How to buy a used car in the UAE: 6 top tips for Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Experts advise getting the vehicle inspected professionally before parting with any money

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - January 29th, 2018: Toyota Camry for Road Test. Monday, January 19th, 2018 at The St. Regis Dubai Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Buying a used car has traditionally been seen as a cheaper alternative to obtaining a brand new model straight off the production line.

These days, due to the global cost of living crisis and the influx of electric and hybrid vehicles, it is more important than ever to make sure you know what you are getting for your money.

So, if you are in the market to buy a second-hand car, what should you look out for?

The National talked to industry experts about how to buy a used car and what pitfalls to avoid when choosing your next vehicle.

What are the most popular used cars in the UAE?

Nissan Patrols and Toyota Land Cruisers remain among the most popular vehicles on UAE roads, according to Adam Whitnall, chief executive of car price comparison site Drive Ninja.

However, new kids on the block are challenging their position as the most common cars on the emirates' roads.

“Land Cruisers and Patrols are exceptionally popular because they have a certain status in the UAE,” he said.

“They are still selling like hot cakes but we are definitely seeing a shift with increased amounts of people turning to electric and hybrid models. There are more used Chinese cars being bought than before, as well.”

The classified sales website Dubizzle lists both the the most sought-after used petrol cars and electric vehicles over the past year.

Most in-demand petrol cars in UAE for 2023:

  • Mercedes Benz S-class – average price Dh678,200
  • Mercedes Benz C-class – Dh244,900
  • Nissan Patrol – Dh253,500
  • Toyota Landcruiser – Dh327,200
  • Nissan Altima – Dh80,500

Most in-demand electric vehicles in UAE for 2023:

  • Volkswagen ID4 – Average price Dh133,600
  • Tesla Model 3 – Dh224,900
  • Volkswagen ID6 – Dh157,200
  • Tesla Model Y – Dh255,700
  • Tesla Model X – Dh592,700

What to be aware of when choosing a used car

One of the key factors when buying a used car in the UAE is making sure the vehicle is not coming to the end of its journey.

“It’s very difficult to get fully insured in the UAE for a car that is more than seven years old,” said Mr Whitnall.

“That’s because the climate doesn’t lend itself well to cars lasting much longer than that and insurance companies are hesitant to give full insurance on older cars.”

Mr Whitnall also cautioned against buying an imported car without doing your homework into the vehicle’s history.

“A lot of cars that come here, especially from the US, do so because they were written off, flood-damaged or involved in a crash and were not able to be re-registered for the roads over there,” he said.

“They get fixed up and it’s not always easy to spot that.”

However, the solution is simply a case of asking the seller for the vehicle’s vehicle identification number, he said.

“There are various websites where the buyer can check if the car was involved in an accident by entering the VIN,” said Mr Whitnall.

It is also advisable to get a pre-purchase inspection on any car you are considering buying.

These inspections tend to cost about Dh500 and are available from most used car dealerships and reputable garages.

“An inspection is absolutely critical if you are buying a used car, especially if it’s from a private seller rather than a dealership,” he said.

“Some sellers are less reputable than others, so it’s important to be 'buyer beware'.”

He also said there is usually a gentlemen’s agreement that the seller will pick up the cost if anything is found to be wrong with the car during the inspection.

Check the warranty

Buying a car from a dealership tends to come with a guarantee or warranty, but it is important to check the small print, said Mr Whitnall.

“Having a warranty is better than not having one, but you need to be careful about what it covers,” he said.

“There is a common misconception that having a car under warranty means if anything goes wrong, it’s going to be covered.

“It is often the case that certain parts will be covered, while others won’t – for example the engine might be covered by the warranty but the electric windows are not.”

He said this was another example of why a pre-purchase inspection was essential, as it would flag up any possible defects before the buyer completes the purchase.

How to negotiate a price

Haggling is a common part of buying a used car, especially from a private seller, said Mr Whitnall.

“This region is known for having a bartering economy. Sellers are expecting you to negotiate on price and how successful you will be often falls along cultural lines,” he said.

“What doesn’t change, though, is the need to be polite and respectful.

“Once you start negotiating, you can expect to meet somewhere in the middle in terms of price.”

How to pay for a used car

Many used car dealerships offer help with proposing a payment plan, which will be sent to the bank for approval.

Banks will then perform a credit check on the applicant before issuing the loan, which tends to be about 80 per cent of the car’s value, said Neeraj Gupta, chief executive of insurance comparison site Policy Bazaar UAE.

How to get insurance

The cost of insurance in the UAE depends on several factors including the age of the car and the driver, driving history and experience and the vehicle type.

“Don’t be hasty and buy the insurance with the lowest premium, instead look for maximum benefits provided by the insurer,” said Mr Gupta.

“Avoid instantly opting for third-party liability cover, a comprehensive insurance plan is the best option as it offers better protection.

“When you receive your policy, make sure to read the terms and conditions carefully to know what’s covered and what’s not.”

How do I register the car in my name in Abu Dhabi and Dubai?

Registering a car in Abu Dhabi requires you to get the vehicle inspected at an authorised centre first.

Once the vehicle has passed inspection and is clear of all outstanding fines, you can then register it through an approved channel.

These include the websites of Abu Dhabi Police, Emirates Vehicle Gate and Ministry of Interior website and app.

When registration fees, which usually cost Dh400 are paid, you can then collect the vehicle ownership card (Mulkiya), as well as the number plates and expiry date sticker.

Registration lasts for 12 months.

A change of ownership must be registered in Dubai with the Roads and Transport Authority.

Both the seller and buyer must present documentation to the authority to complete the transfer of ownership, which typically costs between Dh350 and Dh800 depending on the size of the vehicle.

Top six tips for buying a used car in the UAE

  • Check the age of the car. Models older than seven years will be difficult or expensive to insure.
  • Do your homework if it is an imported car and check the vehicle has not been in any accidents you are unaware of.
  • Pay for a pre-purchase inspection so that an expert can tell you what is wrong with the car, especially if buying from a private seller.
  • Check the fine print on the warranty, not everything is covered.
  • Negotiate a fair price while remaining courteous and respectful.
  • Opt for the right insurance with a comprehensive plan.

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