auto show
(North American International Auto Show)

Auto shows are a great event to attend if you are thinking about buying a car in the next year. All the major carmakers are there, bringing along most of their vehicles currently (or soon to be) for sale. Instead of traveling to different dealers, you can spend an afternoon at the auto show comparing affordable family cars, the latest

crossovers and more, all in one location. Because many shows are massive in size, it's best to prepare before you go. These six tips will help you make the most of your visit to the auto show.

1.Plan Ahead

In 2015, there were 750 different vehicles on display at Detroit's North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). This staggering amount of autos can overwhelm if you show up without a plan. Before you go, make a list of the types of vehicles or specific models you want to see, along with questions you have about each. Most shows group similar car brands together so you can easily cross-shop competing models in one area. Maps are available at the door, or you can print them in advance from the show's website for pre-planning. The NAIAS even offers a smartphone app for convenient real-time navigation from the show floor.

2. Take Enough Time

The most surprising thing for people attending their first major auto show, says Max Muncey, public relations manager for NAIAS, is the size and scale of the event. "These are massive exhibits," he says. "One of the automakers this year has two escalators in their exhibit to get people to a second level."

Plan to spend about 3.5 hours, the length of time for the average auto show visit. This should be long enough if you have only a few vehicles on your must-see list. But if you need to decide between an SUV and a truck, for example, and then start narrowing your search down to specific models, set aside more time to see everything you need to see.

3. Come Prepared

You'll be covering a lot of ground and climbing in and out of vehicles – making sure you can see from the driver's seat, checking the comfort of the back seat – so wear comfortable shoes and an outfit that isn't constricting. Don't forget to bring a camera to take photos of noteworthy cars or features that may help during your future car shopping.

4. Bring the Kids

Auto shows are family-friendly events geared to appeal to a broad range of age groups. If you have kids, consider bringing them along. Not only will they enjoy eyeballing the cars and exhibits, but many automakers set up games, interactive displays and other activities that will entertain the younger crowd.

5. Enjoy the Extras

"Not to be cliché, but auto shows are fun," jokes John O'Donnell, producer of the Washington Auto Show. In addition to the exhibits, activities at his show include a young professional's night, live music and an art exhibition where vehicles will be painted in front of the audience. Auto shows are also renowned for their debuts: at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, about 50 different vehicles were on display for the first time in the world. Check out the show's website for more information about special events and exhibits.

6. Ask a Lot of Questions

Take advantage of this opportunity to learn as much as you want about each car that piques your interest. Experts agree that the staff at auto shows is usually more informed than sales representatives at the dealership. And because these product specialists are there to educate people – not sell cars – you can ask questions without feeling pressured to buy. There are also few "no touching" signs, with carmakers encouraging attendees to experience the vehicles up close and try out the interactive displays.

You can read more about why car shows matter to you, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more car shopping advice. When you’re ready to buy, head over to theU.S. News Best Price Programfor guaranteed savings on a new car, truck or SUV.