Some automotive analysts insist that the price sticker has outlived its usefulness as a tool for gauging retail prices. Others, probably older, smile and reply that the sticker never has been much of a tool for predicting out-the-door prices.
They remind the listener that when the price sticker arrived at the beginning of the 1959 model year, dealer discounts were much higher than they are today. In other words, dealers had a lot more money with which to negotiate.
Cars seldom were sold at or near the sticker price. Today, with smaller dealer discounts and big rebates, it is more common for customers to put less emphasis on the sticker price. After pocketing a hefty rebate, many customers don't feel the need to negotiate further price cuts.
Economists will argue that the transaction price is much more important. And for economists it is more important. The transaction price is the amount of money that changes hands when the vehicle is sold, after the rebates are applied and the negotiations are completed.
The transaction price is variable, and it's impossible to get precise nationwide data. The sticker price is constant, and is published by the auto companies.
So why retain the sticker price law? Because the sticker price is the only constant in the retail transaction. It is the only basis for comparing today's price with last year's or that of 10 or 20 years ago. The sticker may change several times during a model year, but on any particular day it is the only means of comparing prices.
For that reason, the sticker price is the starting point of any discussion about new-vehicle prices.