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While you can’t test-drive every vehicle at a big car show, you can at least explore them at your own pace. Though with an event as big as the Chicago Auto Show, that will take a few hours at least. Nevertheless, after enough seat time, you may find your ideal car. But just because you found a brand-new car you want to buy, does that mean you can drive it home?

You can shop for brand-new cars at the Chicago Auto Show, but you can’t buy them

Brand-new Hyundai cars and crossovers displayed at the 2022 Chicago Auto Show
Brand-new Hyundai cars and crossovers at the 2022 Chicago Auto Show | Jacek Bozarski/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Unfortunately for shoppers, the Chicago Auto Show doesn’t allow direct car sales. That applies to every brand on display, from Alfa Romeo to Volkswagen. I double-checked with the employees at Supercar Alley, where rarified cars like Rolls-Royces, Aston Martins, and Lamborghinis live, and they told me the same. Sorry, Chi-town, but CAS is more about window shopping than actual buying.

Admittedly, it’s not a good idea to buy a brand-new car without extensively test-driving it first. True, the Chicago Auto Show provides test-drive opportunities, but the slots and duration are limited. And while the test tracks that brands like Toyota and Ford provide are good initial demonstrations, they’re not ‘true’ test drives. So, even if you did find a brand-new car worth buying, it would still be a good idea to wait before putting any money down.

However, don’t think you can get around the direct-sales edict by going to a different show. As it turns out, the Chicago Auto Show isn’t the odd one out here.

It’s not just Chicago, you can’t buy brand-new cars at any US auto show

Whether you’re talking about the auto shows in Chicago, Detroit, LA, New York, or any other major US city, you can’t buy a brand-new car off the floor. And there are several reasons why.

Firstly, depending on the show, the displayed cars might not be directly from the manufacturer, Autotrader explains. Sometimes, they’re from local dealerships instead. That’s what happened at the International Motorcycle Show when it rolled through Chicago. A Triumph rep at the show claimed that five different dealers had to donate inventory to gather enough test bikes.

Secondly, in most states, you can’t buy brand-new cars directly from the manufacturer. You must go through a dealership instead. Technically, Illinois doesn’t outright out-law direct sales, but that didn’t stop multiple dealers from suing Rivian to prevent its sales strategy. With how headache-inducing such legal issues can be, it’s understandable that auto shows want to avoid them.  

If you’re car shopping at CAS, keep these tips in mind

Now, just because you can’t buy any of the brand-new cars at the Chicago Auto Show doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit. As noted earlier, these big shows are a great opportunity to sit in a ton of cars and investigate them without a salesperson hovering over you. And if you do have any questions, there are knowledgeable brand representatives right there.

However, because there’s only so much time in a day, there are a few things you can do to maximize your attendance:

  • Make a list of all the vehicles you want to check out
  • Check if the brand(s) you’re interested in is at the show
  • Try to bring along anyone who will drive the car in the future
  • If you have kids and/or car seats, consider bringing them along to see if they fit in the back seats
  • Take as many brochures, photos, and videos as possible
  • If time allows, consider looking at alternative brands and models

No, you can’t buy a brand-new car at the Chicago Auto Show or any other major auto show. But with the right planning, you can figure out which car you should buy.

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