How to Read Car Window Sticker

How to Read Car Window Sticker

You’ve seen the stickers on new cars. They’re about the size of your standard infographic and look like a question out of 9th grade algebra. You know the type: if this car left the assembly plant on a truck at midnight and traveled 989 miles in one day, what color is it?

Looks CAN be deceiving. The stickers on new cars provide useful information to new car buyers. That’s why its important to know how to read car window stickers. Every new car on the lot has to have one. The layout of the stickers can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer but every sticker has to contain the same information. That’s the law. This is how to read car window stickers.


This will generally be in one of the upper corners of the sticker. This is the basic information about the vehicle: engine size, transmission type, the color (exterior and interior) of the vehicle, and what’s known as the trim level. The trim level is expressed in terms such as Honda XYZ or Subaru GX. These can be confusing. What these letters designate are features the car in front of you has above the base model.


You’ll find this beneath the model information. Its a list of equipment that’s included in the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). It will be listed by category, such as Exterior, Interior, Mechanical, Safety/Security, and Convenience/Comfort.


Usually next to the list of Standard Equipment. The warranty information tells you the length of the vehicle’s bumper-to-bumper and drive train warranties. This is also where you will find any additional information, such as roadside assistance or special maintenance programs. Pay special attention to the warranty information. You’ll need to know what’s included when the dealer wants to sell you extended warranties.


Usually listed below the Standard Equipment. This listing will tell you the factory installed options on the vehicle. (This is also where you’ll begin to learn what those trim level codes mean.) These options can be priced as a bundle or individually. For example, you might read “Passenger Comfort Package.” The sticker has to detail what that includes, possibly a make-up mirror, special lighting, fur-lined door handles. This will be priced as a bundle and be included in the total price of the vehicle.


This is usually found next to the equipment breakdown. This list includes the base price of the vehicle, the cost of any optional equipment, the destination charge (which is the cost of transporting the vehicle from the factory to the dealership), and any environmental costs. These costs are placed on vehicles by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If a vehicle gets less than 22.5 miles per gallon (MPG) and is not considered a truck or SUV, it gets taxed. The lower the MPG, the higher the tax. You might also see the total price of the vehicle here but the total price also has its own special place on the sticker.


Usually found at the bottom of the sticker. This will let you where the car was assembled and how it got to the dealer (truck, rail, ship). It can also detail where the parts were assembled. The parts breakdown will be in percentages, such as US parts 65%, Mexico parts 30%, Japan parts 5%. Not all stickers have this breakdown. If it’s important to you to know where the parts are from, go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration site. The NHTSA has parts information on vehicles from 2007 to the present.


The total price is generally in the bottom center of the sticker and is highlighted. This is the MSRP of the vehicle. It might end up being the total price you pay or it might not. This total price section gives you a starting point for negotiations.


This is another mandate from the EPA. This section will let you know how fuel efficient the vehicle is and if, in the EPA’s opinion, you’ll be spending less for gas by purchasing this vehicle rather than a less-efficient vehicle. That Quick Response (QR) code in this section will take you to the EPA website, where you can enter your personal driving information. The site will then provide you with custom fuel economy information. Another reason why it’s important to know how to read car window stickers.


The information here comes from the NHTSA. It tests a number of vehicles each year and issues safety ratings based on crash test information. The NHTSA doesn’t test every make and model so this section might be blank. If that’s the case, you can go to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) website for information gathered about the particular vehicle you’re considering.


Now you know how to read car window stickers. Here’s how to read the smaller stickers sometimes placed next to the big ones. These supplemental window stickers list accessories added on by the dealer. These could be anything: a luggage rack, interior protection coating, or pinstripes. You might want some or all of the add-ons. You might not. Be aware that these accessories are included in your total price.

That’s how to read car window stickers. It’s worth the extra time you’ll spend on the lot looking at this information.