While car tools and truck toys are usually the first thing you think of when shopping for the car buffs on your gift list, it's almost impossible to find something they don't already have. And if they don't have it, you have to wonder if it's because they don't want it.
What's worse, even if you're shopping for regular folks that happen to drive a lot, suggesting that some sort of "commuter enhancement" would make a great gift, you just know that Tasmanian Devil mud flaps and leopard print seat covers just aren't going to cut it.
Fortunately, here in the age of affordable technology, there's always something new and cool available for drivers if not aficionados - and it's not always in the automotive aisle beside the keep-on-truckin' floor mats.Automoblox
($36 and up; www.automoblox.com)
Turns out, a few wooden blocks, some colored plastic and some wheels are all you need to construct the car of your dreams. Well, a model of it, anyway.
Part old school wooden toy, part modeling kit, Automoblox has you piecing together a variety of chassis from three wooden sections, front, middle and rear. On top of that, you add a faux glass tops and trim and then a set of oversized rims to complete the nuevo-retro look.
Starting at $36 per kit, the Automoblox selection runs the gambit, from sports cars to SUVs, pickup trucks to smart cars. With "aftermarket" parts also available, the pieces from any kit are interchangeable exact fits, allowing for whatever crazy iteration of custom car model you can think off, like the new Lamborghini Flatbed.
Classic fun in the building block sort of way, but also nice to look up there on the mantle.Garmin Nuvi 3790T
The new Garmin Nuvi 3790T GPS apes the look of touch screen smartphones to such an extent that it'll have you inadvertently picking it up to make phone calls rather than planning a route to that second run movie house you heard about.
As slim as an iPhone 4, the unit's vivid, hi-rez display can rotate into both landscape and portrait modes. Better still, the NUVI 3790T's touchscreen is ultra-precise, allowing for functions such as pinched zoom, plus typing so accurate that it makes old GPS systems seem as quaint and clunky as a paper map.
The device's Bluetooth connectivity lets it double as a hands free speakerphone paired with your mobile phone, complete with voice dialing. At around $450, the Nuvi 3790T is at the high end of automotive GPS gadgets, but for those bent on the latest and greatest of new generation technology - or simply have a habit of getting lost - there is currently no better GPS out there.Parrot Minikit Slim
bluetooth speakerphone ($110; www.parrotshopping.com)
The Parrot Minikit Slim is one of the neater solutions for getting truly hands free while on the move, delivering near "factory fit" convenience without spending lots of cash.
As the name suggests, it has a sleek profile and form-fits unobtrusively onto your sun visor, nice and close. Thereafter, the Minikit Slim is all about convenience - it's cord-free, running off an internal battery good for around 15 hours (charging up off your 12V car plug every couple/few of days is recommended, obviously).
Once paired with your Bluetooth phone, it uploads your contacts each time. Thus tailored, the Minikit Slim will announce known callers to you as they come in so you don't have to take your eyes off the road to peek at the call display. It's also voice-dial enabled - if your phone doesn't support the function; you simply press a button, say your contact's name and Slim figures it out and dials. For those with multiple users of the same car, the Minikit Slim can handle up to five separate handsets, too. Powercup Coffee Cup Inverter
Convenient as all get out, Powercup Coffee Cup Inverter is an AC/DC adapter shaped as a travel cup. Simply plug it in to your car's 12V outlet (nobody calls it a cigarette lighter anymore) via the 18" cord and Shazam, you have two 120V outlets and a powered USB port to run or recharge all kinds of electronics, from portable DVD players to laptops, your mobile and your iPod, all by way of the same stock power cords used at home.
Its to-go cup shape might seem like a novelty gimmick at first, but it's one of the most practical features of the Powercup, setting it apart from other car inverters by allowing for an AC power source that doesn't slide all over your floor or dashboard. It just sits snug in the car's cup holder like, well, coffee.
Its clever design gives easy access to the plugs, conveniently situated on the top of the device. With 200W of continuous power (400W peak), it is not the most powerful inverter on the market - you don't run a hair dryer from these sorts of things - but it's certainly enough for most everyday situations. At just $30, the Powercup Coffer Cup Inverter is not only a great value, but it makes for an interesting talking point for your passengers.Mothers PowerBall
polishers ($25 - $30; www.motherspowerball.com)
The PowerBall from Mothers has gained a reputation as the tool of choice for home-based car detailing, mainly because it's commonsensically shaped as a foam ball attachment for any 1/4" drill, rather than the unwieldy polyester disc design of gimmicky polishers.
Actually a line of products including the original PowerBall, the PowerCone, the PowerBall Mini and the PowerBall Mini MD (Metal Doctor), each are super durable and ready to buff each and every surface of a car, from large flat panels to every finicky nook and cranny and all points in between, stainless steel, chrome, paint and even plastic light lenses.
Used in conjunction with surface-specific liquid polishes, also from Mothers, the unique design of PowerBall includes hundreds of high quality foam fingers shaped into a sphere, allowing it to form fit on-the-fly with all the crevices, wheels and trim. In addition, and at its most obvious, PowerBall sure beats waxing by hand with a cloth.