One way to avoid becoming a victim of auto dealer fraud is to conduct on-line research before car shopping. While positive reviews will not guarantee a good car-buying experience, consumers can frequently avoid the worst dealerships by checking their reputation in advance.
Consumers should be aware that some dealerships can achieve a decent rating despite a high incident of consumer complaints. For example, the Better Business Bureau will consider a matter resolved if a dealership gives a response to a complaint and the consumer gives up or indicates that the problem was resolved to their satisfaction. One Connecticut dealership has managed to achieve a "B" rating from the Better Business Bureau despite having received more than 100 complaints in the past several years. So, it is not enough to simply look at a dealership's rating or score - a consumer should also consider the volume of complaints and the seriousness of the problems described in the complaint.
Some dealerships may also inflate their scores on Google, Yahoo, Yelp, or Dealerrater.com by submitting bogus "5 star" ratings to balance out poor ratings. A dealership's attorney recently complained to me about a 1 star rating left by my client on Google prior to the time that her lawsuit was settled. I looked up that dealer's rating and saw that it had just received three "5 star" ratings from Google accounts that had no activity other than rating this particular dealership. Those were the only other ratings besides the one left nearly a year earlier by my client. So, I strongly suspected that the dealership had fabricated these 5-star ratings, and any consumer would see only that the dealer had an overall rating of 4 stars. So, consumers should be suspicious of dealerships that seem to have both many positive reviews combined with a significant number of negative reviews.
One way to get a more balanced view of a dealership is to check multiple rating sites. A truly excellent dealership is likely to have high scores on all sites. But, dishonest dealerships may "inflate" their scores on only one site but not on all of them. For example, another dealership that we've suspected of inflating their scores has a 4 star rating on Dealerrater.com but only a 1.5 star rating on Yahoo (based on 20 reviews).
Social media review sites and other rating sites can be helpful tools in evaluating a dealership, but a consumer should look beyond the scores or ratings and consider the nature and volume of complaints. Reviewing multiple sites might also help one to get a more accurate assessment of a dealership.