Buying a Car in the UAE

After three years, I finally decided to buy a car. I saved up money and eagerly waited for Ramadan to start. Why buy a car during Ramadan? The car showrooms put on great deals during Ramadan, including significant savings on the car price, and freebies such as several years/km of service, extended warranty, roadside assistance, insurance, registration, etc. As I didn’t have a particular car model in mind, I shopped around most of the dealers in Abu Dhabi. These are the lessons I learnt as an unexperienced car buyer in the UAE.

  • You don’t need cash to buy. Vendors are eager to set you up with bank financing with small monthly payments. For some reason they try to discourage you from cash payment. Wonder if they have a deal with the banks… You might want to contact your own bank to compare interest rates, as banks here are keen to give loans.
  • What is included in that ‘fantastic offer’, and what is not? Key expenses that may be added to the sales price include insurance, registration, tinting, GAP insurance, paint protection, any upgrades to the advertised model you may want (e.g. parking sensors), etc. Ask for a printout of the car’s specs included in the offer, a list of additional options, and the payment scheme for your preferred financing method. The model displayed in the showroom may not represent what you get for the ‘starting price’ you are quoted.
  • Shop around and barter. I decided on a car model, but it was beyond my budget. I went to the dealer in Dubai and they said it was impossible to do it within my budget. I subsequently contacted the Abu Dhabi dealer, who belongs to the same company, and they made it happen within my budget. All freebies included. I also asked for insurance and registration to be free. Done.
  • Compare freebies among different dealerships. You want an Audi, but Ford is offering a better free service package? Ask Audi to match it.
  • Don’t believe the ad ‘Free XYZ’. Ask for a list of what exactly is included in XYZ.
    Free service free service package ≠ free service and maintenance. Free service may only include the regular oil change and nothing else; a free service package is more comprehensive, including all regular servicing tasks required on your car; a service and maintenance package is the most comprehensive, where they do all regular services but also repair anything that is worn out – for example, your windscreen wipers and break pads are not part of a regular service, but should be exchanged for free if you have a maintenance package. You can also pay for an upgraded service/maintenance package, to include more perks or cover more years/km. Note: If something is free, it may not be transferrable to another owner when you sell the car!! 
  • Pay attention to years vs km of service that are offered. 5 years warranty sounds great – but if it is 5 years/30,000km warranty, that means that if you hit the 30,000 km before the five years are over your warranty is also over. If you are doing a daily Dubai/Abu Dhabi commute, you’ll want to make sure the warranty and service covers you for more than the next few months.
  • Servicing routine? Some manufacturers require servicing every 5000, 10000, or even 15000 km. If you drive long distances, consider how often you’ll need to make that dreadful trip to Mussafah to get the car serviced. Also, how will you get to work after dropping off the car? Some dealers offer a driver to take you wherever you need to go; others offer a shuttle bus that runs at fixed times to the city centre.
  • Minimum servicing requirements to maintain warranty? Getting your car serviced by any mechanic in Mussafah is probably much cheaper than at the car dealership’s service center, but will this void your warranty? Ask for minimum servicing requirements to maintain the car’s warranty.
  • Even bartering won’t get you the car you want?
    a.) Ask for a demo model; these are usually in pristine shape, only have a few thousand km on them, and may be sold for a significantly cheaper price!
    b.) Ask for last year’s model; the dealers want to get rid of these and are more willing to barter on the price/perks as they are making space for the new models coming in!
    c.) Ask for a second hand car; the dealer usually has a range of these on their system, which they have checked thoroughly and may still offer you some warranty and service on – make sure you ask about the exact details and ask to view the car before purchase.
    d.) Go to a second hand dealer, there are plenty around!
    e.) Check on Dubizzle, your community’s Facebook group, and at work; people are constantly leaving the UAE and are selling their cars – if there is a lull in the expat workforce you may get a real bargain. Make sure you make an informed choice prior to buying, so you don’t end up with a dud. The desert is an extreme environment for cars, and components will wear quicker than elsewhere in the world; some people are also keen on dune bashing and drifting, so make sure you check the car properly. Get the number plate – you can check online if it has any fines on it. Also, agree on who will pay for the outstanding fines and the money you pay for transferring registration – don’t find yourself in a bad situation at the last step of the purchase …
