11/25/2014 02:14 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2015

How Local Auto Shows Can Save You Money

It's always fun to look at futuristic concept cars and the rows of shiny new rides at an auto show. As the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show gets under way, it's good to keep in mind that a big car show like the one in L.A. could be more than just fun. If you're looking to buy a new or slightly used car within the next year or so, you ought to head to your local new car show. It might save you money and help you avoid that horrible feeling of buyer's remorse.

It's easy to assume that car shows are only for guys and girls with a little grease under their nails, and a few father and son duos looking to bond over the eternal campfire of the internal combustion engine. You may even see a few super-commuters drooling over all-electric and hybrid cars.

Shopping Without Buying
The truth is, the average consumer can get just as much out of a big auto show as even the most die hard car-guy. Here's how:

Most big auto shows like those in Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Miami, Los Angeles and New York are "non-selling" car shows. That means you can't buy a car at those shows, so the conversations you have with product specialists tend to be a little more relaxed. After all, there's really no money involved - it's shopping without the requirement of buying.

Because of that more relaxed atmosphere, you can take your time inspecting important features like seat comfort, rear seat access, the layout of essential controls and the ease (or lack of ease) of opening big minivan doors. Some auto shows, like the one in L.A., allow you get behind the wheel of some of the new cars and drive for a limited distance.

Look Into the Future
Large auto shows tend to have next year's models on display a little early, and this knowledge might help you get a better deal. Take the Nissan Murano or Toyota Camry for example: both have all-new versions for 2015, and both are a significant improvement over the previous version. So when the new Murano goes on sale (in late 2014), you can bet that the newer, fancier and probably safer version will get all the attention. If you're primarily concerned with getting a bargain, wait until the all-new model is about to hit, then look for a low-mileage 2013 or 2014 model. Those cars tend to be worth a little less when a newer, fresher version is introduced.

But that little trick works two ways. If you're set on getting a new car, you don't want to drop $30,000 on a new car only to discover six months later that a safer, sexier version is available for about the same price.

Buyer's Remorse recently conducted a survey that showed 69 percent of buyers have experienced buyer's remorse after purchasing a car. Getting a "bad deal" was one of the top reasons cited. Certainly, seeing a better car you could have had for nearly the same money would contribute to those feelings of regret.

For example, Nissan's new 2015 Murano can be bought with slick new features like "Zero Gravity" seats that are designed to reduce fatigue, a new in-car information system that incorporates apps like Pandora, a 7-inch driver information display housed in between the gauges and adaptive cruise control. These are all features you can't get in a 2014 Murano, even if you buy it brand new.

The price difference between a new 2014 and a new 2015 Nissan Murano is minimal. The newer version costs about $1,000 more, but includes more standard features.
And this is the case with almost every updated new car: Toyota Camry, Chevy Impala or even Mercedes Benz S-Class. The more recently updated cars get better features with almost no price increase. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has even added a plug-in hybrid model and the Toyota Camry has a new XSE version that combines sporty handling with a luxurious interior. Both the Mercedes-Benz S-Class hybrid and Toyota Camry XSE are models that were not available to shoppers looking for a 2014 new car.

"Old" New Cars
On the other hand, if you don't care about having the newest and latest when it comes to features and safety, you might want to buy a new 2014 model year car even if you know that an all-new 2015 version has arrived.

The reason is that you should be able to strike a pretty good deal on that older "new" car. Being flexible is also key: the dealer will want to sell you a car they already have and that might mean getting a color you don't love or sacrificing certain features.

Used car shoppers can also get something out of a new car show as well. Most cars get notable updates or changes every three to five years. Say you're looking to buy a used Toyota Tacoma or Jeep Wrangler, hoping to get a great deal on a slightly used truck. If you check out new Tacomas and Wranglers at the auto show, the 2014 versions you'll see there are essentially just like the used version you can find for thousands of dollars less. Pick a notoriously reliable brand like Honda, Nissan or Toyota, and the worry of buying a used car fades pretty quickly.

Certified pre-owned (CPO) cars have an additional warranty, so the real-world difference between a CPO version of a Toyota Tacoma or Jeep Wrangler and a new 2014 model is fairly minimal.

New car shows will continue to attract automotive enthusiasts from all walks of life, but if you're seriously shopping for a new or used car, you might want to use your local auto show as a way to do some hands on research. The information you gather could save you money and keep you from getting a $30,000 case of buyer's remorse.