Spot an untrustworthy seller when buying a used car

Myth or fact?

In BC, anyone can sell cars without a car dealer's licence as long as they sell fewer than five per year.
  • Myth
  • Fact

"The ad on Craigslist looked so tempting. The vintage Buick was a beauty, the price was good. The seller asked to meet at his cousin’s house, which I thought was odd, but when I took the Buick for a test drive, it ran great. The seller told me he was selling the car on behalf of his cousin. I was worried, but then the cousin told me over the phone that he approved of the deal. So I signed the paperwork to buy the car. Two weeks later, the real owner called to say he wanted the car back. I phoned the seller. I got a 'phone out of service' message. I'd been taken by a curber."

- Carlos, Surrey

A significant percentage of car ads that look like they are placed by private sellers are actually placed by curbers. A curber is someone who sells cars to earn income, but has not been licensed as a car dealer. Many curbers misrepresent the real condition of the car, hide major issues, or fail to disclose liens.

Buying a used car from a curber is particularly risky because there are laws that offer you protection if you buy a car from a licensed car dealer but not if you buy from a private seller. If you buy from a curber and have a problem, often your only option is to go to court.

Here are four steps you can take to protect yourself from curbers.

Step 1. Verify the seller's identity

Ask the seller to see a piece of their ID such as a driver’s licence, as well as the original vehicle registration form (not a photocopy).

Step 2. Check that the seller owns the car

Check the owner and address information on the vehicle registration form.

  • Does the owner name match the seller’s name on their ID?

  • Does the address information match the location of the sale?

If either doesn’t match, ask the seller why that is the case.

Step 3. Be alert for warning signs

Look for these warning signs that a seller may be a curber: 

  • the seller doesn’t have the original vehicle registration form 

  • the name on the registration form is not the same as the seller’s 

  • the seller’s phone number is listed in multiple ads for cars for sale 

  • the seller asks to meet at a parking lot or somewhere other than their home

  • the seller asks for payment to be made in cash

The Vehicle Sales Authority of BC, which helps resolve complaints with licensed car dealers, has additional tips on how to spot a curber.

Step 4. Find out if the seller is licensed

Car dealers in BC must be licensed by the Vehicle Sales Authority of BC (VSA) and follow certain laws.

It’s a widespread myth that a person can sell five vehicles a year without being licensed as a car dealer. Anyone selling five or more vehicles per year is automatically deemed to be a car dealer under BC law. This law helps authorities take action against curbers. It is not an exemption to being licensed. The sale of even one vehicle to a retail consumer as a business activity may require a licence.

The VSA website features a public registry of licensed dealers. If you think the seller is someone who should be licensed as a car dealer, you can search the registry to confirm whether or not they are licensed.

Learn more about how to protect yourself when buying a used car.

  • Reviewed in May 2017
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 3 minutes

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