A recent article from Emirates 24/7 revealing the cars with the best resale value in the UAE, started me thinking. There’s a lot of things about buying and selling a car in the UAE that differs to the way you buy one at home, so although I’m not a car expert by any means, I thought I’d share what I have learnt on the subject since I’ve lived in the region…

  1. Make sure you look for, and buy a car that is ‘Gulf specs’. The environment here in the UAE is very different to elsewhere – we have intense summer heat and a lot of dust and sand, so of course cars need to be a little different. Most, if not all, new cars you can buy here are gulf spec as standard I believe, but you need to watch out for this when buying a second-hand car. The main differences that I know of are:
    • Air-con / coolant system / fan size is larger and more hardcore to cope with the temperatures here. It’s already hot enough in the summer without also having to deal with getting stuck on the side of the road (or worse, out in the desert!) somewhere in an overheated car!
    • The radiator is modified to cope with the sand and dust. A gulf spec car won’t clunk to a grinding halt because it’s full of sand!
    • I’ve heard the dashboards are made of different stuff too but can’t say you’d notice. Apparently it just helps it hold its shape / colour etc when it’s sitting in the crazy sun for hours every day.
    • Gulf spec cars have that annoying warning ‘bing’ noise when you hit 120km/h. Most cars only ‘bing’ a couple of times then stop, but watch out as there are some that just keep on going – that would drive you insane on a long drive on a motorway!
  2. As per the recent article by Emirates 24/7 about certain cars holding their resale value (read it here), it’s always a good bet to buy a car that’s popular in the market. Not only will it hold its value better, but it’ll be easier to sell on when you leave. And as an expat, that’s one less headache that is worth thinking about in order to avoid later.
  3. If you’re buying a second hand car, be wary of buying anything with close to, or with over 100,000km on the clock. It all depends on what you want the car for and what your future plans are really – but if you are planning to sell it on later, perhaps if you are leaving the country, it will be much harder to sell than a car with much less on the clock – the reality is, that here in the UAE, the majority love the shiniest, newest toys they can get.
    100,000km is also the time when things generally start to go wrong with a car so you may well find yourself spending far more time (and money) in the repair shop than you had bargained for.
    You also need to consider the environment and the way that people drive their cars here… You’ve seen the skid marks on the roads – many people drive fast and recklessly, not to mention off-road across desert and mountain terrain so cars tend to wear much faster than they might elsewhere because of these factors. All stuff to think about  and investigate thoroughly with someone who really knows their way around the inside of an engine before you take the plunge.

    The freedom of getting' out and about on your own!

    You can’t beat the freedom of getting’ out and about to explore on your own!

  4. If you want to sell your car at any time, do it privately if you can as you’ll get a much better price this way. Also, if you’re selling your car because you’re leaving the country, plan in advance so you don’t find yourself in a position where you’re forced to accept a rock bottom price because you need to get rid of it quickly. Sell it early so you can be picky and afford to hold out for the price you want. It’s much better to do this and rent a car for your final few weeks if necessary, than to find yourself much worse off and out of pocket. It’ll also be far less stressful in your final weeks when there are a hundred other things you also need to be thinking about!
  5. If you are going to sell your car privately, be smart about it. When we sold our car before we left Dubai in 2011, it’s fair to say we were cautious of everyone! You read too many stories about people accepting personal cheques in good faith, and buyer driving off with the car, only for seller to find that the cheque promptly bounces. It’s all to easy to fall into a false sense of security in  a country like the UAE where the crime rate is pretty low – don’t let yourself be the guy that gets voted off Survivor with the immunity idol still in their pocket.
    We still had finance outstanding on our car when we sold it, and we’d read stories of people doing the deal and being handed the cash and buyer driving off in the now paid for car, only for buyers ‘friends’ to arrive and mug back the cash from poor selling victim. It can be a tricky situation but there’s always an answer that a true and serious buyer won’t mind accommodating. We arranged to meet our buyer in the actual bank branch so we could deposit the cash straight away and only then hand over the keys.

    It's all fun and games 'til somebody's axel breaks!

    When selling, don’t meet in the back of beyond – arrange to meet in a secure, public place

  6. Buy (or rent) a big car. If you’ve been here for even a day you’ll already have seen how bad the driving is here. I just can’t advocate the safety of driving a big four wheel drive enough. A big car is safer, gives you more presence on the crazy roads and gives you more freedom for fun with the opportunity to go off-road – not to mention the ability to climb a kerb and park easily on a sand lot / building site… I can’t tell you how many times that has come in handy when I’ve been running late for a meeting and there’s not a single space on the parking lot in sight (and the times when there isn’t a car park at all!). If you drive a small car here and you’re involved in an accident – it’s just not going to end well, and here’s how I know that:
Poor old 'Blue'

Poor old ‘Blue’


In the cold light of day – the morning after clear up mission

The Lincoln Escalade that hit us

The Lincoln Escalade that hit us did not fare too well either

When people heard about our accident, a couple of people scoffed at the state our car was in and said “well, there’s the proof that you don’t want to buy a Hummer then!”, but actually, the reverse was true…  We were very lucky to walk away from that accident with only a few cuts, bruises and cracked ribs.  Fortunately, it was an accident at only relatively low speeds on a road that was a busy thoroughfare, but by no means a main road. That car protected us well – perish the thought of what would have happened had we been on a bigger, faster road in a smaller car.

So there you have it. Buy a big, safe, Gulf spec car from a popular brand that will hold its value and drive safe out there folks!