In 2008 John Wright (we’ve changed his name to protect his privacy) climbed aboard an Ontario Northland bus en route from Timmins to Toronto; he only bought a one-way ticket. The 39 year-old welder from Moonbeam ON was headed to the ‘Big Smoke’ to buy a truck — a two-year old Ford King Ranch pick-up he’d found advertised privately in the AutoTrader. He couldn’t know this truck-buying sojourn would ultimately cost him his home and marriage.
“When I got to Toronto the seller picked me up at the subway station to take me to see the truck,” explained John. “He couldn’t have been nicer.” The seller told John the truck was having some repairs done under warranty and took him to a local Ford dealer to see it. The King Ranch was beautiful, but parked next to it was a 2007 Ford F350 Harley Davidson pick-up. “Now that was my dream truck,” said John, so imagine his surprise when the seller explained that both the trucks were his, and both were for sale. John couldn’t believe his luck.
After a test drive John called his bank to ensure there wasn’t a lien registered against the truck and paid the seller $35,500. “I thought I covered my bases. This truck was a gleaming diamond and it was a beautiful day.” Indeed, John believed it was his lucky day, but the shine from his diamond had blinded him to an important warning — this top-of-the-line truck with only 54,000kms was priced thousands below market value.
Within months of getting back to Moonbeam, John’s truck needed $10,000 in repairs — all covered by Ford warranty. Months later, out of the blue, John got a call from the seller warning that he would be hearing from the police. “He was vague about why they would be calling but he told me not to believe them and that they were full of sh*t.” The next day John heard from an investigator with OMVIC, Ontario’s regulator of vehicle sales, who alleged the seller was a curbsider — an illegal unregistered car dealer. “The investigator explained the seller was buying late model high mileage trucks from Western Canada, bringing them to Ontario, and rolling back the odometers. It turned out my truck actually had over 180,000kms when I bought it”. John was devastated. He called the seller and was met with denials and profanity; but his troubles were just starting.
With the true mileage known Ford cancelled the warranty on the truck and the high mileage was catching up with it. “The turbo went and four injectors,” explained John. “That cost $12,000 — I maxed out my credit cards. Then the transfer case went — another $6,000.” Eventually John was forced to sell the truck. He gave full disclosure to the buyer which meant he only got $16,500 for the truck; but he still owed $28,000 on it; that meant another loss of $11,500 which led to the mortgaging of his house. John broke down as he explained the toll this financial crisis took on his family. “The emotional and financial problems this created for my marriage of 13 years was too much — I lost my wife. I lost my home. I lost it all.”
“Every now and then someone asks me what’s the big deal with curbsiding,” states Terry O’Keefe, OMVIC Manager of Communications. “Well, John’s case demonstrates what the big deal is. Curbsiders misrepresent themselves and often misrepresent the vehicles they sell. Whether it’s undisclosed accident damage or rolled back odometers, they rip people off, put families in danger, and sometimes, wreak havoc on people’s lives.” Further, because curbsiders are considered private sellers, there’s no compensation for their victims, only consumers who purchase from a registered dealer can file a claim with Ontario’s Motor Vehicle Dealers Compensation Fund.
OMVIC investigated the seller of John’s truck; he was a known curbsider with over 40 previous convictions for curbsiding, convictions which saw the curbsider and his company jointly fined nearly $400,000 (they have filed an appeal). Recently, OMVIC charged the seller again for allegedly trading in another 30+ vehicles (this included John’s purchase). The seller has also been charged by police for alleged odometer tampering. All of these charges are still before the courts.
“This man has ruined my life,” explained John as he fought back tears. “It’s amazing how many lives he’s affecting — this is huge dollars.” It is ‘huge dollars’. Historically curbsiders dealt in older inexpensive vehicles; and while many still do, more and more are selling newer high-end vehicles — many bought from salvage auctions. To avoid becoming a curbsider’s victim consumers have to learn to spot their tell-tale signs. According to O’Keefe, “Curbsiders’ vehicles are often priced below market value and commonly the seller hasn’t owned the vehicle for long, or, it’s not even registered in their name.”
Buying a vehicle privately has inherent risks, even for experienced car buyers; John Wright had purchased numerous vehicles privately before falling victim. This is why it’s vitally important car buyers understand that their rights and protections depends entirely upon whom they buy from. Consumers who buy from a dealer are protected by OMVIC, the Compensation Fund and Ontario’s consumer protection laws. Consumers who buy privately however, are on their own: no consumer protection law applies to private sales and as John found, curbsiders are lying in wait in the private classifieds ready to pounce on their next unwary prey.
To learn more about curbsiders and consumer protection visit