The Rookie’s Guide To Walking An Auto Show

Getting ready to walk your first big-city auto show? Follow these tips to preserve your sanity and budget while gazing at the cars of your PowerBall-fueled dreams.

You may think that walking a car show is a piece of cake and you’ll get a chance to see everything, but most big-city car shows are have several football fields worth of cars and displays. Here’s how to enjoy a large-scale car show with your wallet and sanity intact.

Detroit Hosts Annual North American International Auto Show

2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, MI

  •  Follow them on social media: Most car shows organizers rely on social media to communicate with attendees and to announce discounts, giveaways, and other treats. It’s also a great way to reach out to organizers with any questions. I messaged the staff of the Orange County International Auto Show with a question and got a reply that same day.
  • Look for discounts: Some shows will offer same-day discounts while others will offer Early Bird discounts, large group discounts, and student/senior discounts. Every little bit helps.
  • Devise a game plan: Grab the show map from the show’s website and decide which stands to hit first. If the crowds get to be too much later on, you will have at least seen your favorite cars or must-see displays.
  • Dress for the show hall, not the weather outside: The outside weather at the OC Show was a scorching 95 degrees, but the show hall was much cooler. I froze. Lesson learned.  Even with more than a few shows under my belt common sense took a back seat.
  • Go on a weekday: True, this is next to impossible if your employer doesn’t offer sick pay or vacation days, but if they do, go for it. Crowds are smaller and it’s much easier to see everything you wanted to see and then some.
  • Get there when the doors open, especially on a weekend: Most big-city shows open at 9:00 a.m., so beat the crowds and be there when the doors open. Car shows are much more fun when you’re not jostling for space with thousands of other people.
  • Make a day of it. If the show hall is within walking distance of other attractions or places of interest, make them a part of your day. There is nothing like a “daycation” to make the week go by just a little faster.
  • Pack your own snacks. Show hall food is expensive and not all that tasty.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. You will be walking. A lot. Seating is scarce in the show hall.


    “Honey, it wants to follow me home. Can we keep it?”

  • Take it all in. If you’re a true car geek, very little compares to having acres of cars at your disposal. You’ll see the cars of your dreams up close with no hovering salespeople. The vibe at the shows I’ve been to has always been laid back and friendly. Enjoy the hours-long break from the “real world.”
  • Make sure your camera works. I tossed my camera into my backpack only to find out that it had a dead battery just as I walked into the show hall. My cell phone camera sucks, so fortunately my partner in crime shot some great pictures.

Nothing beats a big-city car show for a one-day getaway from the real world. My day job bores me to tears, so the one day I spent at the OC Show did wonders for my outlook. A big-city car show is an instant vacation that doesn’t cost a fortune.

Auto Show Survival Guide


2013 Bentley GT, 2012 Los Angeles International Auto Show. Photo courtesy of

How to walk  an auto show and take in all the sights without bursting into tears-or flames.

Auto show season is in full swing, starting with the Los Angeles International Auto Show in November. The Detroit show is still going strong and is open to the public until Jan. 24.

The New York show launches March 25 and runs til April 3, 2016.

For those who are not broke girls or guys, there is the Geneva International Motor Show for a whole new level of auto show pageantry and Press Days debauchery.

Big-city auto shows offer a chance to get away and to escape into a world like no other. They’re also huge.

There’s an art to getting through an auto show with your sanity and endurance intact:

1. Strategize: Write out cars on your “must see” list and check those out first. If your endurance flags midway through your auto show mission, you will have at least seen the cars dearest to you.

Some of the larger shows are spread out among several halls. Make plans to hit one hall at a time so you’re not trekking back and forth.

2.  Wear comfortable shoes. I cannot emphasize this enough. Forget about looking cute and dress for comfort instead. My favorite go-to for the L.A. show one year was a pair of Dansko clog knock-offs. Best $40.00 I ever spent.

3. Hydrate. Most show halls are set up only days in advance, so the air is dry and dusty. Show Hall Throat is an occupational hazard for both journalists and public show-goers alike.  Bring some water from home or buy some at the show and drink. Often. Your throat will thank you.

4. Look for discounts: Some shows will offer discounted tickets through local promotions, radio spots, or online coupons. You can sometimes snag a group discount if your group meets the minimum requirement for group size.

5. Think twice about little ones: Car shows are loud, bright, crowded and noisy. If you have little one at home that melts down easily at the mall or supermarket, they will go nuclear at a car show. Have them sit this one out for their comfort.

6. Take frequent breaks to re-charge: Grab a snack, look through the freebies you’ve accumulated so far, and formulate your next plan of attack. Rest tired feet and legs. Take a meal break.

7. Look and touch: You can get up close and personal at most shows, so go ahead: sit in the driver’s seat. Check out the headroom. Pop the trunk. Adjust the mirrors. Check out the technology suite that’s available in new cars. Yes, “technology suite.”

Car shows, for the most part, are delightful  hands-on experiences. Nowhere else can you sit in a spanking-new car without being stalked by sales personnel. Nowhere else can you sit in a car that you just cannot afford.

8. …but be nice: If a car is off-limits, respect that. Don’t blame the product reps. If there is a line of people behind you waiting to get into the driver seat, make your time in the car brief or come back when crowds die down.

Clean your hands before checking out cars; while there are porters there to keep the cars clean, they’re not your maid. Chow down on greasy treats after checking out cars. Same rules apply to any kiddos walking the show with you.

9. Take it all in: Auto shows are wonderful escapism.  Bills, work, and other obligations will still be there once you get home, so leave them at the door and truly enjoy the auto show experience.

10. Ditch the cynicism. Yes, auto shows are a consumerist orgy. Yes, cars can be tough on the environment. Lighten up and take in the magic. Absorb the sights and sounds. Breathe in New Car Smell. Be a kid again and say “DUDE!” at every cool car you’ll see.

If you’re lucky enough to catch a new product debut, enjoy every second and don’t be afraid to cheer when the car makes its appearance. Be a car geek and snap tons of cell pictures.

Big-city auto shows are pure magic. They’re also an endurance event, so plan ahead, dress comfortably, and prepare to have fun.