Here’s How to Beat the Car Dealer at Their Own Game


If you’re like most Americans, you probably find buying a car as thrilling as it is frustrating. And, like most Americans, you probably find that the bulk of the frustration comes from dealing with manipulative or just plain dishonest salespeople.

The good news is that staying informed about dealership sales practices is pretty easy if you know where to look. While you’re still bound to get the best price if you’re on friendly terms with someone on the sales team, a bit of research can still turn up plenty of opportunities for you to beat them at their own game.

Here are some tips to help you get the most bang for your buck next time you find yourself looking for a new car.

Do the Homework

Doing research before going to the dealer is a no-brainer. 90% of prospective car buyers conduct online research before making a purchase. In fact, 48% of people take anywhere from one to three months to research their options before setting foot on a dealer’s lot.

Unfortunately, a further 38% of car buyers make a purchase within four hours after they’ve committed to buying a car, which probably indicates that people aren’t weighing their options as thoroughly as they should. Basic research will tell you not only what kind of car might best fit your lifestyle, but will also show you the full range of financing options. Take your time and get the full story.

Look Out for Interest Rate Mark-Ups

Would you be surprised to learn that dealerships regularly mark up the interest rates that they offer their customers? It’s true. Research suggests that the average mark-up is about 2.7%. What does this mean for you? It means that you’d be better off dealing with your financial institution directly instead of relying on the dealership to make deals with third-party lenders.

This probably means that you’ll want to commit to a phone call or a visit to your bank or credit union before you even make it to the dealer. To put it another way, anything that makes you less reliant on the dealership will give you an advantage.

Beware the Bait-and-Switch

For another example of a time-honored dealership “technique,” let’s look at the bait-and-switch. This tactic is almost too simple: it involves the dealership advertising a highly attractive price to lure in potential buyers – but when they arrive, that wonderfully low price they’ve been promised is nowhere to be found.

As with anything in life, buying a car is another example of a situation where skepticism is your friend. Again, do the requisite research, and take the time to study valuable resources like Kelley Blue Book to get a more realistic idea of the prices you can expect.

Negotiate Each Expense Separately

Dealerships also tend to make use of a tactic known as the Four Square Method. The simplest explanation of this tactic is that they choose to lump together each of the major expenses associated with car buying, including the actual price of the car, the down payment, the trade-in value of your current car, and the monthly payment installments. You’re well within your rights to negotiate each of these elements as their own transaction; in doing so, you’re very likely to save money versus combining them into a single expense.


With just a few simple changes to your car buying routine, you could save yourself thousands of dollars over a few years’ time. Most importantly, though, remember to have fun: car buying should be an exciting experience rather than a stressful one.

Daniel Faris
Daniel Faris is a freelance writer from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. You can join his alter ego over at The Sound of Progress for discussions of progressivism in music, politics, and culture.