Skip to main content
Select Image

How to Avoid Curbstoners When Buying a Car


Auto dealers are expected to sell cars that meet certain consumer protection criteria. Unfortunately, some unethical dealers may attempt to bypass these laws by curbstoning. Curbstoning is when a dealer poses as a private seller. By curbstoning, an unethical dealer can avoid having to comply with the standard regulations. To a buyer, this could mean purchasing a car that has a salvaged title (been declared a total loss by an insurance company) or result in buying a car that has issues that are not visible such as water damage from a flood.

The term curbstoning comes from the way these transactions typically occur. When a dealer is trying to pose as a private seller, they will often sell cars from the curb or a parking lot, just as an individual would. A curbstoner often gets away with scamming buyers by selling a vehicle and then disappearing leaving the buyer with unexpected expenses and issues.

Experts say up to 80% of used cars sold through online classified ads are orchestrated by curbstoners. 

To avoid doing business with a curbstoner, do an online search for the phone number provided in the ad you are interested in. If the seller has multiple cars listed under the same phone number, that is a red flag. You can also contact the seller asking vaguely about “the car” without giving any details. If the seller responds with a comment such as, “Which car?”, you will know that they have multiple cars for sale.

In Manitoba, to register a vehicle you must have a valid certificate of inspection. Most sellers will have this inspection completed before they list their vehicle for sale to ensure potential buyers that the car is in good condition. The certificate means that at the time of inspection, the vehicle met the basic standards for operation. If the seller does not have a valid COI, take the car to a professional mechanic to have it inspected. You can also check the vehicle’s history report on a website like using the vehicle identification number (VIN). These reports can reveal vital information about the car you may not have known otherwise.

You should always ask to see the seller’s driver’s license to see if it matches the name and address on the car’s title. If the person’s name on the title is different from the name of the person selling it to you, that’s another red flag. Unlicensed dealers often pretend that they are selling the vehicle for a friend or a family member to explain the different name on the car’s title. If the seller tells you a story like this, it is likely, not true.

If something does go wrong, report the seller on the website the ad was posted on and file a complaint with your federal and provincial consumer affairs offices.

If you are looking to save money and know what you want, buying a car privately may be a good option for you. Whether you do buy a car privately or from a dealer, credit unions are an excellent source of legitimate and affordable auto financing. 

More Advice, More Tips