The Curbstoning Auto Scam

Curbstoning refers to auto dealers who try to bypass the law by selling their vehicles on the street, by pretending to be private sellers. In this auto scam dishonest car dealers use curbstoning as a means of circumventing their state laws which govern the sale of cars.

curbstoning auto scam

curbstoning auto scam

Most states have limits in place with regards to how many vehicles a person may buy and sell in a particular time frame before being required to be a licensed car dealer.

The big disadvantage of being licensed, to these people, is that licensed car dealers have to meet certain requirements in order to stay in business.

Curbstoners, because they appear to be private sellers, do not have any such restrictions to work within.

Inferior Cars

Often, a curbstoning car dealer will utilise this scam in order to offload the type of vehicle they would struggle to sell through their dealership. Whatever part of the country you live, or wherever in the world for that fact, you have probably seen this scam in operation on a street corner near you. There will be several cars for sale in the same place, often parked along the curb, hence the name ‘curbstoners’. Typically, these cars will be ones with problems, that are hard for the dealers to sell through their official businesses. Additionally, cars bought at the roadside may have had their clocks rolled back (odometer fraud).


Popular internet sites, such as eBay, have proven to be popular with curbstoners. This is because they often afford the seller a great deal of anonymity, making it difficult for disgruntled purchasers, and government agencies alike, to track them down. Internet adverts for lemon autos allows the scammer to utilise a few different techniques in order to increase their chances of selling their vehicles. Poor resolution photographs are often used as they can hide a multitude of sins, from dents to rust, and many others besides. Another often used tactic in online sales is affinity fraud.

Avoiding Curbstoning Scams

Whilst there are laws in place that prohibit curbstoning, they are rarely enforced or prosecuted. Likewise, eBay cannot keep up with the problem either – if detected, a scammer will just close an account and start again with a new id. Therefore, vigilance is the key if you wish to avoid buying a car that –

  • may have had it’s odometer rolled back
  • could be stolen
  • has previously been written off or damaged
  • has someone else’s credit outstanding on it
  • has been designated as being for export only

If you really must buy a car off the street, or via an online auction then take care. Verify the seller’s identity, get any guarantees or representations in writing and, if possible arrange a viewing (with a mechanic) in advance.

About Lee Munson

Lee's non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions.


  1. Richard Wishbey says:

    This story is very accurate. In Texas, we have a very serious problem with Curbstoners. Texas deregulated the Salvage Industry, presumably to make it easier to export damaged vehicles into Mexico and in order that country would have a steady supply of used vehicle parts. Instead, a lot of guys that work in body shops buy wrecked cars at the salvage auctions. They drag them home, chain it to a tree and pull out the dents. They don’t fix them properly by replacing the air bags. They only do just enough work to hide the damage and then park them on the side of the road and at Flea Markets. This has allowed a lot of Dangerous Vehicles to be cycled back into the vehicle chain. Unsuspecting consumers end up being screwed when they by a vehicle that still has a bent frame and No Air Bags. Whereas the vehicle normally would have been either dismantled for parts or Exported, the vehciles end up becoming a danger for its operator and passengers. These shoddily repaired vehicles are also a danger to any person that shares the roadway. All States should address this issue by reviewing their laws and make changes where needed. The Public needs to be protected. It’s up to law enforcment and our law makers. Curbstoners are merely out to make a quick buck. And they do it by offering (misrepresenting) vehicles that an ethical dealer would not touch. Most vehicles that have been in an accident will have deployed Air Bags. By not replacing the Air Bags, the Unscurpulous Curbstoner can save $2K to $3K simply by not replacing the Air Bags and Sensors. Beware, if they don’t replace the Air Bag Sensors in the bumpers, the Passive Restraint (Shoulder Harness) will not lock in a subsequent collision. This is Very, Very Dangerous. Like I said, Curbstoners are Unscrupulous, they will not fix things that really need fixing if they can hide the fact. They won’t fix the Air Bags and will disconnect the Warning Lights simply by removing the Warning Light Bulbs. If you are going to buy a car from the side of the road, First, take the vehicle to a reputable mechanic and dig for as much information as possible concerning the vehicle history. And Remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, it is! Also if you think you have discovered a Curbstoner Report him to the State Motor Vehicle Dealer Enforcement Section. You can also report him to the local Automobile Dealers Association, they might be able to help you to get in touch with the proper law enforcement agency. My best advice when car shopping is Don’t get into a big hurry and Don’t trust anyone when they tell you the condition of a vehicle. Get advice from a third party mechanic. Most Legitimate Dealers will allow you to have a third party mechanic do a pre-purchase inspection just as long as they know you are serious about making a purchase. Do your homework by surfing the Internet for they type of vehicle you intend to buy. The Internet will provide you with a lot of information about the little quirks that a particular vehicle might have. Car Forums are a very good source to find out how much it cost to perform specific repairs on the subject vehicle. The Internet will also help you to get a realistic ideal of what you might expect to pay for a particular type of vehicle. Finally, when dealing with a seller, Get All Promises in Writing. Legitimate Dealers that make claims concerning the fitness of a particular vehicle should be willing to give some type of warranty in writing. If it’s not in writing, it doesn’t count! Finally, don’t forget, take the vehicle to a Third Party Mechanic and find out if the vehicle needs any serious repairs. Although you should expect that most vehicle could use a few minor repairs, you need to make darn certain the repairs won’t be more than you will be able to manage. Most happy marraiges begin with a lengthy courtship. Get acquainted with your vehicle before taking the plunge of ownership and you will have a much happier marraige. Good Luck!

    • Thanks for such a comprehensive reply Richard!

      The main point I picked out was about airbags. If getting ripped off financially wasn’t bad enough, having a potentially lethal vehicle ought to be enough to persuade people to research their purchases in advance.

    • Richard, you are wrong about “…Most vehicles that have been in an accident will have deployed Air Bags…”

      Indeed in most accidents they do not deploy. They only deploy in small number of accidents, and mostly sure in such accidents car will get salvage title if it was insured. Only if it was not insured by collision coverage (since front damage is most likely to be get at fault), it may bypass salvage title.

      However it’s good to know, that it is possible to quick check if airbags are absent. Airbag indicator on panel goes off with 2-3 seconds delay after the car is started. If it goes off instantly, or does not light up in off mode, then they are probably deployed (in the latter case LED for airbags may be simply broken).

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