PhotoIf you've ever shopped for a new car, your first step was probably to glance at the car's window sticker. After seeing the price, maybe a few options and the EPA mileage rating, you might have moved on to a closer inspection of the vehicle itself.

But that sticker has a lot of useful information about the car and it pays to read it closely. It can mean the difference it making a smart or bad buying decision.

"By taking the time to carefully review and understand the window sticker's information, car buyers can have an easier time comparing the vehicles on their shopping lists," said Consumer Advice Editor Ron Montoya. "The layout of a window sticker can change depending on the automaker, but the information on what the industry calls the 'Monroney label' is required by law to be the same across all manufacturers."

PhotoThat's important because it means you are comparing “apples to apples” in your car search. Including the price, there are 10 items on a window sticker that you should absorb:

  1. Model Information — Check this part of the sticker to ensure that the car in front of you has the engine, trim and color configuration you're looking for.
  2. Standard Equipment — This section lists all items and features that are included as a part of the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP).
  3. Warranty Information — This lists the length of the car's bumper-to-bumper and powertrain warranties and free maintenance programs, and notes any roadside assistance package that the manufacturer offers.
  4. Optional Equipment — Here you'll find information on the car's factory-installed options. Some carmakers bundle them into packages. Others offer them à la carte.
  5. Pricing Information — This is where you'll find the base price of the vehicle and a breakdown of the costs of options and some of the fees associated with the purchase. Other items that appear here are the destination charge and any gas-guzzler tax.
  6. Parts Content Information — This section lists where the vehicle was assembled and often the percentage of U.S. and Canadian parts it contains.
  7. Total Price — You don't have to pay this price (also known as the MSRP), but it does give you a point of reference in your negotiations. Use's True Market Value (TMV) calculator to help you determine a fair price.
  8. Fuel Economy Label — The EPA label is all-new for the 2013 model year and provides more information than it previously had. Use this label to compare the MPG numbers between vehicles.
  9. QR Code — Scan this pixelated square with a smartphone camera to link to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mobile Website. You can then customize your driving stats to get personalized fuel economy data for the vehicle.
  10. Safety Ratings — This section posts the results of NHTSA's or, occasionally, IIHS's safety ratings for that vehicle. Because NHTSA doesn't test every car on the market, the safety-rating section will sometimes be blank.

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