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Car Culture: Christmas gifts for the auto aficionado

Melissa Preddy
Special to The Detroit News

Gift-giving season is kicking into high gear and if you need to inject a little octane into your shopping list, consider items that capitalize on the connection most of your loved ones have to their motor vehicles. Whether they are die-hard car mavens, auto industry nostalgia buffs or begrudging commuters, one of these items ought to add a little sparkle to their eyes:

Making memories

■Some of the snazziest gifts come in small envelopes, like tickets to the 2017 Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix (June 2-4), the NASCAR Sprint Cup Firekeepers Casino 400 (June 16, Michigan International Speedway), the Indianapolis 500 (May 28) or any of the other motorsports events nationwide. To find a likely outing, RacingCalendar.net is a searchable database of motorsports events worldwide, from Formula 1 to NASCAR to historic, truck and other specialty circuits.

■Can’t wait till spring? There’s the North American International Auto Show coming up in a few weeks; public dates run Jan 14-21 and tickets are $13 for adults, $7 for seniors and children. If you’re feeling posh, the auto show’s black-tie charity preview is an unforgettable night at $400 per person.

■A membership to The Henry Ford is a gift that gives year-round with admission to attractions, a monthly magazine and discounted tickets to special events, at levels from $60 for an individual to multiple family tiers. Or, take your loved one on The Henry Ford’s Rouge Factory tour of Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant to see interactive exhibits and watch the F-150 pickup assembly; it’s an unforgettable experience for less than $16 per person.

Behind the wheel

■Items for enhancing commuting time or errand duty make great gifts. A satellite radio subscription (after-market devices are available for cars not factory-equipped) runs about $20 a month for full access to music, talk, motorsports and pro teams, while a monthly membership to talking-book service Audible.com is about $15 a month; smartphone users with the app can download books to their phone and probably play through the vehicle speakers in car models with a USB port.

■Heated seat cushions that plug into 12-volt receptacles range from $20 to $50 and up for those that massage the weary driver. For someone who spends a lot of time on the road, $20 will buy a 12-volt hot pot that warms beverages, soup and other meals-to-go.

Start their engines

■Someone who’s in a budget or older vehicle would probably love to get the promise of a remote start system in their stocking; the cost ranges from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000, so best not to purchase in advance; you’ll want to shop around for a system that’s compatible with your loved one’s vehicle.

■And speaking of ignition switches, remote key fob finders like Tile and TrackR attach to car keys (and other items) so the absent-minded can find misplaced ones via a smartphone app; costs start around $25.

Passenger presents

■Ferrying family around on cold winter mornings and after school? How about a 12-volt heated fleece throw that backseat riders can huddle beneath? They’re $25-45 at major retailers. Travel pillows, phone chargers with 6-foot cords, travel games for kids and rear-seat organizers are inexpensive items that can be bundled as a gift basket for riders on the go.

■ The pet parent in your life might like some gifts to make their animals safer and more comfy on long rides. Products that fill in the foot wells in front of the rear set, making the area one large lounge zone for bigger dogs, look really useful for about $50-60; Google ‘backseat extender.’ Smaller mutts appreciate a booster so they can see out, too; my pick is the K&H Manufacturing Bucket Booster; pricey at $80-100 but stable, durable and roomy.

■Collapsible bowls, food dispensers and Bach Rescue Remedy herbal stress-relief drops would make handy stocking stuffers for the canine car buff, too.

Revving up retro

■Gifts needn’t come with a bar code — in fact, some of the most thoughtful presents might be sitting on an antique-shop shelf or showcased on sales sites such as eBay and Etsy. Items from emblems to frameable advertising to model-specific manuals abound, many at bargain prices, like $18 for a 1915 Model T booklet or $9.95 for a 40-year-old Dodge enamel lapel pin.

■Even non-motorheads with family ties to the auto industry might enjoy a bit of nostalgia; how about old Shenango dinnerware from the Ford Motor Co. executive dining room — about $50 a plate on collectors’ sites — or a 1965 General Motors Christmas Carol Songbook?

Snow scene

■For those with a tendency to slither off the road or drive through drifts, traction mats with catchy names such as Portable Tow Truck, Snow Joe and Car Escaper run from $15 to $50 or more per set and get decent reviews on car talk blogs and retail sites. Maybe toss in a foldable snow shovel and disposable hand-warmer packs for a festive touch.

■Full auto emergency kits such as the AAA Severe Weather Lifeline pack — about $60 — contains dozens of items ranging from candles, gloves, emergency blanket and scarf to food to a strobe light and whistles.

Toyland

■Get those little gearheads started early! There is no shortage of vehicle-themed playthings, a staple of the toybox for about the past 100 years. In fact, the racing sets and even kits for tiny tots are bigger, taller and more intricate than ever. If your budget and your floor space won’t stretch to a $100-plus three-story parking garage, consider the retro wooden Melissa and Doug Service Station, about $25. Available online and in retail stores, it comes with two cars and has a ramp, elevator, gas pump and charming drive-through auto wash.

■Up for a splurge or kid needs more power? Ride-on kiddie vehicles abound, at $250 and up, from a Disney Princess chariot to the rather cool 12-volt Chevrolet Camaro, complete with twin racing stripes down the hood.

For teens, consider a gift certificate to driver education school, where basic instruction can easily run $250 and up.

Elf service

■Who wouldn’t feel pampered with a cleaner, less cluttered vehicle? Gift cards for drive-through car washes or a professional detailing service make wonderful presents, and for ongoing maintenance you can put together a little kit with dashboard wipes, glass-cleaning wipes and a fresh paintbrush for brushing dust out of vents. Slip in one of those $5 economy bundles of white or color-coordinated terry washcloths for mopping up spills, too.

■I like to give a $25 set of jersey knit bedsheets to vehicle owners; they’re readily available in common interior colors like black, grey, red and beige, and more versatile than tailored car-seat covers. The fitted double or queen sheet tucks around the flat and upright areas of the rear seat, and the flat sheet protects the floor and car mats while the pillow slips cover front seats. Easy to yank out, wash, and replace to keep cabin spaces looking clean and new. A second set comes in handy for larger vehicles like vans or for drivers with messy cargo areas.

■A rechargeable, hand-held vacuum or a 12-volt model can keep grit and crumbs at bay, and long-reach tools sold for about $10 under names that include Windshield Wonder and Invisible Glass make for shinier glass.

■And if you’re an elf on a budget this year, remember that the gift of your time is priceless. For less than $15 and a couple of hours’ work, you can run your giftee’s vehicle up to a do-it-yourself wash bay, bag up the clutter, vacuum it thoroughly, wipe down interior plastic, hose off the slush splatter and add a festive cinnamon or pine air freshener. Sign your name to a heartfelt card, leave it on the dashboard and I guarantee your thoughtfulness will be the hit of the holiday season.

Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer

Melissa@MelissaPreddy.com