Curbstoning

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 AutoCheck.com 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 (kbb.com) 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.