How to Give a Car as a Gift — and Keep It a Secret

Coordinating the financing, titling and insurance for a Christmas car gift requires some special timing.

How to Give a Car as a Gift — and Keep It a Secret Photo (cc) by jeffweese

This post comes from Jeffrey Steele at partner site Insure.com.

For many years, we’ve seen TV commercials showing luxury vehicles topped by huge crimson bows and presented as holiday gifts. But how do you pull it off without the special person knowing?

Can you really purchase a car and get the title and insurance without your spouse being tipped off? Actually, playing a car-gifting Santa should be fully within your capabilities, as long as you have decent credit and you get a little help from the elves at the auto dealership and insurance agency.

Financing and titling

Your dream of giving a vehicle as a gift won’t become reality unless you can title the car and finance its purchase. Start by contacting the finance and insurance manager, the “F&I guy,” at the dealership where you want to make the purchase. Tell him that you would like to give your spouse a car for the holidays without your sweetheart’s knowledge.

“Most dealerships will be experts in DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] titling,” says Phil Reed, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com. “It makes sense that they would be able to do this. It saves the buyer a trip to the DMV. And from the dealer’s perspective, it’s a convenience service they offer, making it more likely you will come to that dealership.”

If your spouse’s name is going to be on the title, and Reed recommends it is, the spouse will have to sign financing paperwork at some point. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t give him the car and have him enjoy the surprise, and then have him sign later, as long as the gifter’s credit is sound,” he says.

“It will be a slam-dunk for people with good credit. But if your credit is midtier, you might run into problems,” he says. What if your salary alone doesn’t allow you to purchase a Lexus, but together you could afford the vehicle?

Sometimes a dealership will run the credit for both the gift giver and the spouse, and they find the credit for the two together enables the purchase. “They usually want both individuals in the couple to sign, but if it’s a gift purchase, the recipient can sign after the car has been delivered,” he says.

Reed recommends talking with the dealership’s F&I guy by phone during the later part of a weekday morning. Most finance managers don’t get in until about 11 a.m. They are financing cars that have been sold, and it usually takes a couple of hours after the 9 a.m. opening time to sell a car.

Clear as many financing hurdles as you can, Reed says, before physically visiting the dealership and selecting the vehicle you want to buy.

“It’s doable, and would be a terrific surprise. But choose carefully, and remember that it’s for your spouse and not for you alone,” Reed says.

Insurance strategy 1: Add the vehicle to your policy

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