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How much for that sticker in the window?

Published Sep 5th 2008, 6:25am by Jody DeVere in Featured Articles
maserati monroneyThere's one of them in the window of every car on the lot. It's the law! They're the tools of both car buyers and automotive journalists, and even if you might take those lowly window stickers for granted when you're out shopping for a new car , did you know they have a name?

It has been 50 years since our government passed legislation requiring all American dealers to attach these labels to every new car listing essential information about the vehicle's pricing.

Ironically, while those same window stickers may be regarded as somewhat baffling, and might even be ignored by some buyers, the Monroney sticker (as it is called, after the Senator who introduced the legislation) is covered with important information. Savvy buyers can use the information to assist them when shopping, and dealers can also use it to showcase their products and services.

If you've never paid much attention to the infamous Monroney, we've assembled a detailed explanation of the information on the sticker, plus tips on how to work that data while negotiating a purchase.

This section contains all the basic information about the car including the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) which should match the VIN on the driver's side dashboard at the base of the windshield. It lists the color, make and model, type of transmission (automatic or standard), and the type of engine (I4, V6, V8, etc.).

mazda monroneyThese are all the features that are included with the vehicle at no extra charge. If this list includes passenger side air bags or ABS, those items are included in the Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price (also known as the MSRP). Some automobiles are sold with different trim levels, with more expensive versions equipped with more standard features, upgraded engine, and enhanced interiors. Sometimes features listed as standard can be traded for those listed as optional and may be incorporated into pricing negotiations. Warranty information will also be included here, which explains the number of years or miles the warranty will last, powertrain coverage (engine, transmission, and axles), and whether it also covers parts and labor or corrosion/rust damage.

Perhaps the most important section on the sticker, this section covers the charges that make up the dealer's total asking price, including MSRP, Optional Equipment, and Delivery or Destination Charge. The MSRP is the base price -- excluding optional equipment destination charges -- and represents a certain amount over the dealer's invoice price (which, by the way, is actually higher than the actual cost to the dealer). Sometimes, when a vehicle is in high demand, the dealer may list the car for more than the MSRP and that amount will appear in the Dealer Markup Section. Pricing negotiations should settle somewhere between the invoice price and the MSRP, and can depend largely on how motivated the dealer is to get that car off the lot.

Features which are not included as standard equipment are listed here, along with the additional costs associated with them. Some vehicles are "loaded" with additional features, which increase the price of the car accordingly. Often equipment is bundled into packages that generally costs less than they would if they were purchased separately - but look at these packages over closely because they may sometimes contain features you don't really want. If the features you want add up to less than the package, it will be cheaper to buy them separately. As mentioned earlier, the dealer may agree to trade options with those listed as standard. But also, keep in mind that sometimes you might not be able to get some features at all, unless you purchase the complete package. It won't hurt to ask.

camaro monroneyThis fee is describes the cost of shipping the vehicle from the plant to the dealer and is rarely negotiable. Most manufacturers charge a flat fee on all vehicles and is usually the same regardless of where in the country you actually live. This charge is included in the final price of the car.

When an automobile is particularly popular the dealer can increase the costs of an automobile above the MSRP. In this instance you may want to check with other dealers to determine whether this extra charge is reasonable and in line with what other dealers are charging. This markup is negotiable: If your dealer happens to have the only Susan G. Komen "Warriors in Pink" Mustang, in town, you might not be able to negotiate this much. However, if the guy across town has a dozen special edition Mustangs on his lot, the dealer will likely be more flexible

Occasionally dealers will install their own options such as luggage racks, pinstripes, or upgraded audio systems and these will usually appear on a separate sticker. Such added features are likely to be covered by a different warranty offered specifically by the dealer. In addition, some of these add-ons are designed to enhance profits or recoup advertising expenses. It's important for you to consider whether the increased costs for things like rustproofing, undercoating, and extended service contracts are important enough to you. Generally these additional enhancements are not necessary and should be viewed with a critical eye. Depending on the add-on, you may even be able to ask the dealer to remove it.

If nothing else, this section underscores the global nature of the auto industry by listing the location of the assembly plant, the engine, and its transmission parts. Domestic parts and cars include the U.S. and Canada, while all others are considered imported. Some manufacturers may provide a breakdown by percentage of domestic and foreign parts as well. It can be hard to tell the difference between Domestic and Import vehicles anymore; in fact, practically every car sold these days includes some non-domestic parts. Take a look: You might be surprised where the pieces in your new car come from. A recent Astra we tested listed only 3% of its parts from U.S./Canada, 35% from Germany, and 17% from Hungary; it was assembled in Belgium with an engine from Hungary and a transmission from Austria. The 1989 Ford Festiva was assembled in Mexico on a body shared with Mazda, using some Korean parts.

The EPA has mandated that all stickers include fuel economy information to identify how many miles to the gallon a given vehicle type averages annually with specific estimates for city and highway driving. A formula is used to calculate an annual fuel cost based on driving 15,000 miles per year with 55% under city driving conditions and 45% under highway conditions. You can use this number to as a guide to compare what your fuel costs might be when comparing specific models.

There is no hard and fast rule about where this information appears on the sticker -- manufacturers may present it however they want, as long as it's all there. You will likely need to review how the information is arranged from manufacturer to manufacturer. Remember: even though you're negotiating for your best possible price the dealer still needs to make a profit or he will not want to sell you the car.

If you propose a price slightly below what you would be willing to pay, you will probably be able to come to an acceptable agreement. A reputable dealer wants to keep your business, not just sell you a car, so be reasonable and realistic, and your negotiations should yield a satisfactory outcome.

Happy shopping!

Jody DeVere


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