A window sticker on a new car can tell you a lot more about the vehicle than just its price. It’s a rich source of information and is essentially the vehicular equivalent of a birth certificate.
Known in the auto business as a “Monroney” sticker, it’s named for Sen. Almer Stillwell “Mike” Monroney. He was the chief sponsor of the Automobile Information Disclosure Act of 1958, which mandated that equipment and pricing information be affixed to every new vehicle sold in the U.S.
Vital Vehicle Information
At the top of each Monroney sticker, you’ll find basic information, including the year, make, model and trim level. There’s also the interior and exterior color treatments, and the vehicle identification number.
On the left side, you’ll find a list of the standard features for that particular model and trim level. This includes the engine size, configuration and number of cylinders, as well as the transmission type, number of forward gears and whether it offers front-wheel, rear-wheel, four-wheel or all-wheel drive. It also notes the vehicle’s standard safety features, audio hardware, climate control, seating, lighting, power accessories and wheel and tire types and sizes.
Following or adjacent to a vehicle’s standard features is a list of its factory-installed options and/or equipment packages and their prices. At the end of these lists, you’ll find the car’s base price and the vehicle’s bottom-line MSRP with options and the manufacturer’s mandatory delivery charge. Passenger cars that receive a combined city/highway rating of 22.5 mpg or less are assessed a “gas-guzzler” tax of at least $1,000, which also will be noted on the window sticker. Pickups, vans and SUVs remain exempt from gas-guzzler taxes, however.
This section also details the vehicle’s warranty information, which is expressed in years/thousands of miles (36 months/36,000 miles, for instance). Comprehensive “bumper-to-bumper” coverage applies to parts and labor costs for all covered repairs, while a powertrain warranty deals specifically with major mechanical components such as the engine and transmission. There’s also corrosion coverage, which applies to body panels that have been completely rusted through, and roadside assistance, which rivals the benefits of auto-club memberships.
A separate section documents the name and location of the dealership to which the vehicle was delivered, the final assembly plant, the countries where the engine and transmission were sourced and, if it’s been imported, the point of entry into the U.S. A separate box documents domestic and imported parts content information by percentages.
Fuel Economy and Environmental Impact
Every Monroney sticker includes a large box that details its fuel economy as rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for city, highway and combined city/highway driving, expressed as miles per gallon (mpg). The combined rating assumes 55 percent city and 45 percent highway use. The sticker also shows how many gallons of fuel are necessary to drive 100 miles in combined city/highway driving.
This information is slightly different with fully electric cars and plug-in hybrids. An electric-powered vehicle is rated according to a miles-per-gallon equivalent figure, called “MPGe.” Also noted is the number of kilowatt-hours of electricity necessary to drive the vehicle 100 miles. This is expressed as “kWh/100 mi.”
Plug-in hybrids note both the MPGe figure for when it’s running on battery power and the conventional rating for when it’s operating in hybrid mode. The sticker also shows how many average miles a plug-in vehicle can operate on a charge, and how long it takes to fully replenish a discharged battery using a 240-volt (Level 2) charger.
This section of the sticker also includes the projected annual fuel costs for the vehicle, based on 15,000 miles driven at a predetermined cost for fuel or electricity. It also gives the range of how the car or truck’s fuel economy compares to other vehicles in its class.
Also included is a model’s environmental impact, which is likewise assessed by the EPA. A car’s Smog Rating notes the relative amount of health-damaging and smog-forming airborne pollutants the vehicle is estimated to emit. Its Greenhouse Gas Rating refers to the volume of CO2 and related emissions the vehicle is estimated to generate. Scoring for both ratings is based on a 10-point system, with higher numbers better.
You’ll also find a QR code that can be scanned by a smartphone that links to a website where motorists can enter information about their commutes and driving habits to get a better estimate of their fuel costs.
NHTSA Safety Ratings
A separate box on a new car’s window sticker details the vehicle’s safety ratings for occupant protection, based the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) crash tests. Vehicles are rated on a five-star basis, with more stars indicating better performance.
Results are given for front-impact crash protection for the driver and front-seat passenger, and for front-seat and rear-seat riders in side-impact tests. There’s also an evaluation for rollover protection.
Though the ratings are presented to help shoppers choose a safer vehicle, experts note that frontal crash test results are useful only when comparing vehicles within a specific size and weight class. All else being equal, occupants in larger and heavier vehicles will typically fare better in a collision than will those riding in smaller and lighter ones. This means a top-rated compact sedan will not necessarily protect its occupants as well as would a larger car or SUV in a front-end crash. Side-impact and rollover ratings, however, can be compared across model types and sizes.
It’s a good idea to keep a copy of the Monroney in the glove box for future reference. It can document the list of accessories that originally came with the vehicle for a future buyer. A Monroney can also confirm which engine, transmission and equipment your car or truck came equipped with. That information can also be accessed by adding your car to the myCARFAX smartphone app, and it can come in handy down the road if repairs need to be made.