The Right Way To Buy A Car As A Christmas Gift

Photo credit Lexus, because of course it is.

Believe it or not, those corny commercials are accurate: people really do buy cars as gifts around Christmas time. So if you are feeling vehicularly generous this holiday season, here are some rules to follow.


Don’t Surprise Someone With A Car

As romantic and/or awesome as this sounds, purchasing a vehicle for someone is not as easy as rolling down to your local department store and picking out a nice sweater or piece of jewelry. (Do people still buy shit at department stores? Amazon, then.)

For one, you can’t just return a car if the person doesn’t like it. Obviously. The return policy on automobiles is pretty much “you’re screwed.” Imagine buying a $60 sweater only to find out it’s the wrong size. No biggie, you take it back to the Gap or wherever and get a refund. New cars lose value as soon as they drive off the lot, luxury cars drop even faster. That fancy $40,000 Lexus with the big red bow is now worth about $30,000 on a trade in. Choose carefully.

What I’m trying to say here is this is a conversation that should have been happening for a while between you and whoever’s getting the car. You don’t buy a car on a whim unless you are filthy rich. If your significant other has been contemplating a purchase for some time and has picked out their color, options and everything else, that’s good. For someone who just hasn’t pulled the trigger, this could be an opportunity to “surprise” them with something they were going to buy anyway.


The surprise isn’t so much the vehicle itself, but the fact that you took initiative and saved them the hassle of shopping for this major purchase. If you are going to do this, you need to have a very clear idea on exactly what they want.

Don’t Take Them Car Shopping

Buying a car is not “retail therapy.” Maybe it is if you’re stupidly wealthy, but for most average people there is no joy in the actual act of purchasing a vehicle. Most of the time buying a car sucks.


You know how I know it sucks? Because every month people pay me to do it for them. They don’t want to deal with the abusive tactics and the mind games by the salespeople, who aren’t all bad, but the nature of commission-based sales is that it’s in interest to take as much money from you as possible. Even if you find the right salesperson that isn’t sleazy, the whole process can be a pain in the ass.

Once you know what they want, do all the negotiations ahead of time. Need some tips on how to do this? I got you covered. Basically, you want the deal done when you arrive so all you have to do is show up impress them with the brand new car, sign the papers and drive on home. Your partner doesn’t want to see your negotiation skills, they want to know you can get shit done.


You Are Not Off The Hook When It Comes To Other Gifts

You might think that now that you battled your way through the car buying process you are done with holiday shopping. Not so fast, jackass. Chances are the car purchase happened before the 25th, so on Christmas Day (or the day of whatever holiday you celebrate) you don’t want to be in that awkward situation where they give you a gift and you have nothing in return. “But the car!” doesn’t cut it with everyone.


I’m not saying your gift has to be fancy or expensive. How about a gift certificate to their favorite spa or restaurant or local farm-to-table opium den? Now they can meet their friends somewhere, show off their new car and sing your praises. And for fuck’s sake, do not make the gift related to the car. No floor mats, no air fresheners, nobody wants that crap.

Even if you can live the fantasy of those cheesy commercials where your partner goes outside in their robe and sees a shiny new car with a red bow, gleaming in a light snowfall, you still want to have other gifts. Then you can do the thing where they open a few gifts and one of them is a key! Such festive excitement.


Getting a car as a gift is a risky venture, but it could pay off if done carefully. The key is here is not think of this as you are getting someone a car, but rather you are taking the stress of buying a car off their plate and there is no better gift during the holiday season than less stress.

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About the author

Tom McParland

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (