Best Car Books: Find a Great Gift for the Gearhead in Your Life

These car books are an excellent gift for the automobile lover in your life

byNikola Petrovski, Quincy Miller| UPDATED Jul 7, 2021 12:32 PM
Best Car Books: Find a Great Gift for the Gearhead in Your Life

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BYNikola Petrovski, Quincy Miller/ LAST UPDATED ON July 7, 2021

If you’re struggling to come up with a gift idea for the automobile lover in your family, one of these car books will always be a welcome addition to their library. Covering everything from automotive history to some of the coolest cars ever to roll off the assembly line, these books are sure to earn a smile—and plenty of dog-eared pages. Of course, once you get your hands on one, you may decide to keep it for yourself.

Best Overall
Car: The Definitive Visual History of the Automobile

Car: The Definitive Visual History of the Automobile


Offering a broad pictorial overview of the history of cars, this book covers everything from their cultural impact to the people who made them great. Oh, and it’s beautiful to look at, too.


In addition to having stunning photos of just about every important car ever made, it does a good job of giving you technical information as well. Plus, the pages are high-quality enough that the book should last for years, even with heavy use.


There’s a heavy emphasis on European cars, so American auto lovers may feel short-changed. There are a few factual errors that eagle-eyed readers may spot as well.

Best Value

Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans


The tale of how a storied race saved a beloved car company from extinction, this book reads more like a fictional thriller than a real-life tale. Sports car aficionados will learn something about their favorite cars (but they may lose a few hours of sleep turning pages every night).


The book vividly captures the stylish world of auto racing in the 1960s, all while constantly ramping up the human drama. This makes it accessible for non-car lovers as well as dedicated gearheads. 


It skimps a bit on the technical aspects of the cars involved, which could be frustrating for history buffs. The included photographs do little to flesh out the story.

Honorable Mention

Car Science: An Under-the-Hood, Behind-the-Dash Look at How Cars Work


Anyone wanting to learn what makes cars run will appreciate this reference guide, as it shows readers exactly what’s going on under the hood. It includes everything from diagrams and cutaways to detailed explanations of the physics involved.


This is a great starter book for kids, or anyone who’s tired of not knowing how a car works. It’s written by one of the hosts of the popular TV show “Top Gear,” so it’s also an excellent gift for fans of that series.


The information inside may be old hat to experienced mechanics. Some of the more educational aspects may be daunting to younger readers as well.

Benefits of Car Books

  • Entertainment. Some car books will entertain you and let you escape from the world and reality for a bit while you immerse yourself in the book’s world. Look for a book that has a storyline that appeals to you. 
  • Education. Educational car books will teach you about some aspects of your car or vehicles in general. They could be a how-to for performing maintenance or modifications, or they could teach you about the origin of a particular model, manufacturer, or car event. 
  • Convenience. Having a car book as a reference that is easily within reach makes them convenient. Instead of endlessly searching for answers online, you can flip through a book and get the information that you need. 

Types of Car Books

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These books will teach you about the history of the automotive industry and famous people who created and drove them. You’ll find some that are focused on a particular car or manufacturer. Other books will tell you the story of the people behind the cars. The facts will be proven and accurate. 

Educational or How-To

These books will teach you how to do something related to your car. This could be general maintenance, modifications or improvements, or sharpening your driving skills. Look for a book that is specific to your make, model, and year of car for the best advice. Some books will even have pictures to make the process even easier. 


A fictional car book is about car enthusiasts escaping into another world. A fictional car book could have historical, modern-day, or futuristic themes. The facts and storylines are not necessarily provable or true. Look for a car book that has a genre that appeals to you. These books help you escape into a fantasy. 

Coffee Table Book

The best books for a coffee table have very little text and large, rich images. They typically have a race car, classic car, muscle car, or supercar theme. You’ll see beautiful images of cars such as Porsches, Mustangs, Corvettes, McLarens, and BMWs.

Top Brands

Harper Collins

Founded in New York, New York, in 1989, Harper Collins is one of the largest book publishers in the world. It publishes everything from educational textbooks to fictional summer reads. One of its most well-known car books is The Art of Racing in the Rain.

Bentley Publishers 

Founded in 1950 by Robert Bentley, the company originally imported philosophy and fiction books. Over time, the company became more involved in automotive publishing and is now one of the largest publishers in the auto book market. Road & Track publishes its guides through the publishing house, such as the Road & Track Illustrated Automotive Dictionary.

Atlantic Books

This British publishing house was founded by Toby Mundy in 2000. The company has grown to be one of the world’s largest publishing houses. This is due to the company’s commitment to quality and originality. Check out its book Return to Glory: The Story of Ford’s Revival and Victory at the Toughest Race in the World.


Formally known as Dorling Kindersley, DK is a British publishing house that distributes its books worldwide. It specializes in illustrated books for both adults and children. The books are currently printed in 63 languages. Its book Illustrated Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Automobiles includes automobiles from automakers all over the world, including the famed Henry Ford Model T. 

