How to Avoid Used Car Scams

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Megan Foukes is a recent graduate from Indiana University who graduated with a bachelor’s in journalism. Megan works as a content writer for Auto Credit Express and contributes to several automotive and finance blogs.


, - April 6, 2018

When buying a car, it’s important to recognize that there may be scams out there and to know what the different types are. The best way to prevent falling victim to a car buying scam is to finance through a reputable dealer. But if a car buyer wants to go through a private seller, they’ll need to know how to avoid different rip-offs.

Scams to Watch Out For

Here are five common car buying scams to watch out for:

  1. Air Conditioning System Issues – Also listed as "just needs freon," which translates to “the air conditioner is broken.” Stay away from vehicles with this type of phrase on the market. The buyer isn’t sure to what extent the air conditioning is damaged, and a broken A/C unit could mean a leak.
  2. Title Washing – Private sellers who have a specific title brand such as salvage on their vehicle are required to disclose this. Unfortunately, some of these sellers attempt to “wash” the title by registering the vehicle in another state and tricking the DMV into assigning a regular title.
  3. Altering the Odometer – This is when a seller alters the vehicle’s mileage. Odometer fraud is illegal, but unfortunately, people have found ways to alter the mileage even with digital odometers. Although it can be tricky to identify odometer fraud, the best way to combat this requires a careful look at the car’s history report and service records as well as a look at the vehicle in person. Look for any noticeable wear and tear on the brake pedal and steering wheel.
  4. “Ran When Parked” – This is another way of the seller saying the car was working when it was parked but no longer does. Instead of fixing the problem(s), they’ll try and sell it to someone else privately to avoid the added costs. Sellers may add to this by saying “X part needs to be replaced,” which should be another red flag.
  5. Curbstoning – The last scam to watch out for is curbstoning, which is something private sellers practice. Curbstoning is a practice used to quickly get rid of flawed vehicles. When a dealer curbstones, they’re essentially pretending to be a private seller. A telltale sign of curbstoning is when the title isn’t in the name of the seller of the car. A buyer may not know the exact details of these vehicles and their histories, so it’s important to make sure any seller is selling a vehicle they really owned.

When doing research, make sure to check online and in person for anything suspicious. Use the car’s VIN to double check its history online for any salvage or junk titles, the number of owners, major accidents, and additional information such as the last known actual mileage. In person, ask the private seller for their ID to make sure the vehicle is owned by them.

Bottom Line

Recognizing a car buying scam can be tricky if you’re not totally familiar with the car buying process. That’s why at CarsDirect we want to make sure you’re connected with a trusted dealer who can help you get the financing you need.

We work with special finance dealers all across the country that have subprime lenders available to work with people who have bad credit, no credit, or even bankruptcy. It’s easy to get started, just fill out our auto loan request form and we’ll begin the process of matching you with a local dealer. Get started today by filling out our auto loan request form.

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Megan Foukes is a recent graduate from Indiana University who graduated with a bachelor’s in journalism. Megan works as a content writer for Auto Credit Express and contributes to several automotive and finance blogs.


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