Expert exposes how car dealers try to 'confuse you' when trying to negotiate price

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‘You’ll end up paying more for the car than you should’: Customer exposes the technique car dealers use to ‘confuse you’ when negotiating price

'It's a disgusting game they play.'


Braden Bjella


Posted on Mar 31, 2024   Updated on Mar 31, 2024, 8:45 am CDT

When buying a car, one can quickly become overwhelmed by the mess of jargon, car models, and prices. This, some argue, is intentional—dealerships want to put customers on the back foot so they will be in a worse place when it comes time to negotiate.

Over the years, many internet users have shared advice on how to regain power in this fraught negotiation dynamic. Some have warned about what you should and should not tell a worker at a car dealership; others have simply explained what leading questions a worker at a car dealership may use to try to get you to buy a vehicle. One user even revealed what the sole focus of those shopping for a car should be when entering a dealership.

However, dealerships are aware of shoppers’ methods to try to circumvent their typical sales process. As a result, they’ve developed techniques to attempt to put customers in a place where they will be limited in their arguments and negotiation abilities.

One method for doing this, Reddit user u/SuperSimpleSam writes on the subreddit r/YouShouldNow, is employing what dealerships call a “4 square.”

The user links to an article in Consumer Reports detailing exactly what a 4-square chart is. In short, a worker at a dealership will bring you a sheet divided into four parts: trade-in value, price, down payment, and monthly payment. This, u/SuperSimple says, directs the customer’s attention away from what will hit their pockets most and toward an area where the dealership is more comfortable negotiating.

“Instead of just dealing with the final price of the car they will have you thinking about the other terms like monthly payment,” the Redditor explains.

As the Consumer Reports article notes after speaking with a man named Alan Slone, the 4 square process is designed to be overwhelming, with the customer asked to initial the form before it even begins to provide some idea that what they are doing is official, when in reality such an agreement is not legally binding.

From there, there are several ways that the dealership can manipulate the customer. The first two boxes are trade-in value and price; dealerships can fill these sections out with a low trade-in value and a high price, both areas where they may otherwise negotiate.

This is why the bottom two sections are down payment and monthly payment. By redirecting customers’ attention to these areas, they can pressure the customer into a down payment with which they may not be comfortable, or stress the importance of a lower monthly payment price as opposed to a lower overall price.

“THESE NUMBERS ARE MEANT TO INSULT YOU AND PUT YOU ON THE DEFENSIVE, ESPECIALLY THE LAST TWO,” notes the Consumer Reports article. The article also notes that a salesperson may “fold the four square so that the only figures you see when you’re talking are the down payment and monthly payment.”

Instead of falling for the 4 square, Reddit users say to come into the dealership with a singular focus.

“…Tell them you want an OUT THE DOOR PRICE. All taxes, fees, etc included. Thats all that really matters,” wrote a user. “Once you have it, dont let it go up.”

“30 years ago, I read a Consumer Reports article about haggling for cars, and it said to take that paper and flip it over and say that you are only discussing bottom line price. And that’s what I do,” added another.

Others suggested ways to deflate the salesperson’s power.

“Having worked in sales, I’ve found it’s a wonderful advantage when you can tell a salesman is going into a ‘bit,’ like the 4-square,” detailed a commenter. “When they start into it, you can say, ‘Oh, I know this one. Go ahead, do your thing…’ and it takes a lot of the gas out of their balloon.”

Further users simply advised that shoppers be careful about where they opt to buy cars.

“4 square is a shell game – they just move money around to make the square you’re paying attention to the number you want,” stated a user. “And if they pull this sh*t on you, just walk out – it’s likely they’re scammy across the board.”

The Daily Dot reached out to u/SuperSimpleSam via Reddit chat.

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*First Published: Mar 31, 2024, 12:00 pm CDT