If you’ve ever shopped for a new-to-you car, you’ve probably looked closely at a window sticker. Peppered with numbers and packages, EPA ratings, and abbreviations, the window sticker offers a glimpse into the details of a car you are looking to buy. Some of those numbers are negotiable, while others are not.
Now, before we begin, you could save yourself a boatload of time, money, and hassle by visiting Carvana.com and completing the purchase of your next vehicle online. Take a 360-degree tour of the car you want inside and out on it’s vehicle details page, which provides detailed information about your car not unlike the window sticker. From there, browse, buy, and finance your next vehicle from the comfort of your home in fraction of the time you’d otherwise spend at a dealership.
However, if you just so happen to find yourself wandering a lot, we’ve broken down the common elements of a dealer sticker to give you a better handle on the things you need to know before you buy.
The top part of the window sticker tells you the model name, the make or brand, color, the drivetrain and transmission information, and the year of the vehicle. You’ll also find details of the interior and exterior colors on the specific car you are looking at. This is where you can be sure that the car you are looking at is the version or trim you want. Some models look the same from the outside even if they have all kinds of additional bells and whistles on the inside. It’s important to take a closer look at the sticker to know if you are comparing apples to apples.
This section offers a list of items and breaks down what comes “included” in the current vehicle you are looking at. The number of items on the list and the details of the list is determined by the trim level of the vehicle you are investigating. Standard features can change from brand to brand and vehicle to vehicle, so pay close attention to the list here as it can tell you what your money will get you. The list in this section should match those on other vehicles in the same trim level, so it’s important to pay attention. This section is generally broken down into sections like interior, exterior, safety and security, comfort and convenience, and mechanical and performance.
This part of the sticker will include details of what’s covered under the warranty. On new cars it includes the bumper-to-bumper and powertrain coverage. Here you’ll discover if your new-to-you car has roadside assistance or maintenance programs that you can take advantage of when you buy it.
This is where you will find information on factory-installed options that are often bundled into packages. You’ll see things like tech packages and comfort packages, with a list of items under each. Next to each option, you’ll see a price. These prices are generally not negotiable on an individual basis.
Here you’ll find the base price of the vehicle, plus a break down of each of the options and fees. This is the place that you should pay close attention to. You should see items like the base price, the destination charge (which is set by the manufacturer and is non-negotiable) and any kind of additional taxes that may be included in the price of the car. Vehicles that get less than 22.5 MPG are levied with an additional tax known as the gas guzzler tax. Unfortunately, taxes and delivery fees can’t be negotiated.
Want to know where the pieces of your car are made and assembled? Check this section out. Here you can find out where your vehicle was built and where many of the major parts came from. Often times there will also be a percentage of U.S. and Canadian parts listed in this section.
The EPA information here tells you how many miles per gallon of gasoline, the Environmental Protection Agency believes you will get in the particular vehicle you are looking at. It breaks it out into three numbers—the city, highway, and combined MPG. In general you should pay attention to the combined number as this is the average miles per gallon you should expect to get. Often times there is also an expected annual gas price listed. This is an important number to consider when you are purchasing a car as it adds to the monthly cost of your vehicle.
If you use your smart phone to scan this code it will open a link to the EPA site. Once you are there you can get more information about the fuel economy of the vehicle you’re looking to purchase.
In this area you may also find the MSRP or Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price. This is the price the car’s manufacturer hopes to fetch when the vehicle is sold. Largely you should expect to negotiate to a price below this number unless you are purchasing a specialty car that has a limited run.
In special cases, there are some vehicles that can go for more than this price because they are highly desired, limited in number, or because there is a very high demand for them. When a car goes for more than the MSRP it’s known as going “over sticker,” or “over sticker price.”
The MSRP is something you, as a buyer, should pay attention to because it gives you an idea of the top end of the price you want to pay for that particular vehicle. In an ideal world you want to negotiate this number to be as close to what is known as “invoice” or “dealer invoice,” price as possible.
Invoice is, generally, what the dealer paid the manufacturer to get the car to its lot. The closer you are to this number, the better the deal. The invoice price is sort of a nebulous number that can be hard to find. Your best bet is to ask the dealer what invoice is (and take it with a grain of salt) and then do your own research online. Use sites like Edmunds.com and Cars.com to see what other people are paying for the vehicle in the trim and level you want, to know how much wiggle room you may have in that price.
Some dealers stick an additional sticker to the window that details all the things that the dealer has added onto that particular vehicle. These can include special coatings, wheel sealants, floor mats, and other items. This is the place that you can negotiate quite a bit of savings on—particularly if you see items that you just don’t want on the supplemental sticker.