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How to Give a Car as a Gift

The Do's and Don'ts for the Big Surprise

(updated January 23rd, 2017)

If you dream of surprising a loved one with a car, there are a few things you need to do a little differently. That's because giving a car as a surprise isn't as easy as delighting your beloved with a ring or a set of golf clubs. Here is a quick list of do's and don'ts.


Do make sure you choose the right car.

It may sound obvious, but this is the most important step. There is no room for error. If the person receiving the gift doesn't like the car, you won't be able to return it. In most cases, you cannot "unwind" a new car purchase. So remember to carefully research the vehicle your beloved wants.

Ask about the type of features your loved one would want in a new car. If you see a commercial for a car you think the person might like, ask for his or her opinion about it. A test drive would be ideal, but it can be hard to pull off. You can try, though, positioning it as a day to try out what a new car feels like. Do these things well in advance of the special day so that the timing doesn't tip the recipient off.

Make sure the salesperson knows that your car purchase is a surprise for a loved one. That will help avoid some of the tricky buying issues.

Make sure the salesperson knows that your car purchase is a surprise for a loved one. That will help avoid some of the tricky buying issues.

Do have a titling and finance strategy.

Your first instinct might be to have the vehicle put in your loved one's name. In some states, this may not be legally possible. Depending on where you live, you cannot buy a car in someone else's name, or if you want a shared title, the other person must be there to sign the paperwork. That would obviously ruin the surprise.

It is a similar situation when it comes to paying for the car. You must be prepared to buy the car yourself, or at least have the credit standing to be able to do so.

Here's what we mean: Let's say your gift is actually the down payment, and the recipient is going to take over the payments. The dealer would need to run the credit of the person who will make the payments. However, you cannot give the dealership the credit information of someone who isn't present at the time of buying. One option might be to finance the car in your name and then return with the person who will co-sign — assuming the person is on board with that — to set up new finance terms.

In both situations, it is important to check with the dealership or your local DMV to learn your state's laws regarding finance and vehicle titles.

Do tell the dealership to keep your plans a secret.

Tell your salesperson what you're doing and that you want this car to be a surprise. That can help you navigate around any titling and financing issues without spoiling the secret. If possible, try to keep the circle of people working on your deal relatively small. The more people you involve, the harder it is to keep everyone on the same page.

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Don't expect a dealership to throw in a free gift bow.

It isn't because those giant gift wraps are overly expensive: They can range from about $30 to $60 each, depending on size and quality. But chances are the dealership will have bows in stock only during certain times of the year (December, notably) and then only to cover the cars displayed in the showroom.

There are companies that sell oversized car bows, which attach to a car with either magnets or suction cups. Make sure you order yours in time for the surprise.

Don't give the dealership your home phone number.

The same might go for your mobile number if your text messages are shared between devices. Here's an example of why, from Matt's years selling cars:

A customer was going to surprise his wife with a new, top-of-the-line Honda Accord and planned to have it delivered to their house during a holiday dinner. The husband had even sprung for a big red bow.

When his salesperson called to confirm the delivery time, he made the mistake of calling the home phone number. And then he left a message. The wife heard it, ruining a surprise that was months in the making.

Our advice? Get a temporary Google Voice phone number for your car-buying calls. You can also just have your calls forwarded to it from your usual phone until the deal is complete.

Don't wait until the last minute to start shopping.

This is especially true if you're looking for a particular trim level, package or color combination. And because you're buying this vehicle as a gift, shouldn't you get the exact options your recipient wants? If you're shopping for the car as a holiday gift, it's even more crucial: December is one of the busiest times of the year to buy a car, and since it coincides with the end of the model year, you might not have a varied selection. This is why it is important to start the process as early as possible. You don't want to have to buy a less optioned vehicle or, worse, spend more on a higher trim if that's all that remains on the dealer lot.

Edmunds Is Here to Help

If you need any help at all as you find your perfect gift car, reach out to our shopping experts for free assistance. And don't forget the bow.


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Discover a new form of premium, that pairs progressive design with innovative materials.
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