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Bought a Car From Dealer Posing as Private Owner on Craigslist in CA

I saw an ad on craigslist for a car for sale by a private owner. I test drove the car and decided to buy it. As it turns out, the car’s title was registered to a used car dealer who had bought it from another dealer. The transaction did not take place at the dealer’s lot.

The car was not smog, and only the bill of sale together with the title was given to me as paperwork from seller. A few days later when I took the car to get the smog inspection, the car failed the inspection and was told by the technician the seller was required to have had the car in compliance with smog regulations.

My question is: How should I approach this?

An all too common new sales gimmick !!
I’ve seen it far too often and it should be outlawed.

return it and demand your money back…with lawyer in tow.
Or demand he fix it.

What country? What state? Makes a big difference, but go back to the seller and talk to them.

I’m in CA. Important info I left out. Thanks Bing

You might start with the district attorney because this would be a violation of the dealers business license in most places.

And threaten to sue for deception…twice.
once that it was posed as a private party sale…and was not.
second, that it was posed as a functioning compliant vehicle…and was not.

This is called ‘curbstoning’, and the CA DMV is after these crooks:
http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/newsrel/newsrel11/2011_28.htm

Google curbstoning california for lots more information.

Sounds like “Free Enterprise” and “Let the buyer beware” to me…

Thank you everyone who took the time to reply to my post. It is not fun dealing with this, but sure it’s well learned life lesson.

Sounds like "Free Enterprise" and "Let the buyer beware" to me.....

You would…

A curbstoner is an unlicensed seller though. What if this alleged private seller was actually a licensed salesman for the car lot? That might meet the letter of the law standards.

I’m not familiar with CA law on used car sales by a legitimate private seller but if this seller is actually a licensed dealer or salesman for that dealer then they may have themselves in a jam on the smog certifications.

For what it’s worth, curbstoning goes on countless thousands of times a day in every state in the union; illegal or not.

For what it's worth, curbstoning goes on countless thousands of times a day in every state in the union; illegal or not.

So does selling drugs…Doesn’t make it right or moral.

The ONLY cars sold by curbselling I ever heard about were the ones the dealer didn’t want or couldn’t sell. So they use any unethical means they can to get rid of them. While it may go on all over the country…NOT ALL dealers do it. I a vast minority that even do it. And if they’d do that…then what will they do to you when you walk in the door.

My comment about the widespread prevalence of curbstoning should not be taken to mean that I endorse the practice for one second. It was just to point out that it’s not a rare practice and many car buyers are unaware that they’re even dealing with a curbstoner.

Without picking the CA statute apart, it could well be that a licensed dealer can park a car anywhere he wants and list it however he wants; even if the listing makes it appear to be a private sale.

I’m not certain on this, but I think a non-licensed individual can flip a very low number of cars per year without even being considered a curbstoner.

My comment about the widespread prevalence of curbstoning should not be taken to mean that I endorse the practice for one second.

I in know way thought you did…Sorry if it came off that way.

I’ve seen them (not first hand)…and it really p*sses me off when I hear about it. These sleaze companies shouldn’t be in business.

@ok4450 I believe you’re allowed up to 5 curbstone sales per year before you need to get a dealer’s license.

There are tons of curbstoners in the LA area, always on busy roads with for sale signs prominently displayed. In some cases it’s impossible to park on certain streets because every single parked car is for sale.

I also wouldn’t buy from a curbstoner. At least not knowingly.

Is this really a curbstoner if the title was in the used car dealer’s name? Sounds like the salesman was just trying to peddle the car. Wouldn’t the dealer need to transfer the title? I don’t think its relevant where the sale took place. In Minnesota its my understanding you can sell 5 cars a year without being a dealer. Also sales and registration taxes are paid by the buyer not the seller. If I read the notice right, in CA sounds like it is the seller that pays these taxes which is why they are talking tax fraud. If thats the case, it certainly is a looney way to do it fraught with problems.

My guess is that if you weigh the number of cars curbstoned every day against even getting caught and fined the house odds are heavily in the curbstoner’s favor.

Here is what CA DMV says about smog upon sale of a car:
When a car is sold, who is responsible for the inspection?
The seller is required to provide the buyer with a valid smog inspection certification at the time of the sale or transfer. Smog certifications are good for 90 days from the date of issuance.

The inspection is not required on a transfer if a biennial smog certification was submitted to DMV within 90 days prior to the vehicle transfer date (a vehicle inspection report may be required for proof of certification).

NOTE: Smog certifications are not required for transfers that occur for a gasoline powered motor vehicle that is four or less model years old. (Determine the oldest-qualifying year model by subtracting three from the current year) the four or less model years old rule does not apply to diesel powered vehicles. A smog transfer fee will be collected from the new owner.


Clearly, the seller is deficient in his responsibilities here. I would first see if the CA DMV Bureau of Consumer Assistance can offer help. If not, I would file in small claims court or engage a lawyer, depending on the value of the car. The seller is obligated to provide a clean smog check, so the seller is on the hook for this one. Since the vehicle title is in a dealer’s name, I suspect the dealer is on the hook here, as well as the individual seller/salesman.

If the title was in a dealers name and you buy it here in Michigan you have to sign a paper that states if it comes with warrantry. IE “AS IS” or it has a warrantry and how long that warrantry is for. I will bet CA has laws like this. Also I will bet a bill of sale and a title is not all the paper work that needed to done if a dealer sells it by law. Stand your ground on this. I would be so bold to ask for twice what I paid for the car, because its will mean a big fine and maybe jail time for those invovled.Its the guys like this cause problems for us leagl guys.

You can try contacting the seller, and demand a refund otherwise court action will follow.