A Car Shopper’s Guide to Navigating Auto Shows

LA Auto Show 2016

America’s love of automobiles shows up no brighter than at auto shows. They beckon car buyers and enthusiasts with their spotless, shiny new vehicles, glamorous exotics and super cars along with concepts of the future. For all the talk about the digital era we’re in, auto shows give you consumer friendly access you just can’t get using your smartphone. There is just no other place where you can see so many makes and models in one place. This is why auto shows, whether a major show or smaller regional one, remain a great starting point to help narrow down your car buying choices in a fun, no pressure to buy environment. At the same time, they can be a bit daunting, depending on their size. So it’s important to have a road map of how you’re going to tackle them so you can make the most of your time there.

Time Your Visit

It’s hard to avoid crowds at auto shows, but if you can go early you’ll have a better chance of it. That gives you more time with vehicles and product specialists.  Opening weekends are also generally the most crowded and sometimes that’s your only choice for smaller shows. But if the show is going on longer, like the 10-day Los Angeles Auto Show for example, try a weekday instead.  (The LA Auto Show says average attendees spend up to 5 hours at the show. Auto Shows of North America puts the overall average time spent at auto shows at 3.5 hours.)

Prioritize But Be Open-Minded

A 2018 Foresight Research study found that 2 out of 3 attendees at auto shows were in the market to purchase a new vehicle in the next year. And that 12 month intenders added an average of 1 brand per household to their consideration list.  With that in mind, start with your favorite brands or certain models on your must-see list, but be open-minded to other unexplored options that might pique your interest. Get a map of the layout and pinpoint where your favorites are and try to avoid zigzagging back and forth (your feet will thank you, too.) Note that not all brands attend all shows.

Assess Your Specific Needs

If you have special needs of any kind, an auto show can be your friend. You generally have fantastic access to vehicles and most models are open for you to explore, except if it is a production or concept model.  I hear from people all the time who are short, tall, large, and small, wanting to know what car will fit them best. Although I drive well over 100 cars a year, I cannot relate to someone who is drastically different in size to me.  I hear from people who have back problems, hip problems, etc. and I would have to have the same problem to know what will best fit them.  Getting into and out of every vehicle made, all under one roof, can be a savior. If you have specific needs for cargo area, take a tape measure with you to the auto show, that will help you get a vehicle perfect for your needs. 

Take Notes, Photos and Compare

Auto shows don’t come around every day so take the opportunity to compare multiple vehicles in one spot. Jot down notes about the vehicles you are comparing because after a couple of hours, they tend to run together.  A list of pros and cons is also helpful. What’s also great about auto shows is that you can take your own photos and use them to compare models later.   

Talk to a Product Specialist

To get the most out of your auto show visit,  don’t rush things. Spend some time with the cars. Ask a product specialist questions about ones that catch your eye. They are walking encyclopedias of information about the vehicles they are representing. You can’t actually buy cars at an auto show so the lack of pressure is refreshing.  Their goal is to woo you with information, make a friend and a future customer.  

Ask about Safety and Driver Assist Technology

Safety features and advanced driver assist technologies (ADAS) are important factors for many car buyers. Make sure you ask what features a specific make and model offers, and importantly what is standard and what is not. While some lineups are offering more standard safety features, others are still reserved for upper trim levels. At larger shows, some automakers have demonstration displays highlighting their systems like Subaru EyeSight.

Ask about Extra Manufacturer Rebates

While automakers can’t sell vehicles at auto shows, often times, they offer extra manufacturer rebates to attendees.  I have seen incentives of $500 or more for people who visit an auto show, then buy in the next month or so, so be sure to ask about those.  They are especially prevalent at the auto shows in major metro areas. 

Take On-Site Test Drives

Many automakers are offering “Ride and Drives” at these shows and it’s a great opportunity to take one without any hassle, provided you meet the manufacturer’s driving requirements and have a valid driver’s license. The LA Auto Show recommends that you sign up when you arrive to the show, rather than wait until later in the day. The LA Auto Show also notes that participants may be asked to pass a Breathalyzer test in order to take a test drive.

Good Luck!

At the end of your auto show visit, your feet may be tired, but hopefully you are leaving better prepared to make a car buying decision than when you arrived. The next step is to visit one of our Car Pro Certified Dealer’s with your VIP Certificate for a longer test drive. For a list of dealers click here.

Photo Credit: LA Auto Show

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