How to Avoid Curbstoning When Buying a Used Car

Learn to spot the signs of curbstoning and protect yourself from buying a potentially dangerous car.

Buying a used car from someone you think is a neighbor can seem like an easy, simple way to find a new vehicle. But if you get scammed by a curbstoner, this could leave you paying over the odds for a car which isn’t what it seems.

Herta Soman learned this the hard way when she fell for a curbstoner's story and wound up paying $15,000 for a used Honda only to find out it was a salvage title which had been totaled 3 years earlier. This meant all the warranties on it were void and it’s resell value was much less than expected.

"I was angry - I was in shock," she said after finding out its true history through CARFAX. "I was speechless - I feel like I'm driving a fraud."

What is curbstoning?

Curbstoning is when a seller poses as a private seller when in fact they are a used car dealer, buying and selling vehicles in volume for profit.

They are called curbstoners as they sell their cars from the curb, just as an individual seller does.

In most states, it is illegal for people who are not registered car dealers to sell multiple cars or cars owned by other people. These laws were put in place to ensure that professional car dealers adhere to safety standards with their stock.

Curbstoning is attractive as big profits can be made. "Unfortunately, dishonesty sometimes is very profitable," says John Creel, Consumer Investigator.

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

What are the dangers of curbstoning?

Curbstoning is often used to sell vehicles that reputable dealers wouldn’t touch. Problems that these cars can have include:

Buying a car with any of these problems can leave you with a damaged car that might not hold up in a crash, or one that will need expensive repairs much sooner than expected. This can cost you thousands of dollars and risk the safety of anyone travelling in the car.

How to protect yourself against curbstoning

One of the best ways to protect yourself is to purchase from a reputable dealer. Through CARFAX used car listings, you can find cars near you from trustworthy dealerships and see their full CARFAX report.

If you decide to go ahead with buying from a private seller, look out for the following red lights:

  • Different names on the seller’s driving license and vehicle’s title deeds
  • An excessive number of title transfers showing on the vehicle’s full CARFAX report
  • The same phone number being used for multiple private used car listings in the same area
  • Selling from empty lots, shopping center parking lots or non-residential streets
  • Insisting on cash payment
  • Elaborate and emotive stories about why they are selling on behalf of another person
  • A suspiciously low price

It’s a good idea to ask a private seller personal questions such as:

  • Why are you selling the vehicle?
  • What have you used it for?
  • What is its maintenance history?

According to Creel, “The first thing you want to do is get a CARFAX report.”

We also recommend always getting a used car checked by a reputable mechanic before you buy.