  • Ask the dealer about all specs and controls. Make sure you go home with a specs sheet and catalog to refresh your mind. Is everything you want really available in the model on offer? The shiny car in the show room may have extras that are not included in the quote you were given. It’s easy to overlook the absence of cruise control when you’re sitting in a shiny new car that seems to have everything…. you’ll be cursing later on on the motorway ….
  • Check crash test results, and ask for safety features included. The roads here harbour many “road surprises“, so make sure you get yourself into something that will protect you in a worst case scenario. IIHS and Euro NCAP are some good websites for crash test results. Not every model will automatically come with all the safety features used in the tests though – you may need to upgrade the car for these.
  • Check local prices on Drivearabia. Local prices often differ from abroad – in a good way. Do put some thought into how common the car is in the UAE though – will parts cost you are fortune and take a long time to import?
  • Test drive several cars you like. You can book test drives, but most vendors will be able to take walk-ins too. You will notice so many things that you wouldn’t see by just sitting in the car in the showroom. Can you see out the back? Are controls in a comfortable place? Is the stearing good? Does the car accelerate or break the way you want it to? If there is a 30 second delay between you putting your foot to the ground and the car reacting, you’ll never get into a roundabout alive …
  • Save money by doing some of the footwork yourself. Organising the insurance, tinting, registration and mods yourself may save you quite a bit of cash. The dealer will be able to offer you all of these, but will charge you a premium price for them. If you find a car you like, make a few inquiries outside and check what insurance and the mods you want would cost you. If you couldn’t be bothered, ask the dealer to do everything for you. Having the car delivered to your doorstep with insurance, registration and all mods done is nice and easy.
  • Buy in any Emirate, but register your car in the Emirate where your visa was issued (this is mandatory). Check if the dealership can do the registration for you.
  • What insurance is right for you? Not all car insurance is the same. The car dealership usually offers a very comprehensive, but very expensive option. Make some calls. Does the insurance cover repairs at the dealership? This is usually more expensive, but may be required to maintain your car’s warranty!
  • Get tints, but know the law. It gets hot here, you will need them. Get them done by a pro if you don’t want to redo them regularly, and make sure you stay within the legal specifications. You might be able to buy pitch black tints, but they are illegal and you can be fined, have the car confiscated, and your annual registration will not be renewed. Current law states a max. of 30% tinting on side and rear window, for male and female drivers.
  • Fuel prices are increasing. It is still much cheaper here than in the US or Europe, but prices are slowly but surely increasing. Petrol stations are also super busy during rush hour, so if you have a long commute, have a look at how long a gas tank would last you. Would you have to fill up the small hatchback every second day, but save in fuel costs, or fill up the fuel-guzzling dual-tank SUV once a week?
  • GCC specs are a must. If you are buying new or used, ask if the car has GCC specs or if it was imported with EU or USA specs. Big difference. If you get an EU specs car you will melt in your car in the summer – they are not built for the heat and the aircon will sh*t itself at 52 degrees Celsius. And that’s the last thing you want, when you are stuck in a 4 hour traffic jam on the motorway, in the desert.
  • Leather gets hot. Leather seats may look better, but fabric seats are much more comfortable in the heat!

Good luck on your hunt for a good offer! Do you have any advice to add to the list? Please comment below 🙂



One thought on “Buying a Car in the UAE

  1. Papi

    Very nice comprehensive overview how to buy a car, applicable in many locations around the world. The only thing I would add is to think about which features you would consider as ‘none negotiables’. Very often features are offered in packages and it can be challenging to decide which ones to take. Sounds like you cut a great deal, congratulations! Safe travels and enjoy your new car 🙂

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