It was the one thing I had bought in the UAE that I really liked: my car. But, with a move overseas looming, I finally had to say goodbye to my trusty Chevrolet Spark. Through 24,000km, this motoring midget provided me with reliable and even enjoyable transport both to and from work and across the country. The car was a 2007 model, but its first registration came in February 2008 when I drove it off the forecourt of the former Chevrolet dealership in Dubai that was selling it off cheap.
I had planned to buy a 1.3-litre Mitsubishi Lancer automatic for Dh41,000, but when I saw the Spark on sale for the knock-down price of Dh25,000 - about Dh8,000 less than the showroom price at the time - I just couldn't resist. And I have never regretted buying a car that, given its small size and miniscule 800cc engine, is hardly at home on UAE's SUV-dominated streets. Because one thing the car has taught me is that on UAE's roads, size doesn't have to be everything: you can travel comfortably and safely in a small car. Sitting in the slow lane in a small car and sticking to the speed limit is a lot less stressful and dangerous than driving a bigger car and going with the flow in the middle and overtaking lanes, with their frenzied bursts of acceleration, tailgating and generally abysmal standards of driving.
I discovered people's tendency to pick on smaller cars but refused to be intimidated by them. I never, ever sped up to please those driving big cars and sometimes I even slowed down before them. They invariably backed off. My Spark took me from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain, to Ras al Khaimah, even to Oman. It was more comfortable around town, with its narrow gauge and upright stance, but would still cruise comfortably on the motorway.
In my description in the "for sale" poster I put up on our office's noticeboard, I described the Spark as having had "one careful owner". Although I took the car out for a couple of short sessions at Dubai Autodrome, I was careful not to push it too hard. And at other times, I handled it with kid gloves: modest pressure on the accelerator away from traffic lights, much to the fury of those behind me.
If I was a potential buyer who had known the car's driving history, even including its little spell as a would-be race car, I would have snapped it up without hesitation. There was the occasional blip in reliability, for which I hold myself responsible. The battery ran flat a few times, although only when I left the lights on. And there was a slight vibration in the steering wheel at low speeds, but that was because I had let the tyre pressure fall way too low. A few bursts of air in the wheels and the problem disappeared. Other than these owner-induced problems, the car gave me hundreds of hours of trouble-free motoring, which gives the lie to those who think South Korean cars are no match for their Japanese rivals.
In the end, I sold the car for Dh13,000, a great bargain for the buyer. I wanted to get rid of it quickly and the oversupply in the used car market made me put it up for sale for a fair bit less than it was worth. But it was a lot better than the paltry Dh6,000 one local second-hand car dealer offered to me. When I handed over the keys earlier this month, I felt uneasy not because I had let the car go for the song, but because I felt guilty.
I knew the Spark would never again enjoy the same love and care it had enjoyed with me. I am sure the new owner will drive it harder, will not keep the interior as immaculate as I kept it and will treat it as though it is just a cheap way of getting to point B from point A. My little Spark was much more than this. On the mean streets of the UAE, it was me and my Spark against the world - and we survived.