How to Read a New Car Window Sticker

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If you’ve ever been to at auto dealership, then you’ve seen a new car window sticker. A new car window sticker exists for all new cars, and gives potential buyers all the information they need about the specific car they are looking at. While most people look at window stickers to see the price of the car in question, the sticker also contains mileage information, safety information, a list of all the included options and features, and even the location of car’s manufacturing.

While different dealerships orient their new car window stickers differently, each sticker is legally required to contain the same information. Once you’ve been given a primer, this information is very easy to find and process, and makes the new car buying experience a lot easier.

Part 1 of 2: The vehicle and pricing information

mustang spreadsheet
Image: Automotive News

Step 1: Find the model information. Locate the basic vehicle model information.

The model information is always at the top of the new car window sticker, usually in a different color than the rest of the information.

The model information segment contains the year, model, and style of the vehicle in question, as well as the engine size and transmission type. The exterior and interior colors will also be included.

  • Tip: If you are planning on customizing a vehicle, a new car window sticker can help you find the name of the exact interior or exterior color that you are looking for.

Step 2: Find the standard equipment information. Locate the standard equipment information portion on the sticker.

The standard equipment information is usually located beneath the model information.

In the standard equipment information portion, you will find all of the standard features included in this vehicle. These features are built into the base manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP). They are included in all trims, at no extra cost.

  • Tip: If you’re interested in a vehicle, it’s a good idea to scan the standard equipment page, to see what features come with the car.

Step 2: Find the warranty information. Locate the warranty information segment, usually located next to the standard equipment information.

In the warranty information segment, you will find all of the base warranties that come with your vehicle. This will include your comprehensive warranty, as well as warranties specific to certain elements of your car.

  • Tip: The warranties listed on the new car window sticker are included with your car at no extra charge. However, some dealerships will allow you to purchase more intensive warranty packages if you want more thorough care.

Step 4: Find the optional equipment information. Locate the optional equipment information portion, usually located underneath the standard equipment information.

The optional equipment information segment contains all of the additional features that the model you are viewing comes with. These features are not included on every model. This equipment can range from small features such as license plate brackets, to large options such as deluxe sound systems.

Next to each piece of optional equipment is the price for that feature, so you can determine whether it’s worth the extra price for the included features.

  • Tip: Not all additional features cost additional money, however, most do.

Step 5: Find the parts content information. Locate the parts content information segment.

The parts content information segment tells you where your vehicle was made. This can help you determine how domestic or foreign the vehicle truly is.

  • Tip: Some vehicles and vehicle components from domestic manufacturers are actually built abroad, while some vehicles and components from foreign manufacturers are built in the United States.

Step 6: Find the price information. Locate the price information portion of the sticker.

The price information segment is located next to the standard and optional equipment information. On the price information portion of the new car window sticker, you will find the vehicle’s base MSRP, as well as the total price of your options, and often the price of delivery.

Below these numbers, you will find the total MSRP, which is the complete price that you would have to pay for the vehicle.

  • Tip: While the total MSRP represents the price of the vehicle as is, you can often negotiate a lower price while at the dealership.

Part 2 of 2: The mileage and safety information

second part of mustang page
Image: Automotive News

Step 1: Find the fuel economy information. Locate the fuel economy information portion of your new car window sticker.

The fuel economy information is usually located on the side of the new car window sticker. On the fuel information sticker, you will find the EPA estimated mileage of the vehicle.

This portion also contains the average annual cost of fuel given the vehicle’s mileage (and the annual miles driven by the average driver), and how much more or less money you will spend on fuel, on average, than a person with a vehicle that gets average mileage.

Finally, this portion contains the greenhouse gas and smog ratings for the vehicle.

Step 2: Find the QR code. Locate the QR code on the sticker.

The QR code can be found directly beneath the fuel information sticker. The QR code is a pixelated square that can be scanned onto a smartphone, which will send you to the EPA’s mobile website. From there, you can see how the mileage of the vehicle would impact you, given your driving stats and preferences.

Step 2: Find the safety ratings. Find the safety ratings portion of the new car window sticker.

The safety ratings segment can usually be found in the bottom right corner of the new car window sticker. This portion of the sticker features safety ratings for the vehicle, as given by the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The NHTSA rates the safety for the driver in a frontal crash, the passenger in a frontal crash, the front seats in a side crash, the rear seats in a side crash, the entire car for a rollover, and the overall safety.

Many new car window stickers also feature safety ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The IIHS rates the side impact, rear impact, roof strength, and frontal offset.

  • Tip: The NHTSA rates safety on a star system, with one star being the worst, and five stars being the best. The IIHS rates safety with an assessment of either good, acceptable, marginal, or poor.

  • Warning: Vehicles are sometimes released before the safety ratings have been given. If this is the case for the vehicle you are looking at, the safety ratings will be listed as “To Be Rated”.

Once you learn how to read a new car window sticker, you’ll find that they’re very easy to navigate. Knowing how to read them can help you quickly skim stickers to find the information that you are looking for, which can make car shopping a lot quicker and a lot more pleasant. Have one of YourMechanic’s certified technicians perform a pre-purchase inspection to make sure the vehicle is in the advertised condition.


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