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The holiday season is a time when fantasies come to life – including the fantasy of giving or getting a car as a gift, wrapped in a giant red bow.
The dream becomes reality for so many people that, according to the New York Times, gift sales make up 10 percent or more of December sales for some automakers – especially ones that make luxury cars.
Those automakers include Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus, which got the phenomenon started with the inaugural cars-with-bows “December to Remember” campaign in 1999. According to Marketplace.org, December was 10th in monthly sales for Lexus dealers in 1998, but first in 2000.
Other brands that often show up on lists for Santa include Jaguar, Lincoln, Ford, GMC, Chevrolet, Toyota and Nissan, Mercedes and BMW.
“It is a big time of the year for luxury cars,” says Howard Kemp, product specialist for Uptown Ford Lincoln of Milwaukee. “Sometimes the buyer wants it to be a surprise; other times, the person buying the car and the one receiving it come in together. It depends on what you’re comfortable doing.”
Adam Elbiadi, internet sales manager for Napleton Lexus of Brookfield, says that in his experience, almost all of the buyers come in alone. “They want it to be just the way it looks in the commercials.”
If surprising someone with a gift car feels about as merry as visits from three Christmas ghosts, it may be because cars are generally the second-biggest purchase most people make in their lives, and one that’s not as easy to exchange as a pair of socks. But car-buying experts, including Kemp and Elbiadi, have advice on how to buy a gift car that makes the season bright.
Know the recipient
“Usually the buyer wants a car for their spouse,” Kemp says. “Most of the buyers and the people who’ll get the cars are existing customers.”
You might try subtly finding out if a car is the right gift – and gain insight into important details like the recipient’s preferred color, body style and optional features – by asking sly questions or commenting on commercials or vehicles you see on the road and registering the responses. But Tom McParland of Jalopnik.com says that replacing a vehicle with a new one is a better bet.
Or, you can assume Santa’s wish-fulfillment role.
“If your significant other has been contemplating a purchase and has picked out their color, options and everything else,” McParland says, “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.”
Research the product
This applies any time you’re buying a car.
“By the time most buyers come in, they have things figured out,” Elbiadi says. “They go online to check the features, arrange financing, get all their ducks in a row.”
Kemp says most buyers know what they want before they contact the dealership. “A man called me to say that he wanted a Lincoln Aviator just like the one in the ad where Matthew McConaughey goes ice fishing,” he says. “I told him, ‘I can get you that car; I’m not sure I can get you the fishing gear.’”
Furthermore, while most recipients don’t test drive the vehicles, both dealers say it’s not unusual for the buyers to give a gift car a spin.
Consider the financing alternatives
Leasing vehicles has become more popular in the last few years, in part because it’s a cost-effective way to get the newest vehicles with the latest features. As Kemp says, you finance about half the cost of the vehicle, which keeps payments low, “and when the lease is up, you can drop the car off at the dealership and walk away.”
Or replace it with another new vehicle.
Another holiday bonus is that automakers and dealerships typically offer great incentives, like cash back or low-rate financing, at the end of the year – especially on vehicles that remain from the previous model year. Those vehicles are still new, and their warranties don’t start ticking until you sign the papers.
Think about buying pre-owned
Commercials promote new cars, but going with pre-owned can be a way to score a wonderful car that has way more than half its useful life left. Kemp notes that certified pre-owned vehicles have low mileage and come with warranties that resemble those associated with new cars. Elbiadi cites Lexus’ six-year warranties on CPOs. Other manufacturers also offer attractive warranties on vehicles at every price point.
Both sales pros also note that CPOs, as well as higher-mileage vehicles, can make good gifts for new drivers, college students and recent college grads.
“We see a lot of that at the beginning of the school year, when people buy cars for their kids to drive back and forth to school,” Kemp says.
Of course, in some cases, parents or grandparents may want to retain ownership, since they’re likely to get much better rates on insurance and will have a say when it comes to maintenance and how a vehicle will be used.
Want to surprise someone with a car for a holiday, a birthday, graduation, Valentine’s Day or just for the heck of it? More Content Now writer Savannah Evanoff offers tips how to find out what they really want.
- Check Pinterest: People often post about things they’d like to have.
- Ask friends or co-workers: Those the recipient shops with are especially good, Evanoff says, because “people are 1,000 times more likely to mention something they want while out shopping.”
- Ask indirectly: Ask someone who has similar taste, such as their friend or parent, what they would get for that person. Or, ask the recipient what he or she might get for someone who’s like them. You might also think of throwing in a hint like, “Do you think your father would like a Lexus (or a GMC Sierra 1500 Denali or Ford Mustang)?”
- Test out gift ideas by “asking without asking": You might casually say, “If Santa brought you a Lexus, what color would you like best?”