Gift Ideas for Car Lovers or Commuters

Vehicles are a big part of our lives. Heck, Santa couldn’t deliver gifts without his sleigh. For loved ones who are motorheads or simply spend too many hours in their car, consider a gift that shows you’re thinking of them while they’re on the road.

Don’t fret that you can’t surprise your spouse with a bow-adorned luxury car. Sure, it looks appealing in ads, but so does cat food. Giving a car for Christmas can backfire if it’s the wrong brand, model, size or color. At the very least, ask the salesperson for a temporary vehicle and bow, then let your betrothed make the final choice. A pro tip: December is ideal for finding deals on new cars.

Few can spring for a new ride, but you can make an existing one better. Something simple like a good smartphone holder makes commuting pleasant and safer. The Wirecutter recommends the $25 iOttie iTap Magnetic for vent- and windshield-mount models. Wireless charging versions reduce dashboard clutter. Move up to the $60 Kenu Airbase or Kenu Airframe mount if your recipient’s phone supports that.

For those topping the nice list, try an audio system upgrade to add wireless Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. The Wirecutter deems the Pioneer AVH-W4500NEX as a top pick for around $440 before installation.

Give the young Lewis Hamilton in your family his or her own racing seat. O.K., it’s really a car safety seat, but the child doesn’t have to know that. The Diono Monterey XT looks like something bolted into a Formula One car, not a minivan. The sporty look makes youngsters happy to use it. After extensive testing, The Wirecutter recommends it and Chicco KidFit for protection for $100.

Everyone loves Lego, until you step on a brick. To keep children and, yes, adults occupied, there are dozens of automotive sets, ranging from the $15 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback and 1974 Porsche 911 Turbo 3.0 (I’ll admit to owning both) to the $350 Bugatti Chiron. I’m smitten with the new Land Rover Defender 90 ($200), which has working steering and a six-cylinder engine with moving pistons. It could take six months to put together all of its 2,573 pieces. By then, the real Defender will have returned to American showrooms.

My passion for automobiles, like that of millions of others, was fueled by Mattel’s Hot Wheels. The new Hot Wheels ID system turbocharges them into the digital world. It starts with ID cars that pair to Android and iOS devices with a free app. Stored in a “digital garage,” each ID car has a unique signature with stats that follow along if it’s sold or traded.

The Race Portal (a small Bluetooth-enabled track section) connects to the miles of orange track you might already own. It sends speed and lap info to the app so children get concrete bragging rights to who owns the fastest car. The Race Portal opens the system’s physical-and-virtual world by offering games combining the cars and the app. Add digitally enabled Smart Track (that’s smoother and faster than the classic stuff) and the app suggests over 50 Smart Track configurations and sends live visuals to the phone or tablet while the track is built. A pump-operated booster launches the cars at 900 miles an hour (speed to scale, fortunately), and a virtual tachometer teaches young drivers to stay out of the red zone. All the data rewards skillful drivers.

ID cars retail for $7, which, adjusted for inflation, is less expensive than the original Hot Wheels introduced in 1968. The Race Portal is $40; the Smart Track set is $180. Hot Wheels ID is available at Amazon, Apple stores and Target.

How about a real-life adult hot wheels experience? Hertz pioneered “rent-a-racer” in 1966 with the 306-horsepower Shelby Mustang GT350-H for $17 a day and 17 cents a mile for those 25 years or older. Now, Hertz has switched pony car camps. At selected airports, a Hendrick Motorsports-tuned Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1 (with 750 horsepower) or SS (at 480 ponies) can be rented. And, yes, you still need to be 25. Nowadays it’s $300 a day for the ZL1 for 75 miles, then 75 cents a mile. The SS is a flat $100 daily. Keep in mind that many rental car companies offer luxury vehicles to upgrade your holiday getaway.

Another way to rev an enthusiast’s heart can be found at, the automotive equivalent of Airbnb. A quick search in my area turned up all sorts of Maserati, Porsche, Tesla, BMW and Land Rover models that owners will rent. Even a Nissan GT-R.

Santa shouldn’t tell Rudolph about the Lanmodo Color Night Vision Camera system. Its 8.2-inch screen is shaped like a rearview mirror. Unlike infrared systems in Cadillac and Mercedes vehicles, Lanmodo uses light amplification. But it gets the job done with a visual range over two football fields ahead. Way better than a shiny red nose, I’ll assume. It’s especially helpful in rural areas to spot large animals that bolt from the side of the road, less so in cities that are generally well lighted.

The one-piece unit’s adjustable camera lens on the back needs a view of the pavement. In my testing, I’ve found that dimming the screen and mounting it near the car’s gauge cluster help keep a driver’s eyes on the road. It’s $500 on Amazon; a coupon drops it by $100. Skip the $600 version, which adds a backup camera. Most will remove the screen during daytime driving.

For those on tight budgets, a thoughtful gift could be a promise to wash and wax a loved one’s car — and clean the interior. Maybe throw in a classic Little Trees air freshener for that festive holiday touch. It may not be a luxury vehicle with a big red bow, but it shows you care.