Call it the scarlet letter for certified clunkers.
This month, Minnesota got in step with a number of other states by requiring all vehicles that have been bought back by manufacturers under "lemon laws" to carry the distinction on their titles.
Lemon laws generally require carmakers to buy back a vehicle that's under warranty if it has critical or chronic defects.
Titles issued in Minnesota can already be "branded" if the vehicles have been drowned, salvaged from a total loss or rebuilt after a terrible accident. The titles feature such alarming designations as "FLOOD DAMAGED," "PRIOR SALVAGE," "REBUILT" and "RECONST."
But until this year, the Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services agency had no authority to brand a car's title if it was part of a manufacturer buy-back in Minnesota or if it arrived from another state with that stigma, said Larry Ollila, vehicle services program director.
"It's something we put forward as an initiative because vehicles were coming in from other states with that brand," Ollila said. "We didn't have the ability to carry forward the brand. It's a consumer awareness issue."
Ollila said he didn't know how many vehicle titles in Minnesota would have to carry the stamp, although the first "LEMON LAW VEHICLE" brand went on a title on Aug. 1, the day the law went into effect.
The new law comes too late for Angela Lembo of Bloomington, who bought a 2003 Volkswagen Jetta last year. The Jetta had been part of a lemon law buyback program in California, but by the time Lembo bought the car in Minnesota, the title didn't show it.
Lembo found out about the Jetta's checkered history only when she tried to resell it and the buyer made the discovery during a title search. She welcomes the new law.
"It's no different than buying a car with a salvage title," she said. "You know what you're getting into."
JAMES ELI SHIFFER