OK, so what, precisely, is a Curbstoner?
Here’s some background:
You know that place on your commute that always has a bunch of cars for sale? the patch of waste ground by the stoplights?
That’s almost certainly a curbstone site. Curbstoners are unlicensed vehicle dealers, called as such because they tend to park a selection of cars for sale in popular areas along the curbstones. They operate in this way because a private sale of a vehicle is not covered by the legal restrictions that a dealer must abide by.
Why are they bad?
- They operate like a business but are unlicensed so if they sell you something that is unsafe, unroadworthy or illegal, there is no legal comeback. They also deprive your community of tax and revenue.
- They sell vehicles that no-one in their right minds would buy if they knew the full story. The cars they sell may have been salvaged from scrap, welded together from several different cars, have faulty engines, transmissions, chassis, body parts or safety features.
- They are criminals first, salesmen second. If you think you are going to get a bargain, you are probably wrong.
- In many cases, they do not hold title and may be relying on bureaucratic delays to sell you a salvaged car that could end up killing you.
- They take up valuable parking areas, create an eyesore and encourage illicit activity.
It is estimated that up to 80% of the cars advertised online (primarily Craigslist) and in newspaper classified ads are for sale by these unlicensed dealers.
So How do I tell a real owner from a curbstoner?
There are several signs to look for, any of which should make you extremely suspicious:
- They will insist on a ‘Cash Only’ sale. No exceptions. They want your money now. There’s a good chance that 10 miles down the road the car will self-destruct.
- They will meet you at the car’s parking place. They don’t want you coming back or showing the cops where you bought the car from.
- They will be selling lots of cars at the same time. When you phone, ask them about the car. If they say “which car”? you’ll know they’re selling more than one. Look at the ad in the paper/online closely. Look above and below it and you may see the same phone number/email address or writing style.
- The registration documents will not match the seller. They will make any end of excuses but the fact is a vehicle owner should ‘own’ the vehicle he is selling.
Everyone wants a good deal, and buying a car from a private seller is a great way to get one, but if the private seller ends up being a curbstoner, you will almost certainly lose any money you hand over and you could end up even poorer. Curbstoners ted to operate at the lowend (sub $3000) of the market and disproportionately target those who can least afford it.
If you see or hear about this happening in your neighbourhood, contact your city or county and hopefully we can save everyone from fraud and danger.
More information and References:
- California Department of Motor Vehicles press release, “DMV Makes Arrest In Fraudulent Business And Auto Sales Scheme”.
Reader’s Digest on the Safety danger in buying a Curbstone car “Airbag Scams: Dashboard Danger”
- The StopCurbstoning website.
- From the FTC The Dealer’s Guide to the Used Car Rules
- Press Release from the National Auto Dealer Association (NADA) NADA Supports Efforts to Protect Car Buyers by Stopping ‘Curbstoning’