What to buy the car guy

By Jeffrey Fazio
Special Sections Writer

Buying gifts for a "car guy" can be a truly challenging affair. There are many pitfalls along this path and very few bridges. Hopefully this column can help you avoid the more treacherous mistakes and maybe even give you a few ideas you haven't considered.

There are two crucial areas to avoid when buying for the car enthusiast and, unfortunately, they are often the areas that are advertised the most. The areas to stay away from are automobile fashion and performance parts.

Yes, these two areas offer the flashiest and coolest potential gifts for the car guy, but their charm is their danger. Where there is a chance of great success, there is often a greater chance of failure. If you can avoid the temptation of the advertisements and navigate your way into solid, practical ground you will do fine this holiday season.

Automobile Fashion
Avoid buying items that are intended to add style to his car. This includes anything you may think is cute, pretty or clever. I assure you these are not words your car guy uses to refer to his car.

Most auto parts stores have an automobile "dress up" aisle. Avoid it. The stuff in that aisle is not for the automobile enthusiast; it is there for commuters and teenagers.

Your car guy does not want anything from that array of cute license plate frames, cheesy steering-wheel covers, glow-in-the-dark shift knobs, fluffy seat covers, neon interior lights, screw-on pedal covers, after-market cup holders or plastic wheel covers that are overflowing from that aisle. Did you notice I said "covers" four times in the previous sentence? Car guys want the real thing, not covers (unless it is a high quality car cover). They want real seats, pedals, steering wheels and actual rims.

Performance Parts
Although every car guy has a list of coveted performance parts they would love to install on his car, I would not suggest buying a performance part unless you are 100 percent positive it is THE part he longs for. Car guys are as specific about their performance parts as little Ralphie was about getting his official Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range-model air rifle with a compass in the stock in the movie "A Christmas Story." I assure you, no other gift would do.

The simple answer is to avoid car gifts that have anything to do with style or performance because the risks of getting it wrong are too high. Stick to gifts that are practical and easily researched.

Here are 10 excellent gift suggestions for the car guy in your life:
10. Magazine subscriptions - Car guys love magazines and I am sure it would not take much nosing around to find out which are his favorites. Just check the cover of issues he has laying around to make sure he doesn't already have a subscription.

9. Road Atlas - Get one for each car he owns. Often a car guy has more than one car, but how often do they have more than one atlas? Highways are changing all the time (just look at Berks County) and a current atlas is a necessity for those who will not ask for directions.

8. Oil - If there is one thing guys are faithful to, it's their motor oil. Every guy has his favorite brand, type and weight of oil that he puts into his baby. A quick snoop around his garage will tell you which is his choice and he'll be impressed that you cared to find out.

7. Wax and/or polish - While you are in the garage peaking at his motor oil, why not check out what waxes and/or polishes he uses? Whether he needs these products now or later, he'll appreciate having a healthy supply.

6. Floor mats - Unfortunately it is nearly impossible to keep floor mats looking nice so they are always a welcome gift idea. As with everything else for the car guy, quality is important. I would recommend getting a new set of floor mats from the dealer. The dealer is going to offer a mat that is made to fit his car.

5. Certificate for a full-car detailing - This is great gift idea for the car guy that does not have time in his life to pamper his ride the way it should be. The only caution to have here is make sure that you are dealing with a highly reputable business since car guys are extremely anxious about who they let touch their car.

4. Tires - Tires can be quite expensive and they are a commodity that constantly needs to be replaced. Tires are very important part of your car guy's life and I guarantee that he would greatly appreciate having a set of replacement tires. Just make sure you get the same tires he is currently running since he'll be anal about which tires he uses. The good news is that finding out what tires he uses is as simple as reading the side of his tires. Just make sure you get all the information (brand, style and size) and don't assume the fronts are the same size as the rears.

3. Gas Card - Since gas prices seem to be outdistancing the national deficit, everyone on your holiday shopping list could use a pre-paid gas card. This is particularly true for the car guys since they are more apt to be putting pleasure miles on their odometers.

2. Full-size spare - Car guys frequently buy themselves a cool set of wheels, but most guys never go the extra distance and buy a fifth rim to use as a full size spare. How cool is his ride going to look with that tiny donut-sized factory spare on his car when he gets a flat? This is your chance to really impress him and save him from being embarrassed. You can even go further with this idea buy having a tire mounted on it already (just make sure it is the same tire he uses on the rest of the car!).\

1. "Car Hacks and Mods FOR DUMMIES," by David Vespremi is by far the best thing you can buy the car guy in your life this holiday season. This book was just released so chances are good your guy does not have it yet. It is truly a must have for anyone obsessed with tinkering with their car. Sorry mom, I already bought a copy for myself.