Guide to buying a used car

The used car market in the UAE is growing, especially in the wake of the financial downturn.

The used car market here in the UAE is growing, especially in the wake of the global financial downturn.

Why buy used?

Many people now have less cash to spend on a brand new car. This makes it wiser for them to let a vehicle’s first owner swallow the depreciation curve tragedies and turn it into their own happy endings.

Secondly, diving into the used car market, accompanied by breathe-holding patience, can reveal great treasures to be had. Hunt carefully and there are gems to be found out there for so little that it makes them steals…

Where to buy?

Nowadays, there are various sources to get your ‘new’ second-hand car. These sources vary in the amount of guaranteed quality you expect out of the cars.

At the top of the pyramid are the dealers’ approved schemes. Nearly every respectable franchised dealer in the country now has a used car scheme.

This could be anything from a desk with a computer and a lonely bloke sat in the corner of a showroom (with the used cars being parked somewhere on a sandy piece of land), to a purpose-built showroom solely for used cars. Sometimes there could be a few square meters within a new car showroom devoted to used wheels.

These approved used car schemes, as they are called, present the most pristine-condition cars. The vehicles are usually sourced from their own customers who’ve either traded them in or want to sell them on as used.

What’s good news to anyone considering this route to buying their next car is that these dealers will only put on sale cars in good condition and, I hear, regularly serviced. They carry out multiple-point tests (you keep hearing of those 99-point checks, don’t you?) to ensure everything is as it such be under the skin and there’s no nasty mechanical surprises or poorly repaired crash-damage. And they’ll usually come with a warranty.

Appropriately, these cars tend to carry a marginally thicker price sticker than comparable examples elsewhere.

Independent dealers

The used car markets such as the one in Al-Awir in Dubai and the one in Abu Shqara in Sharjah are where you’ll find all sorts of stuff; SUVs to saloons, hatchbacks to supercars, classic old girls to ones that haven’t officially landed on our shores yet through their dealers.

It’s also where you’ll find imports. US, European, or even Japanese specced cars can all be found here. American specced cars are usually 10-25% cheaper than their GCC-local siblings. Japanese specced cars, on the other hand, can sometimes be marginally more expensive than the GCC-specced ones as a result of their sought after ‘very clean’ condition.

In addition to the foreign specification cars, the local ones exist in a large spectrum of conditions, each with a price to match. Equally, watch out for dodgy cars and dodgy dealers.

Private purchases

However, the best bargains to be found are through buying the cars directly from their owners.

This should be, economically, the most efficient transaction for both parties. By cutting out the middlemen (dealers) the seller gets a little more than what he’d receive from a dealer, and likewise the buyer benefits from paying a lower purchase price. The only downside is that private transactions can prove a time consuming matter. And vehicles do depreciate with time…  

Where to find them?

Ask around relatives, friends, or co-workers. Check notice boards in shops and offices and the classified sections of local newspapers. There are also periodical publications that specialise in car ads.

Advertising in these publications can cost the seller money. Depending on the size of the ad, how long it will stay, and the publication itself, it could cost somewhere from AED20-300 ($5.50-82).

There are also a handful of websites that specialise in used car ads in our region, and advertising on them is usually free of charge.
What to watch out for?

Once you’ve found your next potential car, there’s a few things you need to watch out for. As a rule of thumb, never buy a car that was involved in an accident. And by accidents I don’t mean scratches and dents from car parks or narrow streets (try to tell me you live in Abu Dhabi and your car is blemish-free!). These scratches could see the car devalued slightly but shouldn’t stop you from considering it.

It’s the ‘proper’ accidents that you should avoid, where there has been major damage to the vehicle. Even in the case of minor accidents, check how and where the car was repaired and if it was from a reputable facility.

Also steer clear of cars that have been retrieved from floods or have been involved in any kind of natural disaster. It’s not uncommon for such cars to have problems the cost of fixing which, will exceed the value of the car itself.

Avoid imports

It’s also generally best to avoid imported cars (non-GCC-specification cars). Some of these cars may not have been adapted to the harsher climate we have, for example in terms of their cooling systems – GCC cars often have better cooling systems, bigger radiators, stronger air conditioning. You don’t want to end up a human barbeque stuck by the side of the road in the desert with bonnet of your Euro-import wide open and smoking like a chimney.

Get it checked

Once you do find a car you like, there are various private workshops that will check it over for you.

A word of warning though: if you’re buying your car from a used car showroom, beware of a possible ‘friendship’ between the seller and the workshops nearby. It’s better to commission a car inspection service from another area. Better still, arrange with the seller to get it checked at the official dealer – particularly if it’s a high-value premium car.


Some offers can be considered as ‘good-day-catches’. These include distress sales by leaving expats, expat owned cars from new (generally regarded as better looked-after), original low mileage cars and, best of all, cars belonging to the royal family.

Sheikhs, proper Sheikhs that is, don’t sell cars, as Sheikh Hamad Al Nahyan made clear in a TV interview once. They would either just keep them, or give them away to relatives, friends or even employees.

It’s often these cars that will appear on the used car market. They usually have low mileage and full service history with just about every conceivable extra bolted on.

Spam ads

When searching for cars online, be aware of spam ads. Usually these are identifiable by a car advertised at half its market value, or less. Usually there isn’t a number to call, just an email address.

Contact the ‘seller’ and you’ll get an email reply telling you a story about an owner that has to leave the country in a rush and left his car behind. So how do you buy it? You have to use Western Union and the like to wire some money across. Whatever you do, don’t ever fall for these scams!

And as an aside, it is one of the most difficult, if not impossible, things to try to reregister a car in your name if the previous owner is no longer in the country.

Mileage manipulation

Beware of cars that appear cheap with a suspiciously low mileage. Fiddling with the odometers to display lower mileages than the car has actually covered is a common problem here.

It’s easily done. Rogue technicians can charge as little as AED100 ($27) to make your odometer display 54,678km instead of its actual 178,432km!

A friend once told me a story about how he got tempted by a low mileage Infiniti FX with ‘just 50,000km’ on the clock. Taking it to the dealer revealed it had had its last service at 120,000km! And there in lies the solution – always check the car’s service history, and verify the mileage with the garage or service centre that carried out the work.

It gets more difficult if the car has been serviced privately, or is so old that no official records exist anymore. You can also be taken in by an apparently realistic mileage. A five-year old Mitsubishi Lancer with over 120,000km might seem about right. But what if it has been in fleet service and has actually done over 300,000km?

Some telltale signs for higher mileage cars can be things like worn-through driver’s floor mats and carpets, worn pedals and steering wheel rims. Mechanically it’s harder to tell because some cars these days are just so well built and robust that they barely show their miles – witness any 300,000km squeak and rattle-free Toyota Camry taxi.

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Posted by: Umar

Well, it gives a brief understanding about the important points to be considered while buying a car. I want to add 1 more point that if you are choosing a car for yourself; their is no problem in paying little more amount (than the market price) to the owner if you the car has all proper documents of service history. Good will be always little expensive. cheers

Posted by: Mohamed Sathick

pls adivice if i can buy Nissan Altima 2007 ran for taxi showing 120000 km (obviously more than 200000km) for 17000Aed with clean in and out.

Posted by: Damir

Many thanks! Article really helps. Wanted to buy a car in UAE.... will try my luck soon. Thanks again.

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