Car Books Pricing

  • Under $20: These are typically quick reads or books that have been in print for quite some time. They’ll typically be softcover in this price range. 
  • $20 to $50: Most new and newer books fall in this price range. The books tend to be a bit longer and more detailed in content. You’ll start to see hardcovers at the higher end of this price range. 
  • Over $50: Almost all books in this price range are hardcover, but there are a couple of exceptions. You’ll find quite thorough mechanical guides in this price range. If the book is rare, you can expect to pay this price too.

Key Features


The type of book you’re looking to buy will dictate how long you want the book to be. Coffee table books shouldn’t be too thick. It should be something that someone can easily flip through. A how-to book can get quite lengthy, depending on how detailed the directions are and how complicated the project is. 


Both entertainment and educational car books need to have plenty of detail. An entertainment book is filled with many details to help you escape into this alternate reality. A high level of detail in the educational books is useful to ensure you understand the directions completely and follow them to a T. 


All car books can benefit from high-quality images. A car guy will enjoy seeing high-quality images of unique and exotic cars. Before you buy a car book, flip through the pages and look at the images. Great books will have plenty of images to either entertain or educate you. 

Other Considerations

  • Car Types. If you’re looking for a guide or some form of a how-to book, then you’ll want to make sure you get a book that is about your exact car. Even one year off can be a complete change in how a task is performed. You should also check for the trim level, as some models have different features, and therefore, different components. 
  • Accuracy. These days, anyone can self-publish a book and sell it on Amazon. While this isn’t necessarily bad, it means you need to do your due diligence to make sure the book you’re buying has accurate information. This is important if you want to read an educational book and learn something. 
  • Genre. Look for a book that is in the genre you’re interested in reading. Fiction will give you a fanciful story that could involve fantasy, romance, crime, or horror. A nonfiction story will center around an auto-related story that actually happened. How-to books will explain how to perform one or several tasks. 

Best Car Books Reviews & Recommendations 2021

This engaging book will offer you an overview of the history of cars through richly-colored images. The book will explain the cultural impact different cars had and the people behind them that worked hard to make those cars great. 

The photos are stunning and feature almost every car ever made. Prepare to see cars from Alfa Romeo, Chevrolet, and even a Ferrari Enzo. The book itself is made from high-quality materials and sure to last through years of reading. 

You’ll notice that the book has a European heavy view. While American cars are mentioned, you may feel that they don’t have enough of a presence. There are also some factual errors that true car enthusiasts will notice. 

This engaging tale recounts the history of the battle between Ford and Ferrari. This historic racing rivalry is what saved the famous Ford company from extinction. While the book feels more like a fictional thriller, the story is 100 percent true. 

If you’re unfamiliar with this major event in automotive history, then this is an ideal book to read. The language vividly captures the story and ramps up the human drama between the major players. This makes the book appealing to those who may not be car fanatics. 

If you’re looking for technical information on the cars, then this may not be the book for you. It focuses more on the story and less on the technical specs. The pictures included don’t really help you to figure out the details of the cars involved in the story, either. 

If you know nothing about how a car works, then this is the guide for you. This reference guide will explain in clear detail what exactly happens under the hood. There are text explanations, diagrams, and cutaways to explain in simple terms about how physics works. 

This book is the perfect guide for children or those who have zero experience with cars. The language is simple and clear while it breaks down complex mechanical processes. It also happens to be written by Richard Hammond, who is a famous car enthusiast and one of the hosts from the well-known TV show “Top Gear.” 

If you have experience with cars, then this book will be repetitive and not very helpful with its basic explanations. Younger readers may find some of the more complex topics daunting to wrap their heads around.


  • There are car books on virtually any topic under the sun, so consider what subjects your recipient is most interested in before making a purchase.
  • If you’re going to invest in a coffee-table-style book, make sure the binding and pages are durable enough to withstand lots of pawing and manhandling.
  • Many books are either heavy on photographs or technical details, so spend a little time looking around until you find one that contains both equally.


Q: Is hardcover or paperback better?

A: It depends on how you expect it will be used. Paperbacks are certainly easier to read (not to mention less expensive), but hardcovers make much more attractive decorations.

Q: What topics should I focus on?

A: If you have no idea what the intended recipient is interested in, there are many general-interest guides about cars that cover a wide range of makes and models. However, if you know what they like, then it’s almost guaranteed that there are a few books out there dedicated to that particular subject.

Q: I don’t know anything about cars. What should I look for in a car book? 

A: Don’t worry about what you know or don’t know—think about what the recipient would like to know. As long as they’re interested in the general topic, the gift should be appreciated—even if you don’t fully understand your own gift.

Final Thoughts

Car: The Definitive Visual History of the Automobile offers an incredibly comprehensive look at the subject matter, and should be appreciated by just about any car lover, regardless of age.

Anyone who wants their history mixed with drama will love Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans, as it recounts an incredible true story while also covering the vehicles involved in loving detail.