This little wall of information is your truth-telling friend at a car dealership.
Not that we don’t love our friends at car dealerships, and not that we don’t understand, cars have a LOT of details. As in, thousands of tiny yet very important details. Like, does it have adaptive cruise control? Brake hold? Apple CarPlay? Android Auto? Or both? It can be easy to get confused when comparing trims, much less competitors. So grab a copy of the car window sticker, formally known as a Monroney, and sit and study a bit. That’s how you’ll know just what you’re getting for your money.
Information Is Power In Your Hands
Don’t let the car window sticker intimidate you; believe it or not, the information is there for your protection. The Monroney 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. It’s sort of like that tag on a new mattress with the bold declaration that it can only be removed by the buyer. Same with the Monroney: it’s there for your information and dealers cannot remove it from a new car.
There are things on the Monroney that you may not 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? 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 all wheel drive or fuel octane rating 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 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.
- Destination charge: This is the fee that the manufacturer charges to deliver the car to the dealership and it’s passed on to the buyer
- Total price with options and destination charges is listed typically somewhere near the end of the 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, type of tires, terrain and more 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. Since most new cars have not gone through safety testing before the stickers are printed, and most meet or exceed government safety regulations anyway, this field is usually blank leaving us to wonder why it’s still included.
Keep In Mind: Not All Monroneys Are The Same
Manufacturers often use their own lingo or trademarked names to describe features and Monroneys don’t mention every feature, just those that are most important or required by law. So take note of the features you’re most interested in and make sure that the car you’re considering has them.
Ask for a copy of the Monroney to take with you after you test drive the car, or, use your phone to snap a photo of the window sticker on the car. That way you’ll have the exact product detail on hand for comparison to other brands and models.
Often you can get a copy (or find one on line) of the Monroney for a used car, which is great because it can be hard to tell just what equipment was part of a car built 3 or 4 years ago.
And if you want to have a little fun, see if the salespeople you’re working with can explain everything listed on the Monroney. Our guess is he or she can’t!