Imagine walking into a car dealership blindfolded, not knowing for certain what exactly you were paying for when buying that shiny, brand-new vehicle on the showroom floor. Imagine not being able to see a list price for each individual vehicle option and add on, not knowing for sure how much the destination charge was, or even what the list price of the vehicle itself was. Instead, you’d have to trust the dealer’s word on all of that. Sounds a little bit crazy, right?
Up until 1958, that’s basically how new car transactions were conducted — minus the actual physical blindfold, of course. Car buyers were expected to pay for a car without truly knowing or understanding the math behind a car’s asking price. It was impossible to know if you’d gotten a great deal.
What’s on a Monroney sheet?
Enter the window sticker or, as it’s commonly referred to, a new vehicle’s Monroney. This handy sheet of paper is affixed to every single new car, truck, and SUV sold in the U.S. On it, you’ll find a complete explanation about where the car was built, warranty details, a list of engine specifications, what options have been added, the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of the car, along with the price of individual options. More recently, official EPA-endorsed fuel mileage data and crash test ratings have been added to the Monroney, helping give car buyers more information when comparing vehicles when making a purchase decision.
So even if you’ve busted your laptop, or your smartphone is blinking red at 1 percent of charge, you still have the trusty Monroney to show you some fixed, comparable numbers so you have some foundation from which to negotiate.
Who was this Monroney person anyways?
The question now is, who (or what) is Monroney? Almer Stilwell “Mike” Monroney was born in 1902 and served as a U.S. senator from Oklahoma from 1951 until 1969. During his long tenure, Monroney did many things, not least of which was his sponsorship of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, which helped establish the Federal Aviation Administration. Airline safety wasn’t the only thing on Sen. Monroney’s busy work agenda in 1958, however.
That same year, he sponsored a bill titled the Automobile Information Disclosure Act. At its core, this bill was intended to help consumers understand why the price of a new car was what it was. Until that time, there were no window stickers on cars, no clear and concise explanation about the price and cost of optional extras.
Despite what you might thank about the car buying experience at a typical dealership, this bill wasn’t just about weeding out unscrupulous dealers. In fact, the origins of the bill started with dealerships battling automobile manufacturers, though primarily over the handling of franchises. The Automobile Dealers Day in Court Act, passed in 1956, helped to balance some of the power between dealerships and automakers.
But in the process, the many hidden fees and extraneous expenses being foisted onto consumers by greedy dealers soon took centerstage. That’s when Monroney was tasked with coming up with a solution, to help protect car buyers from fuzzy math or outright fraud when buying a new vehicle.
Did Sen. Monroney have get swindled by a dealer?
What was the motivation behind this maneuver? According to this report by The New York Times, in this instance the truth is actually not strangerthan fiction. Sen. Monroney had not been bilked out of money for a new set of whitewall tires, or had a family member suffer the ignominy of overpaying for a pair of fender skirts.
Basically, any wild story about a personal vendetta somehow inspiring the Automobile Information Disclosure Act is simply that: nothing but a story.
Read more about new car buying and dealership terms at our Autoblog Car Buyer’s Glossary.