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How to gift a car

Gifting a car involves figuring out payment, insurance, titles and more

Gifting someone with a car is a strong move. Toss one of those big red bows on it, and you’ve officially won the day. But while a car is a great present, it can be an unwanted hassle for you and your recipient if you’re not prepared.

Questions to ask before giving someone a car

Before you pull the trigger on such a substantial purchase, think about your recipient’s needs.

Do they actually want a car?

Before you even think about buying a car for someone, ask yourself whether they even want it in the first place. While your motives might be genuine, some people just don’t want or need to drive. If they live in a city like New York, for example, you may be giving the gift of gridlock and parking problems.

What type of car do they want?

If you know the car they want, make sure you also know the type. Sure, it’s the thought that counts. But do you want to throw thousands down on a vehicle only to see your giftee’s joy fade when they see you bought them something different from what they asked for?

Compare car insurance rates for any make & model

Should you take them to the dealer?

If you know the type of car they’re after, consider taking them along to a dealership for their final say on the trim specs. You can also buy the car and insurance in their name to save yourself the added stress of transferring a title.

Who will pay for the car?

Ask yourself if you can afford to shell out for the entire cost of a car and if the person you’re giving the car to can afford to insure and maintain it. Some high-end cars not only have an expensive price tag, but also cost a lot to insure.

If you’re buying a car for your significant other and you have a shared bank account, you may want to look at paying in cash or getting a car loan so you can keep the gift a secret.

Which new cars offer the best holiday discounts?

At the end of the year, most car brands promote holiday deals on the current year’s models, including discounts, cashback offers, financing bonuses and 0% interest deals.

Check with your local dealership to learn if the car you’re considering gifting will be on sale over the holidays. Typical offers include 0% financing, rebates and discounts from $2,000 to $9,000.

Test drive a car near you

Get connected with dealerships in your area that offer upfront pricing.

Must read: Lexus December to Remember 2019

Like many car manufacturers, Lexus focuses on clearing its lot through an end-of-year sales event. The annual December to Remember campaign is tied to the holidays, with Lexus offering deals on a range of makes and models, including cash back or 0% financing offers on the previous year’s models.

For 2019, you can get cashback, discounts and lease deals on new 2019 ES, GS, GX, IS, LC, LS, LX, NX, RC, RX, UX models. Most trims are included in the deal, including hybrid versions of popular models. Offers vary by location, but some of the best deals include:

  • $500 to $7,500 off the 2019 LC Hybrid, RC and NX models
  • 0% financing for 5 years on 2019 GS, LC, LS, RC and UX models
  • $359 per month lease for 3 years with $3,999 down payment on 2019 ES models or $399 for 2020 models

How do I insure a car in someone else’s name?

Because you’re buying the car as a gift, you’ll want to insure it in the recipient’s name. Whether you pay for the coverage is up to you, but you’ll likely need to have it in place before driving the car off the lot.

If the driver doesn’t have existing coverage, you have two main options:

  1. Take them to the lot with you. This way, both the title of ownership and the insurance can go directly in their name when you buy the car.
  2. Buy the car and transfer ownership. When you’re transferring the title, make it clear it’s a gift, or you could be on the hook for taxes, depending on your state.

How long do I have to insure a car after buying it?

If you already have insurance for another vehicle, your provider may offer you temporary coverage for the new one. Periods can be anywhere from a couple of days up to an entire month, so check your policy and your state’s requirements to see what kind of grace period you have.

Also consider where you live, as extension coverage can vary widely by state.

Compare insurance for a gifted car

How do I transfer a gift car title?

Transferring the title of a car depends on where you live. If you’re buying new, the dealership should handle most of the paperwork.

In most states, you should:

  • Look up local requirements on transferring car titles in your state.
  • Head to your local DMV.
  • Hand over your signed and completed title that includes info like the odometer and damage disclosures.
  • Show proof of insurance.
  • Complete a title application or vehicle registration form.
  • Fill out the Statement of Transaction, including a note that it’s a gift.
  • Pay the title fee — typically under $20 — and any other costs.

Car title requirements by state

You typically have 30 days to transfer a title and will pay less than $15. Compare the title transfer grace period and fees for your state.

