Many people don't know this, but car dealerships across the country are big supporters of charitable causes, donating to youth sports, medical research, local law enforcement and hunger relief. Another area of support is local education.
Here are five car dealerships that focus on education by rewarding the hard work and accomplishments of both teachers and students.
Newton Nissan, a dealership in Gallatin, Tennessee, just outside Nashville, has given away a new car to a hard-working student for each of the past five years, and pays the tax on the car to boot. The most recent winner, Josh Graves, received a 2014 Nissan Versa Note SV.
The program is the brainchild of Newton Nissan's owner, Mike Abbondanza, who is also its general manager.
"It's in the nature of the owner to give back to the community that he does business in," says Kyle Bolton, Internet manager for Newton Nissan. "Instead of just having a giveaway, he thought, 'Why not reward a young person for working hard in school?'"
The program works this way: Every high school junior and senior student in the local school district can enter. Each "A" that the student earns on an end-of-semester report card is worth one entry into the contest. The more top marks a student earns, the more times he or she can enter. At the end of the contest, the dealership pulls an entrant's name out of a box, and the student gets the keys to a new Nissan Versa. This news clip shows Josh Graves winning his new car:
In addition to the grand prize of a new Nissan vehicle, the dealership also gives away passes to Holiday World, a local amusement park, plus gift cards to local restaurants and tablet computers to other contest winners whose names get pulled in the contest.
"The free car can change a student's life. Instead of having a kid take up a job to cover a couple-hundred-dollar car payment, maybe now that student can just focus on school," Bolton says.
Frank Kent Honda
In May 2014, Frank Kent Honda gave local high school senior Safa Khawaja a new 2014 Honda Civic for winning the Frank Kent Words for Wheels contest. The contest, which began in 2012, asks graduating seniors in the Fort Worth Independent School District to describe in a 1,000-word essay how they expect to use their personal skills and expertise to enhance the Fort Worth community.
Thanks to local credit union EECU, the winners do not have to pay anything out of pocket. The credit union paid tax, title and license fees for the vehicle.
Frank Kent Honda co-founders Will Churchill and Corie Watson are graduates of the local Arlington Heights High School, and created the program to give local students an extra incentive to work hard in the classroom.
Ed Voyles Auto Group
The Ed Voyles Auto Group has been giving away prepaid car leases to local teachers of distinction for close to a decade, and in 2014, the group gave them to five exceptional teachers from the surrounding Cobb County and Marietta City school districts. It expects to do the same in 2015.
According to Pete Richards, general manager of Ed Voyles Honda, the idea of giving free vehicles to top teachers stems from a Teacher of the Year luncheon some Ed Voyles employees attended in 2003.
"All of us at the table could name a teacher growing up that was special to us," Richards says. "And we thought 'Wouldn't it be cool if we could now really make a teacher's year special?' Right then we started coming up with a way to show our appreciation of teachers, too."
At an awards ceremony, each instructor, who has been honored as a teacher of the year in their district, draws a numbered ball from a paper bag, and the number on the ball corresponds to the brand from which the teacher will choose. There is a ball for each Chrysler, Honda, Hyundai, Jeep Dodge Ram and Kia store.
The teacher is free to pick any new vehicle out of inventory, regardless of price, to have as their free car for the year.
"One year, a teacher who won picked out a Honda Pilot, and asked for the entry model," Richards says. "She wanted the least expensive option because she didn't want to burden the dealership with the higher cost. That shows the selflessness of teachers. I was finally able to convince her to take the top-of-the-line Touring model. She certainly deserved it."
The dealer group pays the taxes and fees for each winner's vehicle, and also covers the prices of the vehicle services.
Over the past nine years, Keffer Hyundai in Charlotte, North Carolina, has given 12 new Hyundais to teachers who work in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district. For 2015, the dealership plans to give away two new Hyundais to winners of the Keffer Teacher Award.
"Many of our customers are involved in the school district in one way or another," says Melanie Murrill, community outreach manager for the dealership. "They may work there, or have a student in the system. There are so many incredible teachers in in our community that deserve, we believe, a little something extra for their efforts and impact on the city."
Students, parents or other teachers nominate teachers for the award. They supply a brief story of the good things the teacher does for students. At the end of the contest, the dealership winnows down the entrants to three or four finalists.
There was "no way" the dealership could pick one teacher as best of the best, Murrill says. Instead, the dealership places the finalists' names in a hat and then draws one.
The winners of the Keffer Teachers Award receive a prepaid, one-year lease from Keffer Hyundai. In the past, the dealership has given teachers a Hyundai Sonata. Recently, though, the dealership has left vehicle selection up to the winner. Last spring, for example, the winning teacher picked out a Hyundai Santa Fe as the vehicle that best fit her lifestyle.
2015 marks the eighth year that Burlington Cars in Vermont has given away a new car to an academically excellent high school student, through its Burlington Cars Drive for Excellence contest. Burlington Hyundai and Burlington Subaru participate in the giveaway.
The dealer group contest encourages local high school students to get the best grades they can, and rewards those high marks by using them as entries. Each "A" that a student submits earns the student two contest entries. Each "B" results in one entry, and then there is a random drawing.
In 2014's giveaway, more than 550 students from nearly 75 high schools entered the contest. The winner, high school junior Andrew Levite, chose the Subaru Impreza.
The two dealerships, which sit next to each other, began the program after hearing of another dealer in a different part of the country doing something similar.
"We want to reward our local high school students for working hard," says Steve Kelson, general manager at Burlington Subaru.
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.