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Car Buying

Decoding the New-Car Window Sticker

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author photo by Nick Palermo

Standardized new-car window stickers have been around for a long time. Called Monroney stickers for Oklahoma senator Mike Monroney, sponsor of the Automobile Information Disclosure Act of 1958, these federally mandated labels for new vehicles include important information for buyers, from specifications and pricing to EPA-estimated fuel economy and crash test ratings.

For the 2013 model year, a newly designed label is required. It includes more information to compare fuel economy, fuel costs and environmental impact between models. Because hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs) now use a similar label, new-car shoppers can easily compare these vehicles to each other or to conventionally-powered vehicles. The new window sticker also includes a QR code that shoppers can scan using a smartphone to access more information about a vehicle's economy.

The outgoing version of the Monroney window sticker label was updated in 2007, adding a section for the federal government's safety ratings. That section remains on the new 2013 sticker but is now titled "Government 5-Star Safety Ratings."

The big changes for 2013 are in the fuel economy section of the sticker. The outgoing "EPA Fuel Economy Estimates" design, with a familiar gas pump silhouette flanked by EPA-estimated city and highway ratings, is replaced with a design that puts the emphasis on the estimated combined fuel economy. It also includes more ways to compare models, whether by fuel costs or environmental impact.

The header above the revised fuel economy section reads "EPA/DOT Fuel Economy and Environment." It clearly lists the fuel type, such as "gasoline," "electric vehicle," or "plug-in hybrid vehicle electricity-gasoline." A single figure is listed most prominently: EPA-estimated combined fuel economy. The city and highway figures remain but are not as prominent. A new figure lists the energy required to travel 100 miles. It's listed in gallons for gasoline or diesel vehicles or kW-hrs for EVs.

Like the old fuel economy label, the new one provides an estimated annual fuel cost. The new one also shows an estimate of the difference in fuel cost over five years compared with the average new vehicle. For relatively inefficient vehicles, this part describes how much more a driver will spend on fuel. For thrifty ones, it lists the dollars you'll save.

The final change for the fuel economy section of the Monroney lists relative emissions from the vehicle's tailpipe. The "fuel economy and greenhouse gas rating" is based on both the vehicle's efficiency and its CO2 emissions. The "smog rating" assesses any emissions that contribute to air pollution. Both figures are listed on a 1-10 scale, 10 being the best.

Because both of these figures are based only on tailpipe emissions, electric vehicles will score 10 for greenhouse gasses and smog. The labels for EVs and plug-in hybrids now include some additional information too. Monroneys for electrics include figures like driving range and charging time. Such vehicles as plug-in hybrids that include different driving modes--gasoline, gasoline-electric or pure electric--list details like fuel economy in each available mode.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls the changes to the new-car window sticker "the most dramatic overhaul in the history of EPA's labeling program." But will so many details really help new-car shoppers?

The EPA thinks so. Particularly, the new labels' European-style gallons-per-100-miles metric and the estimated fuel cost over five years better illustrate the high relative costs of choosing a less efficient vehicle. The changes also bring the label up to the speed of green auto innovation, reflecting energy consumption for alternative-fueled vehicles and hybrids.

It may seem tedious, but take some time to compare Monroney stickers when shopping for your next new car. In the long run, you'll be glad you spent a few minutes sweating the details. Plus, it could help save you thousands of dollars on fuel.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Decoding the New-Car Window Sticker