I’m shopping for a new car and found a car I like, but reading the sticker is awful! It’s full of abbreviations and jargon that I am sure is designed to confuse me. So my question is: What should I look for on the “sticker,” and does the sticker really make the buying process fair?
Dazed and Confused in Columbus
Don’t be intimidated; believe it or not, the information on the sticker is there for your protection. The Monroney (as the sticker is officially called) was created as a result of a federal law passed in 1958 and named after Mike Monroney, the US Senator from Oklahoma who authored the Automobile Information Disclosure Act.
There are things on the Monroney that you probably don’t care much about, like where the car’s parts were sourced and where it was built. But then there are items you should look at to understand what you are buying:
-Standard equipment: What is included in the base price of this car? This will be in the far left column. Manufacturers have some flexibility in what they list (for instance, some will list the car’s horsepower, others won’t). Look at interior features, safety features, technology, engine specs, exterior features, and warranty information. If you don’t see something that you wonder about (like automatic transmission or what type of gas the car requires) make note of it and be sure to ask.
-Optional equipment: This will follow standard equipment. What things were added to this car that are not part of the base price? (And do you really want all these things?)
-Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: This is often a tiny number buried someplace in the middle of the page, often in its own column near the end of the standard equipment listing. This is the base price of this particular car (which may vary from the base price other similar models) and does not include taxes and registration fees.
-Total price with options and destination charges: This will be somewhere near the end of the options list.
-Fuel economy and emissions estimates: This should be prominently displayed on the Monroney to let you know the approximate gas mileage you’ll get and how much carbon the car will release into the atmosphere; auto makers are required to include these estimates, and they often also include an annual fuel cost estimate, too (not that this is always a valid estimate: gas prices, driving style and terrain can have a big impact).
-Government safety ratings: If the model you are looking at has been safety tested, the Monroney will list its safety ratings (not all models will have been tested before the Monroney is printed).
Ask for a copy of the Monroney to look at while you sit in or test drive the car. As you look at the list of standard and optional equipment, ask the salesman about things on the list. Some you’ll recognize right away, others may not be visible but are important. And have fun: see if the salesman can identify everything listed on the Monroney. Our guess is he can’t!