Definition (from the Internet)

“Curbstoning” is the business of “flipping” used cars for profit while posing as a private seller. Curbstoners typically buy problem vehicles (eg. cars with a salvage title) at an auction and will represent the car as their own.

What are the Risks?

Buying from a curbstoner increases your risk of being unable to transfer a title. A curbstoned sale may seem like a steal-of-a-deal but could actually be a previously wrecked vehicle, one with a “rolled back” odometer, or even a stolen vehicle. Curbstoners do not comply with state or federal laws and any dealings with them are not protected.

The Search

The last few weeks, we’ve been looking for another vehicle. Our family now has six drivers. Five will be taking class at Orange Coast College this spring and several have part-time jobs. Currently we only have two vehicles. Although I take the bus to work, a third vehicle is becoming more and more necessary.

We started looking in earnest right after Christmas. The first vehicle that we saw and test drove looked great; then we ran the VIN through and found that it had a salvage title. The second car was nice but the “Brake” warning light was on due to an ABS problem.

Our Search Strategy

Several family members would search for a suitable vehicle. Here’s the procedure:

  • Search Craigslist for a fuel-efficient car under $5,000.
  • Google the phone number. Make sure that the phone number is entered like 714-555-1234.
  • Check the search results to see if the person has (or had) other vehicles listed for sale. If yes, then it’s an automatic red flag.
  • Check MSN Autos by typing the year, make, model and the words “msn reliability” to check the reliability. We wanted to see all green checks or low-cost repairs.
  • Check Kelley Blue Book ( to get a feel for the car’s value. Generally most listings had prices significantly over the KBB prices. Curbstoners would be under the KBB price.

Recognizing Curbstoners

We learned to recognize tell-tale signs like:

  • The price is too good to be true.
  • The description makes it sound like a cream-puff.
  • The description is stuffed with lots of other makes and models (to make their listing appear in more searches).
  • They would hide or disguise their phone numbers. They might substitute the letter “O” for 0 or the letter “I” for 1. Or they might spell out a number like “four”.
  • They would post a price of $1 but put the actual price in the description.

Our Story

I wrote up our our curbstoning experience in a separate blog post.

Our Curbstoning Experience

Our Story

So yesterday, Jeri and I see the below ad for a Ford Focus. We checked the phone number and didn’t find any other vehicles listed. So it seems legit. I send a text to the number.

Click for full size.
Click for full size.

A little later, Mike calls me. He says that he’s owned the vehicle since 2008. I ask about the timing belt; he’s says that the timing belt and water pump were replaced last year. After I ask if we can see it, he gives me his address.

Jeri and I eat a quick bit for lunch and then head out. Because he is in Riverside (about 50 miles away), it will take us over an hour to get there. Although it is Martin Luther King Jr’s holiday, we will still encounter a bit of traffic.

Driving Out

As we’re driving out, Mike texts us and asks if we are on our way. He then says (via text) that he’s been called in to work and won’t be able to show us the car. However his cousin will be there. We’re going as fast as we can because we hope to catch Mike before he leaves.

No One Home

When we get to the house, no one answers the door. We wait and ring the doorbell multiple times. Finally we text Mike who says that he’ll call and wake up his cousin.

A little later an Asian woman comes to the door. She says that neither Mike nor his cousin are home. By the way, the house looks immaculate inside…beautiful furniture and decor. And the house is in a very nice neighborhood.

Looking and Waiting

We walk around the car which is sitting in the street. We notice that the registration has expired on the car over six months ago. We text Mike a few more times. He says that his cousin went to the mall and would be back in 30 minutes. Even though we don’t like the looks of things, Jeri and I figure that we’ve already taken the time to drive out here so we might as well wait a little longer.

Cousin Arrives

Finally Mike’s cousin shows up driving an Audi A4. He’s black which means that he’s most likely not related to the lady who answered the door. The cousin goes into the house and returns with the car key.

We get inside the car and start looking around. The car isn’t in very good shape.

The Paperwork

We ask to see the paperwork so he retrieves the title and registration for the car. As I look at the title, I notice that it is for an entirely different car…a 1997 Mitsubishi. However that wasn’t the only problem. The title had been signed over last month (Dec. 2013). The seller had signed over the title and recorded the price as $1,700. However the buyer information was left blank. We suspect that they are curbstoning the Mitsubishi.

We also notice that the registration for the Focus that we’re looking at was under the name of Steve not Mike. There were a lot of service records in the glove compartment were under Steve’s name starting in 2008. A receipt show that Mike had indeed paid the registration fee (several months late). Now we know why he didn’t have the sticker…it was mailed to Steve.

This is a Curbstoner

So now it’s becoming apparent that this is a curbstoner operation. We didn’t let on that we knew. Since the cousin couldn’t find the correct title, there’s no way that we could have purchased the vehicle even if we had wanted.

We chalked up our wasted afternoon as a lesson learned and we’re glad that we didn’t get taken.

Do you have any experiences with curbstoners?