Gift ideas for car nuts and commuters

Melissa Preddy
Special to The Detroit News

‘Tis that gift-giving season again, when Santa’s many helpers are on the quest for thoughtful, useful and amusing treats for naughty and nice alike.  

Look no farther than your driveway for inspiration. From traditional auto parts shops to discount stores to handcraft sites like Etsy, car-related gifts abound for the commuter, enthusiast and everyone in between.  

In keeping with the theme of the season, YellowOtterStudios on offers a V-8 Engine Muscle Car Ugly Christmas Sweater.

In keeping with the theme of the season, YellowOtterStudios on offers a V-8 Engine Muscle Car Ugly Christmas Sweater. A cutaway view of a motor and other components are cleverly woven among the trees and snowflakes on this $22.95 knit item that’s sure to be the talk of the holiday feast. 

Beyond the silly, I’m partial to making themed “kits” by filling a container with a variety of useful or entertaining items. Some ideas are:

Clean Santa: Stuff a five-gallon bucket with an assortment of DIY detailing tools including microfiber towels, a paintbrush for dusting vents, sponges, cleaning solutions and canisters of specialty touch-up wipes for tires, leather, dashboard and glass. Add an air freshener or two, a lint roller, a pop-up waste basket and a set of car-wash coupons or pre-paid monthly wash membership for cleaning the exterior. If your budget allows, a hand vac or one of those high-pressure interior cleaning guns that attach to an air compressor would fit the theme.

Pit stop kit: Purchase an over-the-seat organizer pouch, and outfit it with a pair of gloves to keep hands clean while pumping fuel, a packet of gasoline-removing hand wipes, some unscented hand lotion and a microfiber towel. Tuck in a pre-paid fuel card and you’ve got a welcome gift for the hard-core commuter.

Safety first: Purchase a pre-filled emergency kit online or at a car parts store, and augment with a blanket, some non-perishable rations like chocolate, nuts and energy bars, and a gift certificate for a roadside assistance plan.  

For another $100 or so, consider the Bolt from This little 7-inch gadget will jump-start a car as well as charge your phones. Beats lugging jumper cables and a big power pack around. 

Over the river: Gifts of experience are among the most memorable. Give race and auto-show tickets for upcoming events. Racing-school tickets will light up a lot of eyes if they’re found under your tree.   

Old-car spruce-up: Is someone on your list chugging along in an older, low-frills ride? Be a real St. Nick and spring for an upgrade like remote engine start, a backup camera or a satellite radio system. Or help out with a gift card for tires (remember warehouse stores like Costco offer them, as well as chain tire shops)  or a year’s worth of oil changes.

Stocking stuffers: There are plenty of $25-and-under items most drivers would appreciate. Consider the little air ionizers that plug into a car’s power outlet (the former cigarette lighter) and claim to combat allergens, pollutants and pet smells inside the vehicle. I can’t vouch for their efficacy but the $25 PURE model with HEPA filter, at, also features two quick-charge USB outlets, so it might be worth a shot. 
For the reader on your list, gifts at start at $15; you can select a specific title, or give credits toward the purchase of any audio books to be downloaded to a smartphone and enjoyed behind the wheel. 

For about $15, you can tuck in a paint touch-up pen so your giftee can fix those nicks and scratches. Dashboard phone holders, fancy sun shades — I like the “car full of squirrels” model at — also are handy and amusing.  
The Nonda ZUS smart car charger will talk to a phone app to help you remember where you parked your car, record mileage or perform other tasks. And a neck pillow that attaches to the headrest will ease the ride for drivers and passengers alike; the top-reviewed TravelMate version is online at Amazon for less than $15.

Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via