10 Perfect Presents: The Car Connection's Holiday Gift Guide

December 7, 2012

It's been two weeks since Black Friday, and still you're struggling to find gifts for the last few folks on your holiday shopping list. You've hit the malls, you've followed Groupons and coupons down virtual rabbit holes lined with impersonal gift cards and bland gewgaws that wouldn't even tempt the most ardent Lillian Vernon fan.

Never fear: we're here to help.

On this page and the next, you'll find ten top-notch gifts for all sorts of personalities: thrill seekers, travelers, tinkerers, and tuners. Some items are pricey, some are cheap, but there's definitely something here for every driver and gearhead on your list.

Of course, if all else fails, there's one more present that we haven't included. It's pricier than the others, but it's bound to be a hit with at least 65% of the people on your list. Any guesses what it might be?

And if you have great holiday gift ideas of your own, we'd love to hear them. Feel free to share them in the comments section below. 

'Stormville' by Kevin Cyr, featured at 20x200.com

'Stormville' by Kevin Cyr, featured at 20x200.com

For the collector: fine art, $24 and up
There are plenty of advantages to giving art as a holiday gift. It's unique (or awfully close). It's impractical (as the best holiday gifts tend to be). It doesn't take up much space in the recipient's house (she just has to hang it up and admire it). And if you're lucky, it might be a good investment. There are many places to find art on the interweb, but one of our favorites is Jen Bekman's 20x200.com. Bekman offers a range of original prints by both up-and-coming and established artists (like William Wegman), and they're searchable by category (e.g. travel) and color. For auto enthusiasts, consider something like this print by Kevin Cyr, called Stormville. Not only does it feature an awesome customized van, it also comes with a certificate of authenticity, signed and numbered by the artist. At $24, it's as close as you're likely to get to a free ride this holiday season.   

Handmade leather driving helmet and goggles from the Bentley Racing Collection

Handmade leather driving helmet and goggles from the Bentley Racing Collection

For the car snob: Bentley merchandise, $30 and up
We all have one car snob in our circle of friends -- one of those folks who turns her nose up at any car without walnut veneer on the dashboard and leather pulls on the glove box. Ironically, these are often the same people who spend a lot of time driving to Big Lots in their 1980something econoboxes. But no matter: what's important is that they like the look and feel of luxury, and nothing says luxury like Bentley. The automaker offers t-shirts and cufflinks and pashminas galore, but for our money, nothing says, "I love you despite your many annoying affectations" like this handmade leather driving helmet ($217) and matching driving goggles ($185) from Bentley's "Heritage Collection" of gifts. Act soon, though: to receive them in time for Christmas, you'll need to order by Monday, December 10. (Alternately, just give 'em a set of Downton Abbey DVDs and call it a day.)

'Imported from Detroit' coaster set

'Imported from Detroit' coaster set

For the Detroit fan: Imported from Detroit merchandise, $6 and up
When Chrysler debuted its "Born of Fire" commercial for the Chrysler 200 a couple of Super Bowls ago, no one knew that the spot's "Imported from Detroit" tagline would take off the way it has. Today, "Imported from Detroit" is a brand unto itself (still owned by Chrysler, though), with a wide range of products to suit nearly everyone on your list. We're particularly fond of the leather coaster set ($20), which comes with its own carrying case. Not only is it hip and stylish, but as with most IFD gifts, a portion of the sale price goes to charities like the Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan and Habitat for Humanity Detroit. That's two presents for the price of one.

Parrot ZIK touch-activated Bluetooth headphones

Parrot ZIK touch-activated Bluetooth headphones

For the jet-setter: Parrot ZIK headphones, $399
As much as we love a good road trip, sometimes we have to take to the skies. (Stupid oceans.) And when we fly, we love to carry a great set of headphones -- not only to enjoy in-flight movies, but also to reassure the chatty folks sitting next to us that we are so not interested in striking up a conversation. While the Parrot Zik headphones are big and come with an equally big pricetag, their sound is beyond compare. Plus, they're touch-sensitive, so you can adjust volume or switch to the next track on your mp3 player just by swiping your finger along the case. Best of all: they use Bluetooth to pair with your device of choice, meaning that there aren't any pesky wires to cramp your style. Which is great, because in economy class, things are cramped enough already.

