Auto Shows 101: How They Can Save You Time and Money

5 surprises you'll find at your local car show.

Article QuickTakes

Every February, my father and I make our annual pilgrimage to the DFW Auto Show in Dallas. It’s a tradition, 17 years running.

But auto shows aren’t just chrome-filled meccas for gearheads like me and my old man.

If you’re in the market for a car, or just want to see the coolest vehicles from all the major brands under one roof, there is no better way to do it than an auto show.

It’s a no-pressure environment where you can poke, prod, and slide into the driver’s seat of cars in every price range. And if you’ve always wanted to take a selfie with a Bentley, you can do that, too.

If you think an auto show sounds like a thing of the past, particularly in the glorious age of internet car research, think of it as a tactile complement to your online searching, complete with experts on-hand to answer your questions. (And did I mention nobody will try to sell you anything.)

Here are five things you’ll get out of going to an auto show:

The Fort Worth Auto Show

1. Explore a giant showroom, and sit in cars of every price range

Your first step onto the show floor might be a little overwhelming. You’ll see rows of cars grouped by brand, with a few “special features” mounted on revolving podiums. Every 20 minutes or so, an impeccably dressed brand expert begins a live presentation of the brand’s latest offerings.

You probably won’t be able to sit in the featured vehicles, but everything parked on the floor is fair game. And as you get up close and personal with the Porsches and Kias, Jeeps and Jaguars, think about how long it would take to go to individual dealerships to see all these cars.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything from trim levels to pricing. Those impeccably dressed people are extremely knowledgeable about every car in their lineup.

2. Take a test drive, or three

At most auto shows, a few manufacturers have vehicles on-site to test drive (I took the 2018 Toyota Camry for a spin at the Fort Worth Auto Show. Watch the video above). Some shows have indoor tracks for trucks and SUVs, where you can take a steep incline or tow a hefty payload. The bigger the show, the more cars, and the better the selection. For example, Honda, Ford, Kia, Nissan, Acura, Toyota and Mazda are among the automakers offering test drives at the DFW Auto Show, Feb. 14-18, in Dallas.

And there’s no pressure to sign paperwork (although the manufacturer will probably require you to provide a driver’s license and a contact e-mail).

3. See cars of the future

Some of the coolest rides on the road begin life as concept cars. These are one-off, prototypes, straight from a designer’s sketchbook, built to show us a vision of the future. But if a concept car attracts a lot of interest at an auto show, it could end up on a dealer’s lot some day.

A recent example is the Chevy Camaro concept. Four years after the Camaro stopped production in 2002, Chevy’s 2006 concept made the rounds at auto shows. Its design, a throwback to the original 1969 Camaro, was an instant hit. The car landed a starring role as “Bumblebee” in the Transformers movies, and Chevy had no choice but to start talking about mass production.

4. Immerse yourself in virtual reality

The auto show may be the only place your 12-year-old can safely race a Ford Mustang, or plow through sand dunes in a hopped-up pickup -- through the magic of virtual reality. And we’re not talking about those dizzying headsets you plug your phone into. You’ll sit in a life-size driver’s seat simulator, surrounded by screens for a totally immersive experience. Many auto shows also have featured celebrity speakers and lots of free stuff for attendees. So there’s plenty of fun to be had even if you’re not in the market for a new car.

5. Look back at some classics and start your own tradition

Most of the floor space is devoted to new cars, but many auto shows have a special section that showcases antique and classic automobiles. You won’t be able to touch or sit in the vintage cars without the owner’s permission (which some will give), but they’re still fun to admire. Because everyone loves a classic.  

Certainly, auto shows appeal to car nuts like my father and I. But if you’re just starting to think about buying a car, consider this the ultimate way to window shop -- with a few thousand new friends. Or if you’re just looking for somewhere new to take the kids, it’s a fun place to spend a Saturday.

Who knows? You might even start your own tradition.

For a list of auto shows around the country, go to

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their products and services. All trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above.

author photo
Nick Say
When I'm not writing, you’ll probably find me tinkering with my car. I started turning wrenches at 16, and worked at an auto shop while studying journalism in college. Now at Capital One, I combine my two favorite things—writing and cars.