Decoding the Car Window Sticker Mystery
Dealerships put car window stickers in large print and stick them right there on the window. They can't make them any easier to spot.
But now that you've located one, how do you read it?
Car stickers, or Monroney stickers, are official forms that list certain information about the car, including estimated miles per gallon, standard features, options and the total price. They're named after former Oklahoma Senator Almer Stillwell Monroney, who sponsored the Automobile Information Disclosure Act of 1958.
Under this law, each new car (except for those weighing more than 8,500 pounds) must have this sticker on one window or on the windshield. And just like mattress tags, each Monroney sticker must stay on until a customer purchases the car and removes it.
If the sticker is missing on a new car, the dealer could face a fine of up to $1,000 per vehicle, and possibly a year in jail. However, the law is rarely enforced, and dealers often remove the original Monroney and make their own.
Whether dealer-made or factory-made, each new car sticker should include the following information:
- Serial and VIN numbers
- The final assembly point
- The name and business address of the dealer to whom the vehicle is to be delivered
- The method of transportation used to deliver the car from its final assembly point to the dealer
- The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP, or "sticker price") of the base vehicle
- The MSRP of optional equipment installed on the base vehicle
- Warranty details
- Engine and transmission specifications
- The transportation charges for delivery of the vehicle from the manufacturer to the dealer
- The total MSRP of all of the above
- City and highway fuel economy ratings, as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
To make options easier to find and price, car stickers are divided into sections – typically mechanical/performance, safety, exterior, luxury and convenience features.
Also, the sticker lists where the parts for the car were manufactured, including the percentage of foreign parts used. Sometimes, the Monroney lists an extra selling point, such as government crash test ratings.
Fuel economy ratings are the largest printed items on the sticker. The estimated annual fuel cost for the car is listed near the ratings, and is based on the price of one gallon of gas (at the time the vehicle was made) multiplied by 15,000 miles per year.
For used cars, there's a slightly different set of rules. Instead of affixing Monroney stickers, dealerships must post a Buyer's Guide, which list important purchasing and warranty information, prominently on or in each used car. This disclosure document tells consumers:
- Whether the vehicle is being sold "as is" or with a warranty
- What percentage of the repair costs a dealer will pay under warranty
- That oral promises are difficult to enforce
- To get all promises in writing
- To keep the Buyer's Guide for reference after the sale
- The major mechanical and electrical systems on the car, as well as some of the major problems that consumers should look out for, and
- To ask to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy it.
Whether you're considering buying a new or used car, ask the salesperson if you have any questions about the window sticker or the Buyer's Guide, and check out all claims carefully.
And now that you know how to decode those window stickers, start reading them on cars near you. As always, research thoroughly before making a big purchase. Remember: knowledge is power.
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