'Certified' car gets meaning

ST. PAUL -- Buying a "certified" used car in Minnesota actually will mean something starting Tuesday. That is when a new law begins to regulate what car dealers can call a certified car. It is part of a "car owners' bill of rights" lawmakers pass...

ST. PAUL -- Buying a "certified" used car in Minnesota actually will mean something starting Tuesday.

That is when a new law begins to regulate what car dealers can call a certified car. It is part of a "car owners' bill of rights" lawmakers passed last spring, and something consumer activists and car dealers both like.

"The term 'certified' was used liberally and probably loosely in the industry," said Scott Lambert of the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association. "The new law does give us some standards, which I think are important."

However, Lambert warned, "'certified' still means different things to different people."

Under the old law, a dealer advertising a "certified" vehicle could define the term however he wanted. Now, state law says that, among other things, a certified used vehicle must include some form of warranty and the dealer must believe the car is in good shape and has not sustained significant damage.


"In general, it means they have gone through some sort of inspection and reconditioning," Lambert said of certified vehicles.

The law is one of only a few taking effect Tuesday. Most laws passed in the last legislative session already are on the books.

The most-discussed new law on Jan. 1 is one requiring that all American flags be made in the United States.

Long a dream of Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, the law applies only to flags, not novelties with flags painted on them.

Matt Knowlan, owner of American Flagpole and Flag Co. of Lake Elmo, said he doesn't expect the average Minnesotan to see much difference under the new law.

"There are a small portion on the Internet that sell flags that are not American made," Knowlan said. "A majority of people want a flag made in America."

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said the bill gained a lot of press in 2007.

"Though this bill has received its fair share of light-hearted attention, it serves a useful purpose by promoting a discussion of American-made products and how we can support local jobs and manufacturing," Sertich said.


A 2006 accident in which two cousins fell out of "The Zipper" carnival ride in Hinckley led to a law tightening regulations on amusement rides.

The state Labor and Industry Department has the task of enforcing the new provisions, including those requiring a ride owner to carry insurance for at least $1 million and provide training to operators. Also, each ride must be inspected daily by the operator and also be inspected independently on an annual basis.

The Labor and Industry Department can shut down a ride deemed unsafe.

The car buyers' law will be the one most Minnesotans encounter.

Besides defining "certified," it requires several new disclosures car dealers must make to customers. They include specifying how much dealer-installed options would add to a monthly payment and whether a credit report was used to investigate a customer's financial ability to pay off a loan.

With the new law, car dealers will be forced to go over 40 different disclosure statements with customers.

"Well-intentioned" people may be promoting something that could backfire like a lemon car, Lambert said.

"At some point, you have to wonder when the consumer starts to go numb," Lambert said, adding that many buyers already ignore all the required disclosures.


"I would suggest we don't need any more of this type of legislation," he said.

Lambert's 450 dealer members just have been trained on the Jan. 1 law, and time is needed to see how it works before new laws pass, he said.

The measure's main sponsor will try to expand the bill of rights in 2008.

The law does not go as far as Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, wanted. His original proposal included a provision allowing Minnesotans to return a used vehicle, with no more than 250 miles driven, within two days of purchase.

While that provision failed in 2007, Latz already is preparing to bring it up again during the session that begins Feb. 12.

Latz focused on used car buyer needs because, he said, Minnesotans buy used cars more than twice as often as people elsewhere in the country.

"This points to the need for an understandable bill of rights available for consumers here in Minnesota," Latz said.

What To Read Next
Get Local