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, CNET’s gift picks with expert advice, reviews and recommendations for the latest tech gifts for you and your family.
The holidays are right around the corner, and maybe you’re still struggling with what to get your car-obsessed loved one. Maybe you saw our other list for gifts under $100 and thought that you’d like to go a bit bigger for the auto tragic in your life. Well, we Roadshow editors have got your back. This is a list of our favorite gift ideas under $500 and it includes everything from see-through engine models to video game consoles to be able to play the latest crop of racing games.
Read more: Best cars and trucks of 2020
BMW’s classic airhead engine design is one of motorcycling’s most beautiful and iconic, and I’ll be damned if I don’t want to celebrate those incontrovertible facts by having a half-scale see-through one spinning away on my desk. This looks like it would be epic fun to build and a real conversation starter.
— Kyle Hyatt
Nostalgia is a powerful force. A little retro gaming might be just what the doctor ordered for this pandemic-era holiday, and Arcade1Up’s new Outrun cabinet looks like a great way to brighten up the season. Squeaking in under our price cap at $499.99, this cabinet features Outrun, Turbo Outrun, Outrunners and Power Drift, plus there’s a detachable seat if you’ve got the room for that full arcade experience.
Nearly a year ago, I bought an Arcade1Up Galaga cabinet. I’ve been impressed by how much the slightly-downscaled setup replicates that ’80s arcade feel at minimal cost. Unfortunately, I’m probably not the only one, as the first batch of Outrun cabinets has already been spoken for. That said, if your holiday is like mine, out-of-stock rainchecks are a family tradition.
— Chris Paukert
It’s become increasingly clear that, unless you’re exclusively into the Gran Turismo series — a difficult place to be these days — the Xbox is the best place to be for those who love driving games. Whether it be the latest from the Forza franchise or the stellar SnowRunner, this is the console to have. Sure, there’s not much out there that takes advantage of the power the Series X has to offer yet, but that’ll change soon enough, and your special recipient will be mighty glad you splurged on their behalf when those games come.
— Tim Stevens
I’m declaring war on nasty-looking dashcams that hang down like a tacked-on appendage. I’ve also warmed to the idea that a dashcam needs to cover your six, not just the road ahead. The Vantrue S1 gets me there with an integrated look, rear camera, low-light Sony sensor, and supercapacitor instead of a typical internal battery for more reliable power when the car is off. It also has an internal GPS sensor to record car location during a captured incident or for route playback as you view a clip. I’ve always been impressed by Vantrue dashcam performance, but never by its designs. The S1 is its only dashcam (out of a line of far too many models) that I wouldn’t cringe at seeing in my own car and would expect excellent performance from.
— Brian Cooley
Give your kids an early taste of the McLaren experience with this electric 720S ride-on, which packs three different top speed settings and the capability for remote control if you aren’t ready to let the little ones have full control. There’s plenty of fun features in here, too, like a USB port through which you can play music, LED headlights, butterfly doors and yes, a functional horn. It’ll only handle 65 pounds, though, so don’t try and pull any, “Well, I’m young at heart” shenanigans here.
— Andrew Krok
An actual Mercedes-Benz G-wagen is a little too pricey for a gift guide, so here’s the next best option: Tamiya’s 1/10-scale G500 R/C car. This G has 4WD, four-corner independent suspension, locking differential gears, and even working LED lights. Tamiya also sells upgraded parts like knobbier tires and more powerful motors to make your G500 even more badass.
— Daniel Golson
This little Stirling engine has nothing to do with cars, but chances are the gearhead in your life would still get a kick out of it. An external-combustion engine, this intricately detailed dynamo runs on heat, using the expansion and contraction of gasses to turn a small propeller. While completely different from your typical four-stroke, Otto-cycle engine, it is nonetheless very cool with eight individual cylinders. It measures about 8 by 4 inches, is made of stainless steel and comes with a fetching wooden base. No, this desktop Stirling engine isn’t cheap, checking out for $300, but it is an intriguing novelty and something that’s sure to start a lot of conversations.
— Craig Cole
This Milwaukee M18 18-volt Impact Wrench is a champ. Instead of busting out my air tools, I use it to zip off and on lug nuts when doing winter tire swaps. And its compact size makes it ideal to take to open track days in case I need to rip off the wheel for whatever reason. Since it’s part of Milwaukee’s 18-volt power tool ecosystem, there’s over 200 tools the lithium-ion battery pack can be used with, ranging from saws to leaf blowers. If you already have some Milwaukee M18 batteries in your arsenal, purchase this impact wrench separately for $179. Or just get the set so you can have two more batteries and an additional charger because you can’t have too many of those!
— Jon Wong
Believe it or not, proper driving shoes can make a big difference. Being better able to work your gas pedal, brake and clutch is never a bad thing, and these days, Piloti is the big name in driving shoes. I particularly like these Avenue style shoes, mostly because they look like a normal pair of sneakers, but they offer the same grip and support. Driving shoes are also comfy as heck, too, so they’re a good option even if you aren’t the fast-driving type.
— Steve Ewing
Logitech’s G Driving Force Racing Wheels are a great way to elevate a love for driving games to a passion for sim racing. The G29 works with PlayStation consoles, and the G920 is Xbox One compatible; either works with a PC gaming setup. Both wheels feature dual-motor force feedback and 900-degrees of rotation giving players more control and better immersion than thumbsticks can. Paddle shifters and a three-pedal box are included — everything needed to hit the virtual road. I’ve personally used the G920 — with its optional external Driving Force Shifter — for years with my Xbox One for a variety of racing titles like the Forza Motorsport, Forza Horizon and Dirt Rally series and, with a whole new generation of Xbox Series X games around the corner, I expect it will continue to serve for years to come.
— Antuan Goodwin
Why get your off-roading loved one a pair of amber lights? Remember, lighting is to see and be seen. Having a set of amber lights in the rear of your truck, buggy or UTV means that others can see you when the dust gets thick. Safety is definitely not third, y’all. I like these because they only draw 24 watts yet still push out 2,450 lumens. Plus, it measures just 3 by 2 inches, it’s submersible and comes with a wiring harness. Caveat: Amber lights are illegal to use on the pavement, so only flip that switch on the dirt.
— Emme Hall
Give the gift of automotive detailing this holiday season, because a clean car is a good car. That’s my ad pitch, but in reality, the TorqX Buffer is a sweet tool that’s perfect for beginners just getting into detailing. Not only do you get the tool for the price, but there’s a bundle of goods that come with it. A set of buffer pads, towels and a couple of chemicals help round out this starter package. And the tool itself is a mighty fine piece of machinery. There are way slicker buffers out there, but the TorqX is hard to argue with for the price, as well as the results you can achieve with it.
— Sean Szymkowski
Car culture is many-faceted, and so too is our gift guide. You’ve got something for any kind of automotive nut, from gaming to building to buffing or even driving. There are zero excuses at this point to not have something special planned for your car-obsessed loved one and frankly, you’ll feel good when they see how not-basic your gift choice was. You feel good and they feel good, which is great because everybody wins, and we all need a win after this unmitigated sewer fire of a year.
Read more: Looking to spend a little more dough? Check out our