Automotive Dealer Four Square

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A dealer four square refers to a worksheet covering four distinct issues directly related to a majority of vehicle sales: vehicle price; monthly payment; trade-in allowance; lease price. The four-square worksheet is an important tool of any dealer sales staff to help maintain high profit margins for the dealer.

Four-square worksheets are intended to prompt a response from the customer and cause them to focus on a specific area, which aids the sales team to size up the customer and achieve the maximum profit possible. The best way to deal with the four-square is to focus solely on the sale price of the vehicle, not allowing yourself to be sidetracked by competing information which have no effect on the price of the vehicle: down payment amount, monthly payment amount and trade-in allowance.


The only section of the four square where the buyer should be focused is the vehicle price. Until there is an agreement regarding sales price for the car or truck you want to purchase there is no basis for consideration with respect to financing. Until you know the dealer has the car you want and have agreed on the price you will pay, you should not even mention that you have a trade-in.

The most important factor to consider when making any purchase is sale price. The dealer will try to confuse the issue of sales price with other factors using the four-square. It is important that you preserve separation between what the car is worth versus how you will pay for it. The two concepts are mutually exclusive and you should deal with them independently.


Agreeing on a fair market price for any product should be a simple task. Car manufacturers and dealerships deliberately cloud the matter of price as a sales tactic. For example, if price were consistent among dealers people would simply go to the dealership who has the best reputation and pricing. In an environment which makes it impossible get a simple price on a vehicle there is sufficient opportunity for a dealer to enhance the amount of profit on every sale.

If you do not value your time, then having a dealer treat you like an idiot regarding the vehicle price may not bother you at all. Some people find this type of treatment disrespectful. A salesperson will often begin negotiations by offering dealer suggested retail pricing (DSRP), which is the price most profitable for the dealership. Dealers prefer to start with the highest possible pricing and make you work very hard for any decrease. It can take many hours to get a dealer to consider anything in a decent price range, and sometimes they simply inflate the price in finance to their pre-bargaining pricing.
If you have performed some research then you should know the average fair market value of your vehicle and are able to proffer a solid counteroffer which is closer to an accurate estimation of the car or truck you are interested in purchasing. You should use the same tactic they will use against you, starting with the lowest valuation and slowly increasing with small increments of $25 and $50.


The four-square worksheet is used to elicit a reaction. Usually, when presented with a four-square promoting a remarkably high monthly payment, the buyer will have an obvious reaction. Sometimes the reaction is to complain that the indicated payment amount is more than they are planning on paying or can afford to pay. This provides the dealer with an opening to find out what you are prepared to pay or what you can afford to pay on a monthly basis. If the dealer can obtain this information then structure the offer to what you indicated you can afford or are willing to pay.

If you think about it for a moment, it is easy to understand that the amount you can pay monthly and/or how much money you have for a down payment simply has no bearing on the car or truck you want to buy is worth. Those are concepts which affect the financing, not the price. Do not allow the dealer to negotiate the purchase beginning with monthly payment amounts, credit rating or down payment.

If you have no alternative to seeking financing from the dealer, you should predetermine the amount of your down payment and your calculated monthly payments should consider the sale price of the vehicle and your credit rating. Reveal this information once you are in the dealer finance office, not with the salesperson. There is no benefit to you in allowing the negotiation of the vehicle price to include your finance specifics. Remember that financing defines the cost of borrowing for the vehicle purchase.


Dealerships purchase and sell cars daily as a profession. It is very likely that you buy and sell a vehicle or two every few years. It is imperative to appreciate the fact that you are at a disadvantage when it comes to buying a new or used car or truck. The four-square worksheet will help the dealer to determine if you are "stuck" on your trade and then use that information against you.
With respect to your trade-in, any dealership is going to attempt to devalue your trade-in and get you to sell it for less than it may be worth. A good dealer will highlight each and every dent, scratch and ding on the body, every oil leak, cracked hose and spot of grime under the hood and each and every tear, stain and cigarette burn in the interior. Each thing they point out has the effect of decreasing your perceived value of the trade-in, preparing you to accept a low offer.

Keep in mind that any vehicle several years old will have dings and scratches. These do little to decrease the sales value. More importantly, the federal Cash-for-Clunkers program had the effect of eliminating a great number of used cars from the market, inadvertently increasing the value of your trade-in.

Often a dealer will try to convince the buyer that they are willing to pay above fair market value for their trade-in. Then they will ask you to pay a premium for their vehicle. The four-square is invaluable in helping the dealer determine which buyers are responsive to this approach.

There are many steps you can take to help prepare to negotiate a fair price on your trade-in or you can simply sell your trade to a private citizen and avoid the dealer trade scenario completely. It is important to understand that the value of your trade-in has no bearing on the cost of the vehicle you want to purchase.


Not all four-square worksheets include a Lease Price square. For the typical car buyer there is no reason to even consider leasing a vehicle. If you are the type who typically is convinced to lease from a dealer you calculate exactly what the lease is costing you yearly and compare this to what buying the would have cost. Remember, at the end of the lease you can (and will) be held responsible for additional charges for extra mileage, cleaning, damage, etc. The dealership also has the benefit of getting another chance of signing you to a new lease.

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