The Right Way To Buy A Car As A Christmas Gift

Photo credit Lexus, because of course it is.
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.

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


PotbellyJoe and 42 others

Ugh, as a former salesperson, let me offer a word of advice, don’t. Just don’t. Buy the car when you need it, making it a gift is really not wise. And in some states, should trouble ever arise, having given it as a gift it makes any divorce or separation a mess. I’m not a lawyer, but check your local laws, you’ll be surprised as to what goes off the books if they can be termed gifts.

However, even worse than cars for Christmas, are the divorced parents who try to buy the love of their children by surprising them with cars. One time led to one of the more uncomfortable moments of my life.

This dad comes into my shop and says he needs a pearl white Rav4 L with oak leather, sunroof, and Nav, needs it for delivery by X date says it’s for his daughter who is turning 17 and we need to deliver it to her. No big deal as it happens quite often where they don’t want the kid at the dealership while paperwork is getting signed. Not typically on $30k Rav4s, but whatever.

So the car comes in, he stops over and completes the inspection and payment, we get the plates on it and hold it in the service bay for 2 days waiting to deliver it. I call the day of delivery and ask where to bring the thing, “The high school, by 2" crap...

So I bring it there, drop it off with keys. The dad drives it right to the fire lane in front of the place and sticks a damn bow on the top of it. I want to leave, but dad wants me to walk her through how to use the stupid thing, so I’m stuck waiting.

Bell rings, out come the kids, she comes out and starts flipping out. Screaming at her dad that that was “NOT THE CAR I WANTED. THIS IS SO EMBARRASSING, HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?!”

I’m looking for a hole to crawl into at this point. I’m making sure my dealership’s name is not anywhere on the car.

He’s visibly mortified and says, “sweetie, it’s a beautiful car and has everything you wanted. and it’s safe for you and friends.” “SEND IT BACK DADDY, I DON’T WANT IT!”

So he turns to me and is like, “Hey, take it back.” and I go, “we’ll take it on trade or purchase for $22k” “But it was $30k...” “Sure, new. You’re the seller of a used vehicle since it’s been titled. I can’t just unwind this one.”

Ultimately, we bought it for $23k, sold it CPO and since it had no miles and a better warranty than new (6 yr/100k vs 5/60k) it sold pretty quickly.

Moral of the story, never, ever surprise someone with a car, unless you are prepared for the surprise to be on you.

I have another story about a woman overpaying by $40,000 for a truck because it was a Christmas present, but that can wait for another time.