For those of you who know Brian well, you can imagine how excited he is to have the opportunity to shop for a “new” car. That, coupled with the fact that Abu Dhabi really is easier to navigate by car has made buying a car our next priority.
Here’s how things work here in UAE. You need to register the car in the city where you have your resident visa (so for us, that means Dubai), but you can buy the car anywhere you’d like. There are new car dealerships as well as used car lots and there is a thriving car market on dubizzle, which is the UAE equivalent of Craigslist. All cars MUST have insurance – you actually can’t apply for your car license without it. The license is renewed annually, and at that time, all cars over 2 years old have to have a safety check completed where they examine the entire car. We’ve been told that your tires will need to be replaced every three years at minimum, even if you never even drove the car in that time period – very stringent guidelines about the condition of your car. And, now that I think about it, most of the cars here do look like they are in really good shape. There are certainly some clunkers, but they are pretty rare in my experience (and I’ve spent A LOT of time riding the city buses and looking at the cars here!) In order to buy a car, Brian needs his passport, resident visa and UAE driver’s license. He also needs his Emirates ID card or proof that he’s at least completed the application for it and is waiting for his appointment (more on that in another post).
Tickets and fines are handled a bit differently here as well. There are cameras everywhere in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and along the Sheik Zayed road that connects the two cities that monitor your speed. If you are speeding past the camera, it takes your picture and keeps track of your violations. When you show up to renew your license each year, you settle up your bill. Not sure if there’s some kind of limit that causes your license to be revoked early – I’m guessing there probably is. Let’s just say Brian and I plan to drive the speed limit! J
We started our search on dubizzle to get a sense of the types of cars out there and the general going rate. Like Craigslist, there was some variety, but overall it gave us a really good feel for what’s popular and what cars are going for. We had originally thought we would buy another Audi, but after discovering that they aren’t as common as some of the other brands and that repair shops are a bit more difficult to fine, we decided to look at Lexus, BMW and Mercedes.
Our next stop was some of the used car lots along one of the main roads in downtown Abu Dhabi. This was an adventure. Picture a strip mall of used car dealers along the side of the road. Not the large used car lots like on Odana in Madison. Picture instead, shops the size of a small hair salon or Subway with a parking lot big enough for two rows of cars. In between these rows, parked as closely as possible, are the used cars for sale. Each has a tag in the window clearly displaying the make, model, year, mileage and price. Now, in between these cars are men sitting on lawn chairs. At first, we couldn’t figure out if they lived nearby and were just enjoying the evening or whether they had something to do with the cars. Well, we never did completely figure this one out, but as soon as you showed more than mild interest in a car, one of them would get up from their chair, saunter over, greet you and then start to tell you about the car. Our best guess is they either work for the auto dealer shop in the strip mall, or park their own cars near the dealers for better visibility.
At one point we stopped near this car, started to look interested and sure enough, here comes one of the men. He explained that he was speaking for his friend who owned the car because his English was better. Okay, fine with us. Then, once I realized it had black interior (imagine that in 120 degree summer heat!) we started to move on. This guy then said, wait, I have just decided to sell my car here tonight and it’s parked in back, come look. No, I’m not kidding and not exaggerating! So, we went, had a look, but his car also had black interior so no deal. He then proceeded to tell us that the guys in the front of the stores were all crooks and that his car was a really good deal. We said thanks and made our way back to the front. He was very nice and I think sincerely trying to help us out, but his wasn’t the car we were looking for. While we didn’t find a car that night, we did start to narrow down our choices and really took a liking to the Lexus IS 300 (and also realized that Mercedes was definitely out of our price range).
After that experience, we decided to find some bigger used car showrooms and see what that experience would be like. We ended up first at a new car Lexus dealer (mostly because we couldn’t find Abu Dhabi Motors) and were directed to Al Futtaim motors across town that handled their used inventory. As soon as we stepped in, it was like we were back in the states – desks around the perimeter of the showroom, bright shiny cars lined up in the middle, and right in front of us as we walked in was a Lexus IS 300. They were also offering free insurance for the first year, a one year service warranty and because they are a dealer, they would handle all the licensing and safety inspection logistics for us. And then came the bad news … they don’t negotiate their prices. Now, I know for most of you that would be a huge plus in their favor, but remember that Brian used to sell cars and his favorite thing about buying a new car is the fun he gets to have negotiating the final price. He was pretty disappointed. We looked at a 2008 model that was at the very top of our budget and then our salesperson said there was a pearl blue 2007 in Dubai more comfortably in our budget range and with fewer miles. He offered to have it driven to Abu Dhabi for us to take a look at. This worked out well as it gave us a few days to do a bit more research on the car and dubizzle to see how prices would compare.
And we did look at a similar car offered by someone through dubizzle, which was slightly cheaper, but ultimately, we decided the ease of free insurance and having the dealer handle the logistics of licensing the vehicle was worth the extra dhirams. So, we are now the proud owners of a 2007 Pearl Blue Lexus IS 300 and Brian is soooo happy he no longer has to ride the bus to work!!