Social media’s online rating of dealerships has “fundamentally changed things,” says Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai Motors America’s sales chief.

“If a dealer gets a bad review, it is out there,” he notes.

Such raps may distress dealers, but ultimately the ratings system “will make dealers and the customer experience better,” Zuchowski says.

Online dealership reviews are part of “an incredible transformation of the marketplace,” says Mitch Golub, CEO of Cars.com, which now offers ratings on its automotive website that also includes car reviews by consumers and experts.

“The consumer reviews have become more important than the expert reviews,” he says. “People look to see what owners of particular cars have to say about them.”

They also turn more and more to fellow consumers when it comes to online comments about how a dealership treated them in the sales and service departments.

Dealers can’t ignore online reviews, says Robert Kurnick Jr. president of Penske Automotive Group, a dealership chain. “They are a main entry into the dealership. If someone does a Google search on you and it turns up 36 reviews, you can’t run away from that.”

As a megadealer with 145 dealerships, Penske is trying to figure out whether its social-media reputation management is done better at the corporate or local dealership levels.

“We struggle with that,” Kurnick says. “We’ve tried to balance that out. We have people assigned to (monitor) blogs and reviews. We clearly have to look at them and resolve” problems if someone raps a dealership.

Studies indicate dealers typically get good reviews. Bad ones can offer a chance to resolve a dispute or fix a problem, Golub says, adding that good ratings give credit where it is due.

“We see so many good dealers doing well with their customers,” he explains. “Yet, there still is this stereotype of the car dealer mistreating customers. Good reviews help refute that.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com