Curbstoning Used Cars – Buyer Beware!

by Don Elliott on May 5, 2011

Curbstoning is the illegal practice of selling used cars and trucks without a license. The term refers to business done “at the curb” as an unlicensed individual seller who is not subject to the rules, regulations and assurances enforced at licensed automobile dealers.

Roughly one-third of the 39 million used vehicles sold each year are “casual sales” or sales by private parties. It is estimated that 20%, or 2.2 million vehicles, were sold by curbstoners in 2010.

Why is that a problem?

First, curbstoners don’t pay sales tax, income tax or business license fees. You might think that you could get a good deal from a curbstoner because his costs are lower than competing, legally operated businesses. Think the opposite! The curbstoner’s objective is to make as much money as he can with as little liability as possible from the buyer—you.

CurbstoningSecond, curbstoners are invisible in the car deal. Usually, the curbstoner obtained the car he is selling from a private party on what is called an “open title”. The curbstoner has the title signed by the seller without completing any buyer’s information. The curbstoner avoids paying sales tax, tag and title fees by “jumping title” between the actual seller and the actual buyer. Buying a car “at the curb” or in a supermarket parking lot from a seller whose name and address does match the title signals a problem.

Third, curbstoners are notorious scam artists. They may not be forthcoming about repairs or the condition of the used cars they are selling. In addition, the cars that they are selling might be unsafe or have legal issues. offers insight as to why buying a used car from a curbstoner can be dangerous as well as expensive. The initial used car value may seem appealing at times, but “buyer beware” sure does apply here!

Fourth, curbstoners won’t tell you the history of the car. Well, they might give you a story but often it is not true. Ask for auto repair and maintenance records. If there are none available, watch out! Get a vehicle history report before committing to buy the car. As noted above, even a CARFAX won’t show previous curbstoners’ transactions because on paper they don’t exist. Always have a certified mechanic check the car over before you buy it. It’s the only way to assure that the used car value matches the asking price.

Should you avoid buying a car from a private seller? Certainly not! It is perfectly legal to sell your own car. In most states, an individual can sell 5-8 of their own cars per year without a dealer license. Just make sure that when you buy a car from a private seller that the owner’s name on the title matches the name of the person selling the car. Curbstoners take advantage of your right to sell your own cars by bending the rules to make a fast buck. Beware of the difference!

Send us a comment if this information on curbstoners was helpful to you.

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