can Do To Curb Curbstoning