What Is The Difference Between A Car Show And A Cruise-In?


Car gatherings are a fun pastime experience that is a hobby for many. You see many different kinds of people with varying tastes and preferences in vehicles. They’re a great place to socialize with other people who appreciate the beauty of cars. But often times, you see on a flyer or an announcement that a certain car gathering is called either a “car show” or “cruise-in.” Many people wonder if there’s a difference at all between the two.

So, what is the difference between a car show and a cruise-in? Car shows are more formal and commonly require a fee for everyone involved. There are usually prizes as well as vendors, food, music and swap-meets. Cruise-ins are a lot less formal and mostly entail a smaller group of people gathering at a park or parking lot for a few hours with no fee involved.

It’s very common and quite easy to get confused between car shows and cruise-ins, but they essentially have the same goal in that they let people show off their classic car and let people share a common appreciation for such beautiful machines. I have attended hundreds of car shows, had several of my classic cars in car shows and cruise-ins, and have helped organize several shows. There’s a lot more to them than just their names.

What You Do At Car Shows and Cruise-Ins

Car shows are an excellent way to show off your ride. They’re also a great way to look at some beautiful cars and admire/day dream if you don’t happen to have a classic car for yourself.

Car shows can end up having thousands of people attending them, all entailing men, women, young, and old people alike. There’s usually something for everyone to keep busy at a car show. A lot of car shows have swap-meets with more than just car parts and paraphernalia, but also clothes, jewelry, sunglasses, etc. With the live music you usually hear at car shows, you can take your mind back in time as you look at machines that make you feel like you’re somewhere thirty years ago.

Car shows will often have several food vendors for you to choose from if you find yourself getting hungry. There are also also lots of treats to eat to make yourself or the littles happy. A lot of car shows also have a voting poll, letting spectators vote on their favorite cars per category. A car show can last for several days and at the end of the car show, judges will announce the winners from spectators’ votes and/or do a raffle and give out sought-after prizes.

Though cruise-ins aren’t as formal and may not have as many amenities as car shows, you still have a chance for having a wonderful time. Sometimes all the organization of a car show can be a bit stressful, so many prefer the low-key feel of a cruise-in. Anyone can walk in and out of the area as they please and admire the beautiful cars people have brought to show off.

There is still a chance for judging and prizes, though the prizes may not be as big or expensive as those at a car show. Cruise-ins usually only last for a few hours, commonly in the morning or in the evening. It’s a great way for classic car owners to admire each others’ cars and network about where to get car parts, reliable auto shops, and who to talk to if they’re interested in buying/selling.

Which Cars Are Eligible For Car Shows and Cruise-Ins

Really any car that is potentially interesting to look at is eligible for a car show or cruise-in. There are no specific standards as to what is and is not eligible to bring to shows like these. Car shows, however, may put a stop to people bringing in their 2007 Ford Fusion (just as an example) or other standard cars you can see in any other parking lot.

Old cars, brand new cars, souped-up cars, anything that could potentially be exciting for viewers to see are great for car gatherings. Sometimes cruise-ins and car shows will be for a specific make and model, so be sure to visit the car gathering’s website or read their flyer to make sure.

For car shows, you’ll usually need to pay a fee, probably between $10-$30, to register your car. Car shows will often have registrants and spectators pay a fee to compensate the employees and all the work that was put into organizing the show.

What To Bring To A Car Show or Cruise-In

If you are someone who is bringing a car to display at a car show or a cruise-in, there are a few things you can bring to make your experience as well as the audience’s experience more pleasurable.

The first item on your list you should bring is some cleaning supplies for your car. You want to make your car nice and shiny for people who are looking at it, but you still need to drive your classic car from your house to the show which will usually get your car a little dirty. Bring some lint-free micro fiber towels as well as some wax and some Windex so you can do a few spot cleans once you get your car parked. It’s also nice to bring some tire shine to give your tires that brand-new look.

If you are bringing a car to display, it’s also a good idea to bring a camping chair to sit in, some cold drinks, and some photos or a photo album of your car’s rebuilding process if you have them. People love seeing the process of an old rust bucket being brought back to life.

If you are a spectator, there are still a few things you should plan on bringing. Always bring cash with you. A lot of car shows won’t accept credit cards or checks, so cash would be your best bet. Contact the show organizer to see exactly how much it will be when you arrive. Also bring some extra cash in case you want to buy a treat or a meal; sometimes vendors don’t have credit card machines either.

It’s also a good idea to bring a lot of water with you if you plan on walking around looking at cars. Car shows and cruise-ins are usually held in the summer so it gets really hot. Apply sunscreen as well because you will definitely get sunburned if you don’t. If possible, wear sunglasses and a hat and wear the appropriate clothing to keep you cool; in other words, don’t wear a sweater and jeans.

How To Organize Your Own Car Show or Cruise-In

If you wish to organize your own car show or cruise-in, there are a few easy steps you can take to meet your goal. A lot of the steps depend on how big your want your show to be and how much time and money you’re willing to invest.

Planning a cruise-in won’t be as time consuming as planning a car show. First, you’ll need to pick a day for the cruise-in. Pick a time of year that is weather appropriate. Also try to find a day where there aren’t a lot of other activities going on around town that could lessen your audience.

Once you pick a day, find other people to help you out with organizing it. Make some flyers and post them on Facebook and around town. You can even make a free website from places such as Wix so people have a place to go to for more information. Most of your time should be spent advertising the cruise-in so you have as many attendees as possible.

Planning a car show is a little more demanding than planning a cruise-in. Consider all the steps recommended for planning a cruise-in in addition to networking and finding vendors as well as sponsors to help fund the car show. Calculate the price you will need to charge to car registrants and from spectators.

Related Questions

Can you take a non-running car to a car show? All classic cars, whether they’re running or not, are eligible for car shows. Many people take their project cars, which they’re still in the middle of rebuilding, to car shows to show off their progress they’ve made. It’s mostly just a matter of how you plan to get your classic car there.

How did car shows and cruise-ins get started? Car shows and cruise-ins started becoming popular in the 1980’s. Around this time is when some older cars started becoming classics and people started recognizing that. Groups started gathering their cars and displaying them in small shows. The idea became bigger and bigger as time went on.

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