What the Window Sticker Really Means

If you were asked what a vehicle’s window sticker contained, what would you say? Most would respond with “the sticker price” without thinking twice. Although that is correct, you would also be making an understatement. In addition to the MSRP, the window sticker contains information about vehicle to help ensure buyers get their money’s worth for whatever price they actually end up paying. That’s why we’re breaking down where the information is and what it all means!

1. Model Information

This is where you will find the basic model information for the vehicle. The section is usually located in the top left or right corner. It tells you the engine and transmission combination, exterior and interior color, the year and trim level of the vehicle. Checking this part of the sticker is the best way to quickly ensure that the car in front of you has the engine and color configuration you’re looking for.

2. Standard Equipment

This section of the window sticker lists all items and features that are included in the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP). Items listed here should be consistent with any other vehicle in this trim level. These items are grouped into such categories as: Exterior, Interior, Safety/Security, Comfort/Convenience and Mechanical/Performance.

3. Warranty Information

This section lists the length of the new car’s bumper-to-bumper and powertrain warranties and notes any roadside assistance package that the manufacturer offers. Some new cars also come with free maintenance programs, and that coverage is also listed here.

4. Optional Equipment

In this section, you’ll find information on the car’s factory-installed options. Some carmakers bundle them into packages. Others offer them à la carte. Knowing a vehicle’s options can help you price it correctly and make apples-to-apples comparisons with other cars on the lot.

5. Pricing Information

This is where you’ll find the base price of the vehicle and a breakdown of options and fees. Other items that would appear here are the destination charge (cost of transporting the vehicle to dealer) and any gas-guzzler tax (levied on cars with a combined MPG of 22.5 or less). The total price of the vehicle is sometimes located here, but it often occupies its own space.

6. Parts Content Information

The parts content section lists where the vehicle was assembled and often the percentage of U.S. and Canadian parts it contains. Our sample window sticker doesn’t have the percentages, but many others do. For more information on this question, shoppers can turn to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) Web site, which has the percentage breakdown of domestic and foreign content in cars from 2007 to the present.

7. Total Price

This section shows the total MSRP for the vehicle. That doesn’t mean you have to pay this price, but it does give you a point of reference in your negotiations. Depending on the demand for the car, sometimes this “sticker price” is a fair price.

8. Fuel Economy Label

The fuel economy label, also called an EPA label, gives you estimates of the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. This block helps you compare the MPG numbers on one car versus another. The combined MPG number is the most prominent and most important figure to note.

9. QR Code

Scanning this pixelated square with a smartphone camera links shoppers to the mobile EPA Web site. They can then customize their driving stats to get personalized fuel economy data.

10. Safety Ratings

NHTSA tests a number of new vehicles every year and issues star ratings based on the results. This information is in the safety rating section of the window sticker. Occasionally, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) scores also are displayed on the window sticker. Because NHTSA doesn’t test every car on the market, the safety-rating section will sometimes be blank. If this is the case, consumers can check the IIHS Web site.

2015 Mustang EcoBoost Jim Shorkey Ford