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How to find your next car at an auto show

It offers a more hands-on experience than you'd get by simply researching online.

When you’re in the market for a new car, an auto show can help you scope out which vehicle might be right for you. It’s the only place where you can see models from several different car brands all at once. And you can also preview vehicles that haven’t been released yet — or find that classic car you’ve always dreamed of.

How to pick a car at an auto show in 5 steps

Follow these steps to get the most out of your trip to an auto show. These events typically aren’t free, so planning ahead can help ensure you get your money’s worth.

1. Plan before you go

Most shows have a smartphone app you can download. Use this to do some preliminary research on cars you might be interested in checking out. Make a route for yourself so you don’t accidentally miss any vehicles — but also leave some room to look at models you didn’t expect to like.

Try skipping opening weekend and block out a few hours to spend there when it’s not crowded. Plan to wear comfortable clothing and bring layers so you can give all of your attention to the car. Got friends who might want to tag along? Bring them so you can get a second opinion.

2. Take your time comparing cars

The beauty of an auto show is that you can really interact with the vehicle. Try out the front and back seats, and see how any additional features work — like a sun roof or folding seats. Pop the trunk, and take lots of pictures so you can compare makes and models when you get home.

3. Ask questions

While car shows aren’t meant for selling cars, there are often sales staff on hand to answer any questions you might have. Ask about prices and deals that might be available on the vehicles you’re interested in. Also consider asking about financing options through the dealership. You can compare that to what private lenders are offering later.

If you’re not interested in talking to a salesperson, you can often get a fair amount of information about the cars by visiting the kiosks. Manufacturers often set up computers or iPads that have all the details you may be looking for.

4. Test-drive — or make an appointment

Many auto shows allow you to test-drive vehicles, though it might be indoors. This can give you an idea of what it feels like behind on the wheel. But it might not give you the full experience.

If you’re seriously considering a vehicle, you might want to also make an appointment with your local dealership. That way you’ll have some extra time to consider your options and can really take the car out on the road.

5. Crunch the numbers

Once you’ve gotten quotes and learned about financing, use our car loan calculator to find out how much the different cars you’re considering might cost you. Pay attention to the following numbers:

  • Down payment. Most lenders require you to make at least a 20% down payment on the vehicle.
  • Monthly cost. A longer term can give you lower monthly repayments.
  • Total cost. A shorter term can reduce the amount you pay in interest and fees over the life of the loan.

How much does it really cost to own a car?

Compare car loan options

Check out the loan options below to help finance for your new ride. You can also check out our guide to exotic and luxury car loan options to learn more about funding a high-ticket vehicle.

Name Product Min. Loan Amount Interest Rate Loan Term Min. Credit Score Requirements
CarsFast Car Loans
$500
4.90% to 29.90%
12-96 months
300
Min. income of $1,800 /month, 3+ months employed
Browse thousands of vehicles from dealers across Canada and get matched with financing that meets your needs. Apply online to purchase a new or used vehicle and get the vehicle delivered to your door.
Loans Canada Car Loans
$500
0% to 29.99%
3-96 months
300
Min. income of $1,800 /month, 3+ months employed
Get access to financing from multiple lenders across Canada through a single application with Loans Canada. Bad credit, CERB and EI borrowers are considered.
Car Loans Canada
$7,500
3.99% to 29.95%
12-84 months
300
Min. income of $2,000 /month, 3+ months employed
Search thousands of vehicles online, including $0 down options, from dealers across the country and get matched with affordable financing options. Auto loans are also available to those with bad credit, consumer proposals and bankruptcies to help rebuild credit.
Coast Capital Car Loan
$10,000
Varies
18-84 months
650
Able to service debt payment of $300/month
Finance or lease both new and used vehicles with competitive rates and flexible terms from one of Canada's largest credit unions. No credit union membership required for this product.
Canadian Auto News
$7,500
3.99% to 29.95%
12-84 months
300
Min. income of $2,000 /month, 3+ months employed
Answer a few simple questions to get matched with affordable financing options. Auto loans are also available to those with bad credit, consumer proposals and bankruptcies to help rebuild credit.
LoanConnect Car Loans
$500
9.90% to 46.96%
3-120 months
550
No min. income requirement
Get access to 25+ lenders through LoanConnect's brokerage. Receive pre-approval in as fast as 60 seconds and get your funds in as little as 24 hours.
Canada Auto Finance
$500
4.90%-29.95%
3-96 months
300
Min. income of $1,500 /month, 3+ months employed
Canada Auto Finance is a broker that connects borrowers with partnered local lenders. Financing for a new or used car is available for borrowers with bad credit, no credit, CERB, EI or bankruptcy.
Carloans411 Car Loans
$500
1.90% to 19.99%
Up to 72 months
300
Min. income of $1,600 /month, 3+ months employed
Get connected with suitable lenders through CarLoans411. Finance your next car, van or truck with loans available in amounts from $500 to $50,000. Check eligibility for this loan through LoanConnect.
Fairstone Secured Personal Loan
$5,000
19.99% to 23.99%
36-120 months
560
Established credit history and own your home
Fairstone offers secured personal loans up to $50,000.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Depending on where you live, these are some of the more popular auto shows you might want to look into:

