Dear Tom and Ray:
It's getting to be that time of year again -- time to wonder what to get my male relatives for Christmas. I'm sure I'm not the only female who is confronted with this dilemma every year. When I ask them what they want, they either say, "Nothing," or they specify some obscure, expensive, unpronounceable electronic engine accessory or other gadget. A couple of these guys are like you -- interested in cars and car talk but also intelligent and fairly civilized -- so I thought you could provide some good ideas for holiday gifts that I can actually locate AND afford to buy (i.e., $25-$200). Thanks! -- Diana
RAY: Hmm. I don't think plasma TVs have come down that far yet.
TOM: Several ideas come to mind, Diana. One is an inexpensive scan tool. A scan tool is what you plug into the car's computer, and it gives you all kinds of fascinating diagnostic information.
RAY: Well, it'll be fascinating to those guys, anyway.
TOM: All cars built from 1995 on use a standard computer diagnostics system called OBD II. You can find several inexpensive OBD II scan tools on the market in the $150-$200 range. Best of all, since this is a diagnostic tool, it will provide your loved ones with wonderful excuses to then go out and buy even more expensive equipment with which to fix these newly diagnosed problems!
RAY: Another idea is a rechargeable remote jump-starter. I've got one of these, and it works great. It's smaller than a car battery, and it's fully encased in hard plastic. It has positive and negative battery cables attached to it, and you use it to jump-start your car when nobody else is around. You charge it up from a home outlet or from your cigarette lighter (BEFORE the battery dies!) and then toss it in the trunk.
TOM: So, when you come out of Rocco's Adult Beverage and Exotic Female Dancer Den at 1 in the morning and find that you left your lights on, you won't have to call your wife for a jump-start (and a dope slap). These jumper packs will run you anywhere from $50 to $100, depending on how powerful the battery is. But even the basic ones will work pretty well, unless the battery is stone cold dead.
RAY: In the same price range, you can get someone a personal air pump and a can of tire sealant. Next time he has a flat tire, instead of waiting for a tow truck or changing the tire himself while semis whiz by, he can pull out his air pump, toss in the sealant and fill the tire back up in five or 10 minutes. Most of these air pumps plug into the cigarette lighter or run off rechargeable batteries. And as an added bonus, he can use it to fill up his basketball, soccer ball or inflatable Geraldo Rivera punching bag.
TOM: And if you're a real cheapskate, there are always Car Talk gifts, like our CD collections of funny car songs, or our advice collections, like "Why You Should Never Listen to Your Father When It Comes to Cars." That stuff is cheap (as well it should be)! And it's at http://www.shamelesscommerce.com, or 1-888-CAR-JUNK. Really.