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Another Pine-Scent Air Freshener for Christmas? You Really Shouldn't Have

Car buffs have clear ideas about what makes a good gift. No budget overhaul necessary.


Selecting holiday gifts for car enthusiasts must be easy for non-enthusiasts. Based on my years of experience of having received some very strange automobile-related gifts, non-car nuts must think that any gift will do as long as it has an automotive logo on it.

Aunt Martha, bless her heart, tries her best, but she just can't get this holiday gift thing quite right. I have drawers full of plastic pencil-type tire-pressure gauges, cheesy, flimsy polyester T-shirts, assorted key rings and several weird-looking auto air fresheners that, thankfully, are still encased in their plastic packages.

Take tire-pressure gauges, for example. Checking your tire pressure on a regular basis is important, but a real enthusiast needs a heavy-duty, large-dial, bleed-down tire gauge. These are the big ones that have a 3-inch dial with a hose attached, the ones you see the crew guys use when you watch a NASCAR race on television. They are available at high-performance auto stores and through automotive specialty catalogs. Those pencil-type gauges are for emergency use only.

About those cheesy T-shirts. The ones Aunt Martha (not her real name) sends me each holiday season are way too small and paper thin, and there seems to be absolutely no cotton involved in the manufacturing process. The surfaces of these shirts are so rough that you can't even use them to wash or wax a car. If the polyester itself doesn't scratch the paint, the gaudy silk-screen print will. A real car buff wears T-shirts all right, but he or she wants heavy-duty, 100% cotton with a front pocket. And if there is any logo involved, it should be a reissue of a classic T-shirt design.

Some of my favorites are reproductions of the classic Lions Drag Strip, Orange County International Raceway or Moon Equipment Mooneyes T-shirts. But I know I will never get one of these from Aunt Martha. She doesn't even know they exist.

There is an advantage to wearing one of these reissue T-shirts: The only ones who notice them are other car people. To the civilians out there, we and the shirts are invisible.


What's the deal with car wax kits as gifts? Most enthusiasts don't use the off-the-shelf waxes from the mass merchandisers. Aunt Martha can only recall names like Simonize and Turtle Wax. Car people use specialized care products with names like Meguiar's and Zymol. The commercial waxes end up sitting on a garage shelf until the can rusts or we can palm it off on an unsuspecting neighbor.

If you really want to impress an enthusiast with an auto care gift this holiday season, give him or her a clay-bar kit. This is the hot new product in auto-appearance care. Instead of using the harsh, old rubbing compounds that can damage a modern clear-coat paint finish, auto buffs simply rub these clay bars over the surface of the paint to remove contaminants such as tree sap, pollen, paint over-spray, bird droppings, road tar and all manner of rude things that attach themselves to your car's finish. These clay-bar cleaners are available from specialty catalogs and automotive paint-supply stores.

Key rings and fobs are another source of annoyance. Most enthusiasts already have a lifetime supply of these. The only thing they want dangling from the key chain is a little multipurpose tool that folds up and out of the way.

Here's another tip. Don't buy your car friends one of those magnetic spare key holders. When teaching Auto Theft 101, the first thing the instructor tells the eager students is to look for the spare key holder.

Consider this alternative: If you want to get your car friends, or anyone who owns a car, a really neat gift, try a credit-card spare key. Locksmiths now have key blanks built into credit-card-size pieces of plastic. They cut the duplicate key out of the plastic and you keep it in your wallet. If you lock the keys in the car, you won't be locked out for long. The item allows you to avoid that embarrassing phone call to relatives, friends or the local locksmith. The Automobile Club of Southern California also offers these credit-card keys to members.

Another great gift idea for car buffs: a mechanic's belt--one with a leather-covered buckle that won't scratch paint. You can find these reasonably priced items at uniform stores.


Have you ever received a battery-powered vacuum cleaner as a holiday gift? Aunt Martha, who drives a plug-in Hoover herself, thinks this is a great idea. Poor Auntie doesn't realize that the little vacuum you plug into the 12-volt power port (the politically incorrect term is cigarette lighter) can't possibly clean the vehicle's carpets. All these little putt-putts do is move the dust and dirt around and leave you with a rundown battery.

When it's time to detail the interior of an automobile, a real car nut just wheels out the wet-and-dry shop vacuum from the garage. It will handle the dirt in the carpet, whatever that was in the ashtray and sometimes it will even remove the carpet itself if it's not secured properly.

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