Caitlin Moran
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How to Survive Your First Auto Show: A Beginner’s Guide

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In the automotive industry, there are a variety of auto shows across the country—and around the world—that are basically a Mecca of cool cars, sweet swag, and long-awaited debuts. But, if you’ve never been to an auto show before, it’s hard to know how to handle yourself and what to bring.

The way to get the most out of your first auto show—whether you’re going as press or merely a curious car enthusiast—is to be prepared.

Be Prepared Gif

I seem to be using the Lion King gif a lot in recent posts. IT’S JUST SO GOOD.

Anyways, back on topic. Your first auto show can be a bit intimidating. Lucky for me, my first-ever auto show was the Cincinnati Auto Expo—a rather small, less popular one that didn’t have any debuts. It’s nothing like the big, hulking mass that is the Chicago Auto Show or the North American International Auto Show—but it’s an experience nonetheless.

Rebecca and Caitlin at Cincy Auto Show

Rebecca and I cheesin’ it up at the Cincinnati Auto Show

So, without further ado, here are some tips on how to survive your first auto show.

Check out the map beforehand

Even if you’re not a Type A-planner like myself, it’s still always good to check out the auto show’s map and have a (flexible) plan in your head before you go. I suggest printing out the show map and writing down the times each brand is debuting its newest concept cars and production models. This way, you know exactly where you need to be and when you need to be there—and you won’t miss any of the big events.

Buy advanced tickets

Like the majority of events, if you wait until you get to the door to purchase tickets, the prices tend to go up. Buy advanced tickets and save yourself a few dollars. Better yet—check the Groupon or Living Social websites for the area that the auto show is in. I was able to get two discounted tickets to the Cincinnati Auto Expo for the paltry price of $11—which was the price of one ticket. I know it doesn’t seem like a lot, but hey—money’s money. Save it where you can.

I'm on a budget gif

Bring a good camera

Auto shows are a hodgepodge of lighting effects. While it makes displays visual appealing in person, it can really mess with your photos—especially when you use your cell phone’s camera. I speak from experience. As the Instagram guru at The News Wheel, I was taking pictures all day long with my iPhone so I could post them directly to our social media. While Instagram’s filters helped me a bit, it was still really difficult to find good, glare-free pictures. My awesome co-worker brought her own fancy shmancy camera, and was able to get away with minimal glare thanks to a variety of aperture and f-stop changes. So, really—if you’re going in a professional capacity, take a nice camera. It will help you in the long run.

Expect to pay a lot for food—or scrounge for free snacks

I’m not going to lie—I love to snack. And I love using events an excuse to do so. When we first walked into the Cincinnati Auto Show, I was immediately hit with the smell of sugar-coated, roasted almonds—my Achilles heel. When I went to check out the almond vendor, I learned that a small bag was $6, which is a bit much for me. Needless to say, I didn’t get a snack at that show.

From what I hear, though, the brands will have free snacks at the bigger auto shows. My fellow colleagues went to the Chicago Auto Show earlier this month, and seriously hit the jack pot when it came to snacks at Nissan’s booth. Can you say free popcorn from the well-known Garrett’s popcorn store?

I know, it’s a bit of a mouthful to say, but your mouth will also be full of delicious popcorn, so it’s okay. If your first auto show is a big one, hunt down all the free snacks. They won’t all be as good as Nissan’s but hey—food is food.

Always, always take free swag

Yeah, the likelihood of them being as cool as Patrick’s free Ford socks is pretty slim. BUT IT’S FREE STUFF. So, grab all the free things!

Patrick Ford Socks


  • Caitlin MoranEditor

    A born-and-raised Jersey girl, Caitlin Moran lives in Dayton, Ohio at the moment and loves getting down and nerdy with English. After recently graduating from the University of Dayton with her Masters in English Literature, Caitlin is now combining her love of writing and cars for The News Wheel. She is also continuing her love affair with traveling, broadening her knowledge of foreign automobiles. See more articles by Caitlin.