How to Read a Window Sticker

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Every vehicle at the dealership has one, but what exactly do they tell you?

Here, we've broken down some of the most common elements of the new car window sticker for you to help you better prepare yourself before heading to the car lot.

What Is a Car Window Sticker?

Just as the name implies, a car window sticker is the sticker attached to the window of a new or used car (when purchased at a dealership) that gives you specific information about the vehicle—including, but not limited to:

  • Standard and optional equipment.
  • Safety ratings.
  • Pricing information, including the total price.

Read on for some of the most common components of a car window sticker.

Basic Elements of a Window Sticker

Understand that the layout of a window sticker will vary depending on factors like vehicles' makes, models, and years.

However, the information you'll find on a new car window sticker is basically the same across the board.

Model Information

Here, you'll find the most basic information about the vehicle's model such as the:

  • Make.
  • Model.
  • Year.
  • Engine and transmission combination.
  • Interior and exterior color.

Standard Equipment

Under this section, you'll find the vehicle's features included in the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). Take note of the word “standard" here; generally, you won't find any additional perks or add-ons.

Some categories included under standard equipment can include:

  • Safety and security.
  • Comfort and convenience.
  • Mechanical and performance.

Optional Equipment

This section might get a little tricky, as it can include information about factory-installed options (sometimes bundled into packages) as well as options you can pick and choose. Be sure to talk with your salesperson about the exact components of this section, and how they can affect the vehicle's price.

Parts Content Information

This section tells buyers where the vehicle was assembled, and sometimes the percentage of American and Canadian (and possibly other areas) parts it contains.

Warranty Information

Within this section, you'll find details about the vehicle's warranties including, but possibly not limited to:

  • Bumper-to-bumper warranties.
  • Powertrain warranties.
  • Free maintenance programs.

Fuel Economy Label

This section breaks down the car's fuel efficiency; such information allows you to compare the fuel efficiency of various different vehicles in which you might be interested. Pay close attention to the combined miles-per-gallon (MPG) number.

QR Code

The QR code is the pixelated square on the window sticker that you can scan with your smartphone to gain access to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mobile Web site. From there, you can get customized information based on your driving statistics (and, consequently, fuel economy data).

Safety Ratings

Here, you'll find safety rating information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and/or sometimes the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Pricing Information

You can find several pieces of pricing information under this section, including the vehicle's:

  • Base price.
  • Options and fees.
  • Destination charge.
  • Possible “Gas Guzzler Tax" (the tax charged on vehicles that don't meet required fuel economy levels).

Total Price

Here you'll find the vehicle's total Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). Oftentimes, the MSRP is just a negotiation jumping off point; other times, it's an actual fair price. Be sure to research the vehicle(s) you're interested in (and shop around!) before settling on a final price.

Additional Window Stickers

Sometimes, dealerships affix their own “supplemental" window stickers next to the basic window sticker. Generally, these additional window stickers include information about accessories the dealer has added to the vehicle. Study this sticker carefully, as it might include accessories that a) you're not interested in, and b) could raise the price of the car.

Using the New Car Window Sticker

As you can see, a window sticker offers a lot of information about a vehicle.

Before you head to the dealership, familiarize yourself with the kinds of information these sections provide; this way, you'll be better prepared to compare the pros and cons of the various vehicles you're considering as well as know exactly what you want, what you're getting, and how to negotiate with the salesperson.

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