Buying gifts for loved ones can be hard. You balance between what they need and what they want, what's reasonably priced, and what is an indulgent luxury. The same could be true for cars.
No doubt there are those who have spent time in the doghouse for the ill-placed vacuum cleaner under the tree or a holiday gym membership and sweatpants for someone who obviously believed they looked good!
Practical gifts lack a certain charm, but what could be better than helping keep loved ones safe when driving during the winter months? (Well, also see: Five key car features on my holiday wish list.)
These are good gifts that they will absolutely hate, but hopefully appreciate upon reflection:
Winter tires: If you live anywhere where the snow flies or temperatures drop, you can't beat the added grip and security that winter tires provide over even their all-season counterparts. Not only do their tread designs incorporate added 'biting' edges for grip in snow, their rubber compounds are made to stay pliable and maintain grip even when temperatures drop. If you have a job where "snow days" aren't an option and you must be out before roads are cleared, winter tires are the best value in providing added grip when weather gets nasty. (See our tire buying advice and Ratings.)
Steel wheels: You can make the tire gift even less desirable by mounting them on dull, ugly steel wheels. This prevents your recipient's shiny "three-season" wheels from being subjected to the harsh sand and salt of winter. Of course, steelies add little to the look of the car, but when you've saved both the tire and wheel from the depths of the world's largest pot-hole and other winter hazards, your loved one may actually think this was a decent gift... but it's not likely.
Cat litter & sand: What? You don't think this is on their list? Kitty litter or sand sprinkled into a spinning tire's snow "hole" or across an ice surface can be the difference between moving and not. Easier-to-handle tubes of sand are often available during the winter months at hardware and auto parts' stores for just this purpose. Throw in a lightweight, collapsible shovel and you've got a real, well-intentioned loser.
Winter survival kit: I'll admit, I'm guilty of heading out on a winter morning right after plows have just barely cleared the road surface in search of something extremely important, like a Dunkin' coffee or an Egg McMuffin. Typically these items are important enough at the time to warrant risking my life. Most often I do this in my slippers and sweatpants with no coat. I'm only going from the house to the car right? This trip is also often made without a cell phone, as I've left it charging on my dresser. If Murphy's Law is to be believed, this is absolutely the time when you or your loved ones are bound to experience the fender bender or worse, slide off the road. Even a home-made survival kit that includes warm clothing, boots, a blanket and the numbers of roadside assistance may make all the difference as you wait for help to arrive.
Car battery: Cold weather decreases your battery's cranking power, so odds are if they battery was weakened before winter, it is more likely to completely die once it gets cold. Choosing the right battery takes some research, as we've found that performance assumptions cannot be safely made by brands. As a gift, the heavy weight of a car battery will make the recipient believe they're getting something really great, such as gold bars, when its appropriately gift wrapped. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/car-batteries.htm
A snow scraper or brush: Visibility is always important, but it can be easily compromised in winter. While clearing snow from all windows (front, sides, and rear), let your car warm up and the defrosters do their job. Attempting to get to work on time through that peep-hole you've dutifully cleared in 10 seconds isn't safe. And you know it. For large vehicles, choose a long-handled or extending handle brush to clear the center windshield and reach across the roof, thereby ensuring the vehicle isn't cleared by headwinds, creating road hazards for others.
Windshield washer fluid: Who doesn't appreciate that $1.19 bottle of blue goodness at the holidays? It's become a joke in my house as I deliver a bottle to my husband and step-children every year, and they give me the same eye-roll I've come to equate with holiday giving. But I know in the constant struggle to keep a windshield clear of dirt and salt, having plenty of winter-grade, freeze-resistant windshield fluid on hand can make traveling easier and safer.
So while these may not be the most exciting, entertaining, or even easy-to-wrap gifts, they all can help keep your loved ones safe. And that is among the greatest gifts of all.