Car Buying

What does MSRP mean?

For starters, it stands for Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price

This is part of our Car Buyer's Glossary series breaking down all the terms you need to know if you're buying a new or used car from a dealership.

The term MSRP is an abbreviation for "manufacturer's suggested retail price." This is simply the price that the manufacturer suggests the dealer asks for the car. You'll see it on the Monroney (aka window sticker) while perusing any dealership shopping for cars — it's the law to have it there.

However, the dealership doesn't have to charge that price at all and in fact rarely does. It's only "suggested," after all. Most of the time buyers will drive away having paid less than the MSRP lists, but the dealership can also mark the price up when there is heavy demand for a particular car. Historically, this has meant recently introduced cars that have captured the attention of car enthusiasts or even the general public. However, the supply shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led dealers to markup even relatively mundane new cars like the Kia Telluride and Toyota RAV4 Prime to dizzying degrees. It's even worse for enthusiast vehicles like the Ford Bronco that would've likely seen markups anyway. 

So, how is the MSRP determined?

This price is determined by a manufacturer by adding up the base price, destination charges and options on the car. The base price is typically what the car costs without any of the aforementioned charges included. Put everything together, and you'll be looking at the MSRP.

What effect does it have on what you ultimately pay?

The MSRP, also known as the sticker price, is most likely the biggest factor in what you end up walking out the door paying. Of course, you can negotiate a cheaper price if the dealer is willing to negotiate. Dealerships will always try to get you to pay that full MSRP, but more times than not, a deal is struck below said value.

All seems pretty straightforward, right?

That's right. The manufacturer's suggested retail price is one of the easier concepts to grasp when it comes to navigating the process of buying a new car. It's a super-easy way to compare vehicles in the same segment based on what a manufacturer thinks the car is worth. Most manufacturers' websites will list the MSRP, so figuring out what a car costs is simple online. Sometimes you'll see manufacturers use MSRP for describing a car's price without any options or destination charges.

Pay attention to promotions and sales that manufacturers run every now and then, though. If you bide your time and wait for the car you want to have some cash on the hood, there's a great chance of you driving away with a new car for far below the listed MSRP. Or, if the auto industry is mired in supply shortages, it might be best to hold off that new car purchase if you want to pay less than MSRP (or not pay more than it).

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