'Tis the season for holiday cheer, and all that. But for car-crazy people, it's also the season for a heap of seemingly useless automotive gifts, most of which will be stowed away until your next white elephant exchange or passed along to the novice driver in the family.
Well-intentioned relatives or friends often think they're getting something good, something thoughtful, but in reality, these gifts are often pointless, or even embarrassing to use.
Of course, you can't go wrong with some car-guy gifts like racing school [nudge, nudge], or any number of gifts—as seen in our gift guides from last year, here and here—that help you take on added projects or let you express your automotive passion with a little style.
On the other hand, there are lots of ways to be led astray. For those who don't have a lot of experience buying gifts for the auto-savvy, click through for seven automotive gifts that are potentially the worst.
Mileage stretchers. One of the latest in a long line of devices that claims to stretch fuel, the Fuel Doctor is, by most accounts, a dud. And really, they're all bogus. The same is true for things like the Velocity Tuner, the Tornado, the FuelBoss, or the magnets that have been pushed under all sorts of names. Whether they're ordered from late-night TV infomercials, discount auto-parts stores, or Walmart, it's all the same.
Consumer Reports just tested the Fuel Doctor but could find "no significant difference in any evaluation." Somehow that's not that surprising.
If the automakers could get a 30-percent fuel-efficiency improvement for $19.95 plus shipping and handling, don't you think they would? I know, I know; it's all a conspiracy, right?
A cheap set of tools. Pretty much everyone we've known who works frequently on cars has become very particular about what kind of tools they like, and like to use. And if anyone even somewhat knows what they're doing under the hood, it's likely that they know what kind of difference a good set of tools (from Snap-On, Matco, or several others) can make; that's right, one that won't leave you with bloody knuckles, and one that won't emerge from its first task broken or stripped. Unless you really know what he (or she) likes, it's like getting the dad who works in business the proverbial Father's Day tie.
'Lifestyle' accessories with lux-brand logos. No, we're not talking about Porsche Design, which puts out some pretty awesome stuff and top-notch designs you won't find elsewhere. What we are talking about is accessories that seem completely random—like a $16 Lexus watch or $75 Bentley polo—or even a $75 Land Rover co-branded Leatherman tool. Or the truly chintzy stuff that In most cases, it looks like you're a dealership employee with too many giveaway freebies—or an ethically compromised auto journalist.
And beware, a ubiquitous netbook that bears the name (and color) of one of the world's top sports-car makers—yes, we're talking about you, Acer Ferrari—is almost as bad.
Cigarette lighter jump-starter
Jump-start devices that plug into the cigarette lighter. Do they ever work? This editor has tried several that friends have purchased, and they've never come through. Many of these are promoted as with the same language as jump-start systems, focusing on the idea that you don't even have to pop the hood; but in reality (and explained by the instructions once you buy them) they're just trickle chargers and will do little for a conked-out battery in the cold. Save yous money, buy a high-quality set of heavy-gauge copper-wire jumper cables, and learn how to properly use them in an emergency.
Smart winter diorama
A Smart 'Winter Magic' Diorama. If you and your love ones share a fantasy of holidays involving blond Aryan types on skis in a Nordic setting, with snow-covered evergreens, rabbits, a snowman, and—ooh, a Smart Fortwo that somehow got the skiers (and their long skis) up to the mountain—then you owe it to yourself to check this out.
If by some chance this doesn't strike you as a horrid gift idea, this is from a couple of years back, and we weren't able to find this year's version. But specialty model dealers have 'em.
Anything from Pep Boys. Nothing against them here, but discount service and parts chains like Pep Boys and Autozone others serve a purpose, in getting our cars fixed on a budget—and providing a new set of plastic wheel covers when the old ones fall off, or a new alternator when we have the time to kill to try installing three different ones. But—like puffy steering-wheel covers and pine-tree air fresheners themselves—they're not exactly feel-good gift material. For someone who's crazy about cars, a gift that's obviously from the place they have to go when they need to cut money off the repair can be worse than a visit from old Scrooge.
Bells, whistles, and spotlights. You know, those obnoxious noisemakers, like TurboWhistler, that you install at the end of the exhaust system and it sounds somewhere between a fire truck and a jet engine. But the same goes for undercar mood lighting, or subs that aim outward. In each case, they might get a few extra glances, a little extra attention, but remember, they'll also make your friend or family member more likely to be targeted by local law enforcement. It's the gift that keeps on giving...or taking?