If you're just beginning to think about a new car and are doing your comparisons, attending a regional auto show is a great way to assess the marketplace.

At virtually all regional shows, carmakers display their wares, while few manufacturers bring their newest, yet-to-be produced models or concepts. Those concepts dazzle in Los Angeles, Detroit and New York, but the emphasis at the regional show is on moving metal. Dallas, Boston, Birmingham, Ala., and the rest - these are selling shows. Manufacturers supply the cars and at least a portion of the budget for space, while local dealers do the heavy lifting in promoting the show and sometimes in manning the booths.

Despite not offering the concepts or next year's models, smaller auto shows offer the opportunity to examine lots of cars within a few minutes, back to back. And you can even get behind the wheel, as more manufacturers are offering brief-but-informative test drives outside the show venue. Ram trucks even have an indoor test track and towing demo at some shows, allowing visitors to take a drive inside the convention center.

No exhibitor is more focused on the buying experience than Capital One; their team recently used the DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth) show to highlight their Auto Navigator program via the Auto Navigator Garage. With Chip Foose's Hemisfear (shown) concept serving as the Garage's centerpiece, and Chip's planned appearance, Capital One representatives were busy working with prospective buyers. The Auto Navigator allows you to prequalify for a loan with no impact on your credit score, find vehicles and see real loan rates, personalize your financing and – ultimately – select a dealer from the thousands participating in the Capital One program.

Auto Navigator makes it easy to avoid the "what do you want to pay?" question from dealers, in that you already know both what you want to pay and can get pre-approved.

Most shows include row upon row of competitive vehicles, a vintage Corvette and/or Mustang display, and even the occasional chance to win something.

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