What to look out for when buying a used car

Consumers often consider buying from a private seller as an alternative to buying from a used car dealer.

Odometer Law

This law prohibits both dealers and private party sellers from turning back or readjusting the odometer or mileage indicated on any automobile offered for sale. If you can prove that the seller reset the odometer, you can sue for $1,500 or three times the amount of your damages, whichever is greater, along with court costs and attorney fees. Odometer tampering is also a criminal offense.

Additional Resources for Odometer Law

Title Requirements

All vehicles must have a certificate of title issued by the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) and must be properly endorsed at the time of sale. 

Leaving the title “open,” is illegal. Individuals who purchase a car with an open title avoid paying sales tax, registration fees, and title fees. They never put their name or information on the car’s documents, leaving the seller fully liable for the car under Massachusetts law. The seller is also at risk for penalties and fines since it’s illegal to leave the title open.

The best way is to properly fill out the “Assignment of Title,” which is found on the back of the vehicle’s “Certificate of Title.” This must include:

•           The date of sale

•           Purchase price

•           Buyer’s name, address, and signature

•           Seller’s name, address, and signature

•           Odometer reading

Additional Resources for Title Requirements


Curbstoning is the illegal sale of used cars for profit, commonly by unlicensed dealers who make a profit by repeatedly “flipping” cars. A curbstoner may put dealer plates on the car to make the sale seem authentic and lure customers who are wary of buying cars from a dealership. Alternately, some curbstoners are actually licensed dealers who pose as private sellers in order to make a profit on the side. According to Massachusetts state law, anyone who sells more than three cars in a twelve month period is considered a dealer and must have a Class 2 dealer’s license.

Additional Resources for Curbstoning