Look, But Touching Can Be Costly

Whether you are at an auto show (when allowed) or admiring a hot rod roadside, there are some simple rules to follow

Avatar By: Jeff Melnychuk June 6, 2021

It has been more than a year since COVID-19 gripped the world, essentially ending in-person events, car shows included. As more Canadians are vaccinated, restrictions for gatherings will slowly ease and, one day, car shows – organized events but also parking-lot meetups with classic and custom cars owners hanging out with their vehicles – will be back in full swing.

Logic points that people, tired of looking at the walls of their homes, will enthusiastically want to reconnect with normal activity. Also, logically, they’ll be out of practice regarding the etiquette and rules when it comes to admiring automotive eye candy. No one wants to be that person, the one who dropped a bike on a fender, drove a stroller into a door or let their dog jump on a hood.

What happens then? Custom painter Serge Leger knows exactly what. “You’re looking at maybe $8,000 to $12,000 for a high-end paint job,” he said. “And if it’s really custom and a repair can’t be made to match, you have to paint the whole car.”

That’s right, if you scratch or ding or dent a show car, you’re on the hook for it. Such situations are completely avoidable by keeping some of the key unwritten rules of attending indoor or outdoor shows in mind. We all know not to touch, but that must be taken a step further to cut the risk of disaster.

Only bring what you need. Lock your bike to a tree away from the cars and push a stroller, well away from the vehicle, with care. Don’t lean on anything. Don’t rest your hand on anything. Don’t get ketchup on anything. Don’t start anything on fire.

“Don’t touch means don’t touch,” said Paul Bourque, who routinely shows custom cars. “But a big, big majority of people are great at car shows.” However, there was this one time, “A guy actually opened the door and sat at the wheel.”


Yes, there are still some people who give every show-goer a bad name. It’s why Leger, who shows several high-dollar custom cars, ropes off his rolling masterpieces whenever possible.

Sometimes you can’t, he said, like at outdoor shows where it looks ridiculous to rope off a vehicle, and that means owners need to be on guard and that show-goers need to understand what’s at stake. “It’s a respect thing,” he said.

Then, spectators might be more careful? “Next to my family, it’s my second love.”

So, when someone drives a stroller into a fender, owners can become a little hot under the collar.

On the flip side, Bourque is equally annoyed with people who bring their cars to shows and then hide.

“They sit in lawn chairs in circles chatting among each other and when someone comes over to talk, it’s almost like they’re imposing. That really annoys me. If you’re at a car show, show your car,” he said. “Car shows are entertainment and you’re part of the entertainment.”

Answering questions, often the same ones over and over, is part of what taking a car to a show is all about. “If you don’t like doing that, then don’t take your car.”

Conversely, Bourque says spectators need to mind their manners and watch their tongues. “A real hotrod guy doesn’t judge other peoples’ cars because even though you might not agree with what has been done to a vehicle, no matter the brand, you have to respect that it’s their car and it’s built the way they want with whatever funds are available,” said Bourque.

“You know, we don’t bring cars to shows for judgment by people who haven’t done any of the work or spent any money on them,” he added. “When someone does that, I simply ask them where their car is.”

It’s a respect thing, alright, and not just for spectators.

Bourque is quick to point out that it’s important for kids to come to shows to see the history and become interested in the hobby. And it’s up to the car owners to help educate. But there’s some parenting.

“I don’t blame any small child for the way they behave in public or around a $100,000 car. I blame the parents when something goes wrong,” he said. “Kids are just kids. They need to be constantly reminded to keep off things. It’s just what kids do. But this isn’t a muddy-shoes-off-the-clean-floor thing. There are no second chances.”

But just as it takes something small to ruin your day, it only takes something small to make it a great one. And, yes, flattery will get you everywhere.

“One time, a guy came over and asked if he could take a picture of the car. A couple of weeks later he came back with a tattoo of it on his arm,” Bourque said. “You’ve gotta love that.”


Five ways to be courteous

This isn’t really all that complicated as long as you mind your manners.

1 • Don’t touch anything, even if the owner of the vehicle is touching.
2 • By all means bring the kids but be aware: you can look but don’t touch. Keep close contact. Even a small scratch can be expensive. Car owners should make the effort to chat up the kids.
3 • Never ever ask, “How much is your car?” Instead ask, “Roughly how much would it take to build a similar car?”
4 • If you’re showing your vehicle, chat up the people who come by instead of sitting in a chair and doing a crossword.
5 • If someone is taking a picture of your car, be courteous and ask if they would like one with the hood up. And every now and then, for your real fans, ask if they would like a picture of themselves behind the wheel. You’ve just earned your stripes as a good-will ambassador.