What is Curbstoning? Protect Yourself with These Tips

It’s no secret that there are many ways you could get ripped off or scammed when buying a car. One of the most common scams occurring these days is called curbstoning. While most people have never heard the term, it’s something that anyone looking to purchase a car should be aware of.

Let’s pose a scenario. You are in the market for a used car. You’re driving to work one day when you see a decent-looking car for sale in an abandoned parking lot. You stop, take a look at it and call the number.

The owner meets you and is personable. Everything seems to go smoothly. You strike a deal with them and prepare to give them the cash. Then, one of these strange things happens:

  1. They pull out the title and someone else’s name is on it

  2. They offer a purchase agreement with the dealer name as “Seller”

  3. You are asked to go to a local dealership where one of their “friends” will help with the paperwork

One of two things just happened:

  1. Either you did business with a dealer who didn’t want to be known for who they really were, or:

  2. You bought from someone that should legally be considered a dealer but is avoiding paying those fees - that’s a curbstoner.

Each state has different laws about how many cars you can sell in a year before you need a dealer’s license. The fees are minimal, but the background check is sometimes hard to pass, especially if the person has a criminal background. Because there’s little oversight into these laws, many non-dealers get away with selling from the curb or empty parking lots.

Of course, that person could actually be a licensed dealer. But why risk it?

Why Would a Dealer Get Involved in Curbstoning?

You have to wonder why a licensed dealer would ever get involved in selling a car from the curb or parking lot when they have an entire lot to use. First of all, the majority of people feel at ease buying a car privately and won’t walk into a car dealer to get their next vehicle. Many people aren’t going to feel comfortable with the salesman out to sell them a used car. When they think the owner is a regular person, it helps them to appear as equals.

In some states, curbstoning isn’t illegal if it’s performed by a car dealer. Major auction sites like eBay struggle with combating this tactic. They will suspend a user’s account if they find curbstoning, but typically those sellers create new accounts to continue abusing the system.

Of course, any car dealers that participate in this scheme aren’t reliable or trustworthy and are undeserving of your hard-earned business. If you spot a curbstoner, steer clear: things might be worse than they look.

What Could Go Wrong?

Car buying from unlicensed dealers (curbstoners) puts you at risk for:

  • Purchasing a stolen vehicle

  • Buying a vehicle with a rolled-back odometer

  • Purchasing a salvaged, flood-damaged or reconditioned car.

  • Buying a car with a lien.

  • Receiving a vehicle that doesn’t have a clear title.

  • Buying a car which was sold for EXPORT ONLY.

If you notice anything strange with the title, this should be a red flag for you.

The best thing you can do is perform a VIN check on the car to ensure everything checks out. No matter where you purchase your car from, you need a detailed vehicle history report to inform you of the facts. Our VIN checks will alert you to rolled-back odometers, salvage titles or title liens that could come back to bite you later.

To further protect yourself while buying a car, we’ve put together some tips for you.

How to Avoid Curbstoning

1. Purchase from a Reputable Dealership

The best way to get around curbstoning is to buy your vehicle from a trusted dealership. Established dealerships have paid to sell cars. They have insurance, permits and licenses plus they maintain a decent facility. That’s why they go the extra mile to ensure your happiness.

Sure, you may pay more for the car, but you get some sort of guarantee when the sale is over. On top of that, a dealer won’t sell you a car that has a salvage title or one with an existing lien. A curbstoner will.

2. Investigate the Seller

If you want to purchase from one of the unlicensed dealers in your area, you’ll have to do a little more work. The Internet should become your best friend as you shop for a used car. The Internet is probably where you found the car for sale in the first place; it’s become the modern equivalent of putting a car in a parking lot with a sign.

Thankfully, the Internet is also the best way to protect yourself. Start by searching the seller’s e-mail address and phone number. If that information brings up multiple vehicles for sale, you might want to look for a different car. If it only brings up that car, you might be working with a reliable private owner.

If you notice that several ads look the same online, give all the numbers a call and make sure you aren’t talking to the same person. It’s easy for a seller to use multiple phone numbers to fly under the radar.

Another warning sign is if they ask what vehicle you’re talking about. When you call, don’t offer that information. Simply say something like, “I would like to see the car you have for sale” to root out curbstoners.

3. Gather Some Evidence

Before you meet with the seller and inspect the vehicle, ask these questions:

  • How long have you had the vehicle?

  • Do you have maintenance records?

  • Why are you selling it?

  • Has it ever been in an accident?

  • Is your name on the title?

These questions help to establish ownership and get a clearer picture of the history.

Be wary of anyone selling the car “for a family member” or “for a friend.” Of course, some families simply use one person who understands cars to handle this process, so don’t get too forceful with them – just remember a curbstoner might try this approach.

4. Champion Your Safety

Before turning over any money, you need to think about your safety. One of the biggest concerns with curbstoning is that unsafe vehicles are being sold without warning. Read through the vehicle history report carefully, looking for any signs of accidents, damages or repairs. You’ll also want a certified mechanic to do a Pre-Purchase Inspection before you buy the car.

If You’re the Victim of Curbstoning…

If you’ve purchased a vehicle from a car dealer that posed as a private seller, you might be a victim of curbstoning. You may be entitled to bring a civil suit against the seller and attempt to get your money back. Gather the information you have about the seller, then talk with your attorney about your rights and get guidance on how to report the incident.

Don’t Be a Curbstoner: Offer Peace of Mind

If you plan to sell your vehicle, knowing this information makes you a better person to work with. To ease the mind of your potential buyers, make sure you have the following items for them:

  • The vehicle history

  • A title with your name that matches your driver’s license

  • Maintenance records

Following these easy steps will make the car buying process better for everyone involved and reduce the risk of losing customers from fear of curbstoning.

Need More Help?

If you’re concerned something is wrong with the title of a vehicle, whether it came from a dealership or a private party, Title Gods is here to help. We can inspect the title and its history to find out if anything looks unusual. Car buying should be an exciting part of your life and not something to be afraid of. We will make that happen.

We are not attorneys. This article is not legal advice.

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