Aaron Widmar
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Classic Car Cruise-In Checklist: What to Bring to a Show

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Classic cars show on city streets with hoods up and spectators walking
Photo: The News Wheel

Few pastimes are more rewarding for auto enthusiasts than driving through the neighborhood in a classic car and showing it off at a local cruise-in. Festivals, restaurants, dealerships, and community groups across the United States sponsor cruise-ins throughout the year — and you probably have one going on this month in your community!

If you’re still new at figuring out how these events work, make sure you don’t leave any of the following items at home. Use this classic car cruise-in checklist to prepare for the event and make your experience memorable — whether you’re a participant or a spectator.

Keep Your Vintage Vehicle Sparkling: Tips for caring for a classic car

6 items everyone should bring to a car show

Cash: If you have to pay an entrance fee at the gate or want to buy concessions, have a couple of Hamiltons in your pocket.

An old, car-related T-shirt: If you want to look like a regular on the car show circuit, wear a T-shirt from a previous cruise-in you’ve attended. You know — the off-white one showing the oversized hot rod and flaming cursive font. If you don’t own one, you can probably find one at your local thrift store.

Sunglasses: Not only will sunglasses help you inspect cars without shielding your eyes from the shiny chrome reflections, but they’ll also give you a stylish appearance (but secretly, they’re to hide your expressions of disgust, amazement, or bewilderment when you see what some people have done to their cars …).

Protection from the sun: Unless you’re going to a cruise-in on a dreary, overcast day (which is a risk if it rains), you’ll be out in the heat for hours. Protect yourself from the sun with a hat, sunscreen, and a small canopy if you plan on hanging out for the day.

Camera: If you don’t have a camera built into your phone, bring an actual one along in case you want to snap a few photos — either of other cars or your own car for your scrapbook. Please, leave the selfie stick at home, though.

Snacks: Unless there are food vendors at the event, you might be stuck without grub if you don’t bring your own food for lunch. Have a bottle of water too so you stay hydrated throughout the day.

Vintage cars on display cruise in British vehicle show outdoors
Photo: The News Wheel

11 items that cruise-in participants should carry

Registration tags for the event: If you need to pre-register for the event and were given a pass to show at the gate and/or display in your window, make sure you don’t leave it at home!

Awards: If you’ve been to multiple car shows before, you might have earned plaques or trophies for your snazzy car. Bring these along to impress spectators and other participants. If you don’t own any, have your kids draw some fake awards with crayons and cardboard tubes; their homemade trophies will probably earn you even more fans.

Car info: A poster on the unit itself and its history, plus the model’s production background, is a great way to help people appreciate how great your car really is.

Polish: If your car has been collecting dust in the garage and has lost its sheen, give it a quick wipe-down and light buffing after you park it at the cruise-in. A shiny body and engine give your car an attractive luster.

Photographs: If you’ve put a lot of work into restoring your car, bring pictures of your step-by-step journey and you slaving away on it. This personalizes your car to spectators and will earn you respect as someone who didn’t just purchase their car as it is. Here are some tips for taking good pictures of cars outdoors.

Portable lights: If you want to illuminate an aspect of your car — such as the engine or undercarriage — that you put a lot of work into, small spotlights will emphasize the most noteworthy spots.

Music: Many car cruise-ins feature DJs or bands playing music during the event, but if this event does not, bring a stereo and a mix of tunes from the year your car was built. You can have it playing from inside your car to set the mood for your car’s time period.

Novelty items: You can’t bring your car to a cruise-in and not have that toddler-sized doll propped up against your bumper. That’s why you purchased it … right?

Contact information: Chances are you’re going to make new friends at this event as you mingle with other classic auto enthusiasts. Have your information on hand in small cards you can pass out to keep in touch with people.

Folding chairs: You won’t be spending the whole time walking around and looking at other people’s cars. Give your legs a break and bring some chairs to set up — including a couple of extras in case new friends want to join you.

Towels: If you park your car on the grass and are walking around in the dirt, bring a towel or change of shoes to make sure you don’t track any gunk into your nice car at the end of the day.

Being prepared will equip you for a fun afternoon with fellow automotive enthusiasts. After you’ve mastered the local cruise-in circuit, maybe one day you’ll be ready for Woodward!