Wallee M case for the Samsung Galaxy S3

Wallee M case for the Samsung Galaxy S3

For the commuter: A Wallee M phone case ($29.95) and mount disk ($12.95)
Many automakers and aftermarket manufacturers refuse to admit it, but the cell phone sits increasingly at the center of today's driving experience, serving as ground zero for navigation, tunes, and more. But accessing that phone on the go is often a problem: either it rests in the cupholder (gross), or it balances precariously on the dashboard, sliding into a passenger's lap. The Wallee M fixes that problem with special cases for the iPhone, Galaxy Nexus, and Galaxy S3. Those cases are designed so that, when affixed to a special neodymium-magnet mount disk, your phone remains firmly in place, wherever you like --  even during sharp left turns.

JOOS Orange solar recharger

JOOS Orange solar recharger

For the off-roader: the JOOS Orange solar recharger, $149
There's nothing like packing up your sleeping bag and your dog and heading out for a long weekend in the great outdoors -- well, until you get bored. After all, nature can only hold your attention for so long, right? That's when you break out the smartphone, kick back, and enjoy all those Queen Latifah movies you brought along for the trip. To keep the laughs a-coming, though, you'll need to keep your device fully charged, so why not make use of all that sunlight that would otherwise go to waste, photosynthesizing nutrients for the greedy plants under your feet? The JOOS Orange is hugely efficient, generating far more energy than most other chargers, and it's also waterproof. Which is handy, because you know what's common in nature? Water. See? We think of everything.

Tool Logic Survival Card with firestarter

Tool Logic Survival Card with firestarter

For the safety-conscious traveler: Tool Logic Survival Card with firestarter, $19.99
Going off the grid for a day or two is fine, so long as you've planned for it. But what if you're motoring along, minding your own business, and your car conks out in the middle of nowhere? We all have a few friends who worry about things like this, and for them, nothing says "peace of mind" like the Tool Logic Survival Card. It comes with a serrated knife, a magnesium alloy fire starter, a signal whistle, and a bright red LED flashlight. And did we mention that it's about the size of a credit card? With this gadget (and a film crew), your buddy will be fully prepared to follow in Bear Grylls' footsteps. Or those of the Donner Party (but let's not think about that).

Outride sport camera kit for iPhone

Outride sport camera kit for iPhone

For the thrill-seeker: Outride sport camera kit for iPhone, $149.95
Surely there's at least one person on your gift list who likes to spend her off-time at the test track -- or perhaps parachuting, parasailing, paragliding, or some other para-activity. Maybe she relies on a camera like the GoPro to record her amazing feats for posterity (i.e. her 12 YouTube subscribers). That's fine and dandy, but really, who wants to lug around a bulky camera when there's already a device in your pocket that can do the same work? If your adrenaline-junkie friend/loved one/obligatory family gift recipient has an iPhone, the Outride kit will turn that phone into a sports camera. The kit includes a case with a wide-angle lens for the iPhone camera, as well as a mount, so you can attach that baby just about anywhere.

DashCommand app, for PLX OBD-II diagnostic devices for Android and iPhone

DashCommand app, for PLX OBD-II diagnostic devices for Android and iPhone

For the shade-tree mechanic: a smartphone-ready diagnostic devices by PLX, from $99
Within the next couple of decades, many cars will be so complex, they'll be almost impossible for DIYers to fix. But for the time-being, you can make things easier for the tinkerer on your list with a diagnostic device that syncs with her smartphone. Our favorites at the moment are from PLX Devices: the Kiwi Wireless ODB-II Scanner for the iPhone and iPod ($149) and the Kiwi Bluetooth Wireless Trip Computer and OBDII Scanner for Android handsets ($99). Both come with gadgets that slide into a car's OBDII port. Once that device is plugged in and synced to a special app, users are able to run diagnostics on their vehicle right from their smartphone. (At least until the phone breaks. Sorry, we don't have a diagnostics tool for that yet.)

LEDGLOW Blue Interior Lighting Kit

LEDGLOW Blue Interior Lighting Kit

For the tenderfoot tuner: LEDGLOWs Blue Interior Lighting Kit, $32.99
Not everyone on your list will appreciate bling. To some, the thought of lowriders and spinner hubcaps is enough to make them lurch for the nearest K-Car. But for others, the allure of hydraulic lifts and custom tail lights is strong -- if only they knew how to install such stunning thingamajigs themselves. For them, this underdash lighting kit could be the start of a lifelong journey into the world of hoopties and hoonage. They'll sing your praises for years to come (though their neighbors might not).

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