ShowWhere?Next datePrice range per ticket
ImportfestToronto, ONJuly 25-26, 2020$15-$25
Canadian International Auto ShowToronto, ONFebruary 14-23, 2020$7-$25
MoparfestNew Hamburg, ONAugust 15-16, 2020$12
Montreal Auto Show Montreal, QCJanuary 17-26, 2020$7-$13
British Columbia Classic & Custom Car ShowAbbotsford, BCApril 7-19, 2020$10-$18
Vancouver International Auto ShowVancouver, BCMarch 25-29, 2020$5-$20
Edmonton MotorshowEdmonton, ABApril 16-19, 2020$13-$15
Calgary International Auto and Truck ShowCalgary, ABMarch 11-15, 2020$10-$13.50
New York International Auto ShowNew York City, NY (USA)April 10–19, 2020$6-$15
North American International Auto ShowDetroit, Michigan (USA)June 7–20, 2020$7-$14

Why start my car search at an auto show?

Looking for a car at an auto show has several advantages that you won’t get anywhere else.

Compare cars from different manufacturers in person

One of the main perks of an auto show is that you aren’t limited to 1 manufacturer. Rather than having to drive from dealership to dealership, you can see all of the latest models in one place.

Get a sneak peek at new models

Car shows are often where manufacturers debut new models for the coming year. You often won’t be able to see these at dealerships for at least a few months. This could be particularly helpful if you’re not in a rush to buy.

No pressure to buy

While there are sales representatives at auto shows, they’re not selling the way they would at a dealership. In fact, you generally can’t buy a car at an auto show. While it’s still a sales event, it has a different feel than looking at cars at a dealership.

4 tips for visiting at an auto show

Keep these pointers in mind when planning your trip to an auto show:The bumper of a red classic car

  1. Avoid the crowds. If you can swing it, try to go in the morning or early afternoon on a weekday. And try to avoid the opening weekend.
  2. Take advantage of the app. Downloading the auto show app can help you strategize before you even get there.
  3. Participate. Many kiosks have interactive features and games where you can win prizes like gift cards. You’ll learn more about the cars you’re seeing, get some freebies and possibly have more fun.
  4. Take notes while it’s fresh. Write down your impressions right after you leave the show to help you come to a decision later on. Making a pros and cons list can help you decide between two vehicles.

Interested in becoming a classic car investor? Take a look at our guide on classic car investing to learn more about finding the right vehicles and what costs to expect.

Bottom line

Auto shows can be a great place to get started on your search for a new car. You’ll have a more hands-on experience than you would researching online and can get a ballpark idea of what you’d pay for several different brands. But it’s not ideal if you’re pressed for time — it’s not a year-round event, and you’ll need to spend a few hours walking around.

When you’re ready to buy a car, you can read about your financing options with our guide to auto loans.

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