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Why You Should Never Buy a Car as a Gift

We're almost officially into the holiday shopping season, which means commercials for jewelry and perfume and various other things no one really needs are going to be stuffed on every viewing platform until December 25th. Among those are the commercials and advertisements that show a very happy recipient hugging a very pleased gift-giver standing in front of a shiny vehicle with a giant red bow on a snowy driveway. How could you not win gift-giver of the century with a car? Plus, a car is something the recipient probably actually needs (or is at least more practical than jewelry), so wouldn't a car make the perfect gift? The answer is no; you should never buy a car as a gift.

Never buy a car as a gift

There are many reasons why you should never buy a car as a gift. Car makers capitalize on the idea that we should get gifts we deserve. This notion is meaningless, because by definition a gift is something given without it being earned and without payment in return. However, this "what you deserve" mentality is strongest around gift-giving holidays, and encourages the notion that the price tag, status, or size of the gift is more important than the thought behind it. We believe recipients would do best to remember that a gift is a gift, a token given out of the love and kindness of the giver, and not to be criticized or scorned.

5 Reasons Cars Make Terrible Gifts

While on the surface it might seem like a fantastic idea to buy a car as a gift, once you actually get into the specifics it quickly becomes a nightmare of options: color, trim, engine, model, optional packages, transmission, not to mention price, can all be gotten "wrong." You had better be darn sure that the car you get is the perfect color, has all the right options, right rims, feels comfortable for them to drive and – most importantly if they are a dog owner — that the back windows go ALL the way down. We're going to start off our list of reasons with a true story to show that even the smallest thing can prove disastrous when picking out someone's next automobile.

  1. Eventhe Dog Disapproves: For many couples, their dogs are like children (or are the favorites). Their comfort, happiness, and ability to travel along at all times is paramount. Letting your dog stick his head out the window to feel the wind in his face is one of life's simple pleasures. Sadly, there are some back windows that only roll down halfway or that roll down leaving two inches of glass above the door, making it impossible for the family dog to rest his head comfortably. This flaw turned a brand new Range Rover into a nightmare for one husband and wife, who discovered the gifted car could not adequately accommodate the dog (like we said, we're not kidding: this is the true story of how easily a gift car can turn sour). Thankfully for our unfortunate couple, a soft plastic cover designed to go over the open glass was found online and the dog could comfortably rest his head after that. But by then, the moment was pretty much ruined. (If your recipient has kids, this scenario can only get worse!)
  2. The Person You are Buying For Loves Shopping for Cars: If you are thinking of giving an automotive enthusiast who loves reading car magazines and visits car dealers to test drive models for fun a new car you need to absolutely, positively sure EXACTLY what car they are dreaming of. Their entire mindset and personal happiness for however long they own the car will depend on it. Get it wrong and it will always be your fault. Always. Besides, how awful would you feel if someone gave you a car and it wasn't the car you really wanted? You'd feel pretty bad if you ever complained about it, even though you might never really love the gift.
  3. Buying or Leasing the Car will Require You Lose Substantial Amounts of Money: We aren’t talking about purchase price here. We mean if you are either breaking a lease early or trading in a car worth less than you owe on it just to get this new car gift. Most people buy cars for spouses, partners, children, or anyone whose life will be affected overall by your financial imprudence. Putting yourself in financial hardship to gift a car can have other far reaching after effects you aren't taking into consideration. Hiding that kind of purchase from a spouse or partner can be dangerous (even when it is for them), and your kids might have to sacrifice other financial assistance (college funds, first apartment security deposit) because of a gift car and its other associated costs. It's too easy to resent a gift like this.
  4. Would you buy a house as a gift?: Remember that buying, owning, insuring, and maintaining a car is usually the second biggest expense anyone will incur in their lifetime beyond owning their own home (and that is out of reach for many people). So unless last Christmas you bought this person a ski lodge in Aspen, maybe consider an iTunes gift card instead.
  5. Be sure this car is really the gift the other person wants and needs, not what you want: It’s very easy to get sucked into the romance of buying someone a new car (thanks, commercials) and then forget that it is in fact you who longs to get behind the wheel of this new ride. Easy to spot red flags are thoughts of buying a luxury convertible for someone who currently drives and needs the utility of a Chevy Tahoe. Try not to forget that you use that Tahoe to drive around your kids and their friends, meaning you should possibly wait on buying the convertible until they are out of graduate school. Then maybe they will buy you one as a gift. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Other reasons you should never buy a car as a gift include: you'll be obligated to spend $200 on one of those ridiculously huge red ribbons, it sets the standard for future gifts which you'll have a hard time living up to, it sets the standard for future gifts from others who will never be able to live up to a car, it will be in your name, new cars lose a significant portion of their value just by driving it off the lot, your neighbors will think you have a lot of money and might try to take advantage, you'll spoil a teen with a brand new gift car, the recipient won't be able to repay you and will feel guilty for getting you a sweater, you might get asked why you didn't spring for a more luxury model, you might also be on the hook for insurance and accessories... we could go on. What are your reasons to never buy a car as a gift? James HamelJames Hamel is a freelance road tester, auto journalist, and Motor Press Guild full member. Find past work at Autobytel.com and current work at iSeeCars.com. Contact James at [email protected].


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