Buy The Car, Borrow The Bow

If you're considering slipping the keys to a brand-new car under the tree, you have a daunting task ahead of you.

Not only do you have to find the perfect car, it must be paid for, titled and insured without tipping off the object of your affection. On top of that, you somehow have to get it home late on Christmas Eve with a big red bow mounted on the roof.

Advertising campaigns such as Lexus's “ December to Remember” have helped drive both holiday sales and car gifting in general. Lexus started the campaign in 1998 and has turned December from its worst sales month into its best.

According to Oregon-based CNW Marketing Research, more than 17,000 new cars and 41,890 used vehicles were given as gifts in 2010.

Spokesperson Allison Takahashi says Lexus doesn't keep statistics on the number of vehicles given as gifts, but one dealer, Jack McCartney, told The Philadelphia Inquirer last Christmas that he had 10 or 12 vehicles already paid for that were sitting out back waiting to be picked up on Christmas Eve.

Graduations and anniversaries rank high as car-giving occasions as well.

If you are considering taking the plunge, you will need to be both sneaky and thorough. You can't leave a shiny new car at risk, even in the few days between when you buy the car and when you hand over the keys. (See “ How to insure a new car.”)

The fine print of giving a car

Giving a car as a gift is easy if the car is for your spouse or child and more complicated if you're buying for a very, very good friend.

Buying and titling a car that you are part owner of is usually quite simple. Since you are an owner you can sign all of the paperwork and your spouse never has to know … until the big reveal. Andrew Schrage of MoneyCrashers warns that DMV rules can vary by state, that in some cases the other person's presence may be required, so contact your local DMV office to verify requirements.

Insurance should be a no-brainer as well. Penny Gusner, consumer analyst at CarInsurance.com, says if you are listed as a co-owner on the car and are adding it to a shared policy, you can sign all necessary documents without getting your spouse involved, keeping your secret safe.