Car giftIf you’re considering slipping the keys to a brand-new car under the tree, you have a daunting task ahead of you.

Not only do you have to find the perfect car, it must be paid for, titled and insured without tipping off the object of your affection. On top of that, you somehow have to get it home late on Christmas Eve with a big red bow mounted on the roof.

Advertising campaigns such as Lexus’s “December to Remember” have helped drive both holiday sales and car gifting. Lexus started the campaign in 1998 and turned December from its worst sales month into its best.

If you are considering taking the plunge, you will need to be both sneaky and thorough. You can’t leave a shiny new car at risk, even in the few days between when you buy the car and when you hand over the keys.

The fine print of giving a car: Title, registration and insurance

Giving a car as a gift is easy if the car is for your spouse or child and more complicated if you’re buying for a friend.

Buying and titling a car that you are part owner of is simple. Since you are an owner you can sign all of the paperwork and your spouse never has to know — until the big reveal. DMV rules vary by state and in some cases, the other person’s presence may be required, so ask about your state’s requirements.

Insurance should be a no-brainer as well. If you are listed as a co-owner of the car and are adding it to a shared policy, you can sign all necessary documents without getting your spouse involved, keeping your secret safe.

But it’s more complicated if you are not a co-owner of the vehicle. Titling a car in someone else’s name without that person’s signature on some paperwork is very difficult, especially if you are financing the car. Insurance can also be a challenge. Insurers will be concerned that you will have no insurable interest in the car, making them reluctant to write a policy.

But it is still possible to put a car in the driveway and be insured. You can title and insure the car in your name, and sign the title over as a gift a few days after the surprise.

Tips for gifting a car during the holidays

While gifting a car requires extra planning, most dealers are willing to help. Here are a few tips for planning your surprise:

  • Start early. You may run into unexpected problems.
  • Consider all expenses other than the sticker price — the recipient must fuel the car, park it and insure it, unless you are willing to handle those expenses, too.
  • Dealers are happy to keep the car on the lot until the big day but may not be able to deliver late Christmas Eve. You may need to ask a neighbor to help out.
  • If the dealership requires signatures from your spouse, consider wrapping the key in a nice box with a picture of the car and then heading to the dealership later to sign the paperwork. Most dealers will be happy to have the car on the show floor topped with a big red bow.
  • Ask to borrow the big bow from the dealership or buy one online.
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Contributing Researcher

Mark is a freelance journalist and analyst with over 15 years of experience covering the insurance industry. He has extensive experience creating and editing content on a variety of subjects with deep expertise in insurance and automotive writing. He has written for autos.com, carsdirect.com, DARCARS and Madtown Designs to name just a few. He is also a professional blogger and a skilled web content creator who consistently turns out engaging, error-free writing while juggling multiple projects.