What's a curbstoner?

There's nothing illegal about selling your car through a private sale -- as long as you aren't running an illicit car dealership.

"Curbstoning" occurs when dealers pretend to be private sellers offering their used vehicles for sale to the public. In reality, they're operating a "curbside" lot of used cars. They just want to avoid having to comply with pretty much every regulation or law out there that's designed to protect consumers.

Some curbstoners are fairly transient -- which can make them hard to spot. Others operate pretty regular businesses (usually by word-of-mouth) right out in the open. Some less-than-honest dealers with used car lots will also sometimes pull vehicles off their lot and advertise them through Craigslist and social media as if they were private sellers. They lure customers in and getting around pesky rules (like disclosing whether or not a vehicle has had major repairs or is on a salvage title).

With things like odometer rollbacks, rust and accident damage hidden with a filler and flooded engines, curbstoning can be a real problem for consumers. Illegal dealers are also masters at pushing sales. They prey mostly on people who are already struggling with money and are great at convincing others that they're about to pass up a great deal.

How do you spot (and avoid) a curbstoner? Look for the following signs:

  • The ad says the vehicle is "for sale by owner" but the number listed goes to a dealership, repair shop or something similar
  • The seller uses an area code that is far from the vehicle's location
  • The seller uses a blocked number to contact you
  • The seller may admit that they run a car lot but claim that they are selling this particular vehicle for a friend or relative off the books

Finally, never give in to high-pressure sales tactics. Remember: If the car really does have much interest in it, the dealer has no reason to pressure you.

If you've fallen victim to a shady car dealer, find out how an experienced attorney may be able to help.

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