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2013 Toronto Auto Show: You auto go shopping here for a car

Published February 13, 2013

If you’re anything like me, a lot of forethought goes into any decision involving your hard-earned money, especially when it concerns such major purchases as a new automobile.

Long before I reach the stage where I’m ready to put down some cold, hard cash, I’ve already explored every avenue of research — scouring the internet for reviews, comparisons and consumer opinions. But arming yourself with facts and figures is only part of the process. Since buying a car also requires some emotional investment — let’s face it, we spend an awful lot of time behind the wheel and many of us consider our vehicles an extension of our lifestyle — there are some important features that just can’t be decided on paper.

That’s the beauty of an auto show; consider it the hands-on portion of your decision-making process. The Canadian International Auto Show features over 600,000 square feet of new and exotic cars on the showroom floor.

Aside from getting a sneak peak of brand new models before they’re available to the public, the auto show is a great opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the cars on your shopping list.

First off, be sure to wear comfortable shoes. There’s a lot of ground to cover between the various displays and you don’t want your feet to wear out long before your enthusiasm does.

Secondly, arm yourself with a show-floor map so you’ll know where the location of all the automakers you plan to visit, and maybe even a few you hadn’t yet considered. This can save you a lot of backtracking as the convention centre is quite large and encompasses several buildings.

Plan on taking a small notebook, or use your smartphone’s digital voice recorder to take notes. Trust me, after a day of looking at one vehicle after another, they tend to blur together and you may forget which features belonged to which car.

If possible, plan to attend during the week, or a couple of days into the show. Opening weekend at the auto show attracts enormous crowds — and elbowing hordes of people out of the way just to get a glimpse of the car you’re interested in really isn’t conducive to your research.

Once the crowds have died down, you’ll have easier access to the vehicles, without being jostled aside, or waiting endlessly for other people to get out of the car. Arrive early, and it’s possible you’ll have uninterrupted time alone with the car to make a thoughtful assessment.

The great thing about the AutoShow is being able to poke, prod, stretch, inhale and evaluate every aspect of a potential purchase without being dogged by annoying sales people.

Remember that cute little hatchback that looked so good on paper, and certainly fit well within your budget? Climbing into it, you realize that the seat bottoms are too short to be supportive, the centre console is a confusing mish mash of buttons and the rear seats don’t fold flat enough for the cargo space to be really useful.

Or that sedan that may have appeared rather nondescript in pictures, although it boasted a long list of safety features and a nice warranty. Seeing it “in the flesh” you realize the styling, while understated, is actually quite attractive. The seats are firm with just the right amount of support, and your feet move easily between the pedals. Your hands reach instinctively for the control buttons, and you can’t get over the well-crafted appearance of the cabin.

It’s important to check rear seating as well. Is there sufficient leg and headroom? How easily do the seats fold down and back again. If you’ve got an active, outdoor lifestyle, will rear seat backs that are upholstery-covered stand up to having your camping gear or mountain bike stowed up against them, or should they be clad in rugged vinyl?

How big is the trunk opening? Will your hatch do double-duty as a small hauler, ferrying loads of mulch and flats of annuals from Home Depot to your garden? How about interior storage space like cupholders, cubbies and handy spots to place your keys, purse or sunglasses?

The auto reps staffing the exhibits aren’t salespeople, but trained experts who can answer any questions you might have about the vehicles. Don’t be afraid to ask. They can walk you through any confusing technology, and many of the booths feature interactive iPads or computers to help you configure options or colour packages. Ask for a brochure and price list if available.

At the end of the day, you’ll have much clearer picture of the car that will fit into your everyday life. Use your notes and the information gathered to compare all your potential purchases.

All that remains is to book a test drive.

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