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Buying a Used Car Privately? Beware ‘Curbstoning’

When you buy a car, you expect certain things.

And dealers are expected to abide by certain regulations to protect you. If the car turns out to be a lemon, you’d like to have a warranty. Also beneficial are a clean, dated title and peace of mind that you’re not being misled through advertising.

Unfortunately, some unethical dealers circumvent these regulations through what’s called curbstoning—they pose as private sellers, unload multiple cars, and often disappear. Experts say up to 80% of online used car sales are orchestrated by curbstoners, so named because dealers often sell these cars from the curb or a parking lot, just as an individual would. Follow the tips below to protect yourself from potential curbstoners.

“When purchasing something on the internet, always trust your instincts,” said Jerry Leach, Team Lead of SELCO’s Loan Center. “If you have a bad feeling, it’s OK to step back, say no, and keep looking. My grandpa used to say, ‘The opportunity of a lifetime only comes around once a week.’”

'It’s OK to step back, say no, and keep looking.'

1. Just ask about 'the car.'

When you first reach out, be purposefully vague and only ask about the car without giving details. If the seller responds, “Which car?” you’ll know he or she has multiple cars for sale and might be a curbstoner. (Oregon residents are limited to three vehicle sales in a calendar year; anything beyond that requires a dealer’s license.)

2. Take a knowledgeable friend or family member with you.

Having a car enthusiast tag along can save a lot of time and money. A quick, overview-style look at the car by this person could likely save you the expense of an inspection by a mechanic.

3. Get an inspection and a written repair estimate.

If you don’t have a “car guy” to look at the vehicle, have it inspected by a mechanic before you buy. Don’t have a mechanic? There are plenty of reviews of local shops available online.

4. Get a vehicle history report.

AutoCheck and CARFAX are the two best-known sources for vehicle history reports. You can discover vital information about the car, including whether the odometer has been rolled back or if it has a salvage title. Use the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) to get this information.

5. Ask for the driver’s license and title.

Make sure the seller’s driver’s license matches the name and address on the car’s title. If there is a discrepancy, that’s another red flag.

6. Be wary of fictitious friends and family.

Unlicensed dealers often use family and friends as part of their sales pitch. If sellers tell you they’re selling for someone else, it’s likely not true.

7. File a complaint.

If something does go wrong, file a complaint with your local consumer affairs office, the Motor Vehicle Administration or state department of motor vehicles, and the state Attorney General’s Office.


Buying a car privately is a good way to find the car you’re looking for and save money. Just be on high alert for curbstoners. By following these tips, you can avoid falling prey to these unethical practices and potentially driving away in a junker.

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