StateGrace periodTitle transfer feeForm download
Alabama20 days$15Download title transfer form
Alaska30 days$15Download title transfer form
Arizona30 days$4 plus registration fees and taxesDownload title transfer form
Arkansas30 days$10Download title transfer form
California20 days$15Download title transfer form
Colorado30 daysVaries by city and type of vehicleDownload title transfer form
Connecticut30 days$25Download title transfer form
Delaware30 days$35Download title transfer form
District of Columbia30 days$26Download title transfer form
Florida30 days$75Download title transfer form
Georgia30 days$18Download title transfer form
Hawaii30 daysVaries by cityDownload title transfer form
Idaho90 days$14Download title transfer form
Illinois30 days$95Download title transfer form
Indiana60 days$15Download title transfer form
Iowa30 daysVaries by cityDownload title transfer form
Kansas30 days$10Download title transfer form
KentuckyNo grace periodVaries by cityDownload title transfer form
Louisiana30 days$68.50Download title transfer form
Maine30 days$33.00Download title transfer form
Maryland60 days$100Download title transfer form
Massachusetts30 days$75Download title transfer form
Michigan30 days$15Download title transfer form/
Minnesota30 days$8Download title transfer form
Mississippi30 days$9Download title transfer form
Missouri30 days$11Download title transfer form
Montana60 days$10.30Download title transfer form
Nebraska30 days$10Download title transfer form
NevadaNone$29Download title transfer form
New Hampshire30 days$25Download title transfer form
New Jersey30 days$60Download title transfer form
New Mexico30 days$5 plus 3% excise taxDownload title transfer form
New York30 days$50Download title transfer form
North Carolina28 days28 daysDownload title transfer form
North Dakota30 days$5Download title transfer form
Ohio30 days$15Download title transfer form
Oklahoma30 days$11Download title transfer form
OregonNone$93Download title transfer form
Pennsylvania30 days$53Download title transfer form
Rhode Island30 days$51.50Download title transfer form
South Carolina45 days$15Download title transfer form
South Dakota90 days$10Download title transfer form
Tennessee30 days$11Download title transfer form
Texas30 days$28 or $33 (county dependent)Download title transfer form
UtahNone$6Download title transfer form
Vermont20 days$35Download title transfer form
Virginia30 days$15Download title transfer form
Washington30 days$12Download title transfer form
West Virginia30 days$15Download title transfer form
Wisconsin30 days$19.50Download title transfer form
Wyoming30 daysVaries by cityDownload title transfer form

How often do people give cars as gifts?

According to an Edmunds report, December is often the month with the most new car sales for luxury makes like BMW, Mercedes and Lexus. Gifted cars could be anywhere from 1% of December car sales, according to an article from automotive news outlet The News Wheel, or as much as 10% for luxury cars, according to The New York Times.

How to present a car as a gift and keep it a secret

There’s no wrong way to wrap up a car, though putting a giant red bow on top is a classic. You could also put the keys in a jewelry box, though you could inadvertently dash expectations if you’re gifting it to your partner and you’re not married.

Consider the lucky giftee’s personality and what they’d respond to the most. You’ll find few wrong turns when giving the gift of a car.

Keeping the car a secret is another matter, one you might need an accomplice’s help. Ask the dealership if they deliver, or see if you can leave the car at a friend’s house and drive it over Christmas morning. Park it around the block or keep them from going outside until you’re ready for the big reveal.

How to give a car for Christmas

If you’ve already figured out who’s responsible for gas, insurance and any other costs, all that’s left is the fun part.

If you want the car to be the first present they get, put the keys in your recipient’s stocking. If the plan is to save the best for last, wrap the keys and don’t give them the box until every other present is opened. And if you’re feeling a little mischievous, hide the keys in the Christmas tree and let them know they’ll need to find their last present.

How to give a car as a birthday gift

If the car is a sweet sixteen present for anyone other than your own child, make sure you get permission from their parents. It’s also a good idea to figure out who’s responsible for gas and insurance. Keep in mind that teenagers are notoriously expensive to insure, so it’s worth researching which cars will have the best rates.

Once everything is figured out, one fun way to drop the surprise is to bring the car to their driving test. But wait until after they pass to gift the car — nobody needs the stress of taking their exam in an unfamiliar vehicle.

If the car is a present for any other birthday, a fun way to surprise your recipient is to put the keys in a box and wrap them. Just make sure to sneak the car into the driveway while they’re sleeping.

How to give a car for graduation

Many universities don’t allow freshmen living on campus to bring cars. If your recipient is heading off to college, check if they’ll be able to park their car near the dorms, and that they’ll be able to pay for insurance, gas and a parking pass.

If you have the all-clear, a classic way to surprise your graduate is to leave the car in the parking lot outside of the graduation ceremony with the big red bow on top. Aside from the surprise factor, you’ll also get a great photo op of your graduate in their cap and gown with the car.

Bottom line

Gifting a car can be a thoughtful gift for a close friend or family member, but it comes with some risk. Considering taking care of the title and insurance with a current insurer or by purchasing a new policy.

Frequently asked questions about gifting cars

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