As a newly arrived expatriate living in Dubai, by now you will have realised that nothing is ever quite as simple as it appears on the surface – and buying a car in Dubai is really no exception.
Yes, cars are cheap in the UAE compared to their list price in the UK or the US. Yes, fuel and maintenance costs are also far more affordable, and yes, there are many new and used car dealerships in Dubai offering you plenty of choices.
But that’s where the simplicity of the operation ends. If you’re in the market for a vehicle, this guide to ‘how to buy a car in Dubai’ should help save you time and stress when it comes to understanding the intricacies of the purchase, insurance and registration processes.
First things first, do you have a residence visa for Dubai? If you do not then you cannot buy a car and you can stop reading this article until you have your residence visa in place.
If you have managed to get all that paperwork sorted and you’re officially a resident, your next choice is ‘new or used’ when it comes to your vehicle of choice.
Buying a car in Dubai: new or used?
New cars are cheap, used cars are of course cheaper – and in some cases an awful lot cheaper. Because the turnover of expats is quite high and in some cases swift, you will find that there are some real bargains to be bagged when it comes to nearly new cars.
If you want new then there are plenty of dealers carrying the major Japanese and US brands for example, and because the cost of a car can be up to a third of the cost that you would pay for a similar vehicle in the UK, most people get excited when they realise they can ‘easily’ afford something pretty swish.
But if you can just put your dreams of new wheels on hold for a moment, allow us to explain why you may get even more for your money in relative terms, if you buy a used car.
All expats in Dubai have a car – or so it seems – and these expats, well they come and they go, and when they go some of them leave with minimal notice and are so keen to offload their car that they sell it for a really bargain price.
Look on supermarket notice boards, in online forums, in the local newspapers and if your company has an intranet, look on there too! Put the word out with friends and colleagues that you want a car as well, and soon you’ll have more choices than you know what to do with.
Alternatively, if all this seems like too much hassle, you can just pop down to 4×4 Motors on Sheikh Zayed Road for example, and peruse their second-hand stock.
Other good used car centres to consider are the Al Futtaim Automall or just head for the Al Awir complex.
Buying a car at an auction in Dubai
You can also buy used cars at auction in Dubai – and Al Awir is home to one of the largest auction houses, Golden Bell Auctions.
The good thing about auctions is that all cars have had to have undergone a vehicle check and you can register the purchase there and then at the onsite Traffic Department office.
The bad thing is that it’s a case of buyer beware as you have no warranty or guarantee so you should really take someone with you who knows about cars before you begin bidding.
That actually goes for all second-hand cars, because even at the garages that offer you a limited warranty and/or an exchange grace period, you are better off making sure the car is all it is billed to be before you hand over any cold hard cash for the purchase.
Financing your car purchase
Some new and used car dealerships offer you financing if you can’t buy a car for cash. The deals are arranged with their preferred bank but you may find you can get a better rate on a loan from your own bank.
So look into financing carefully, and if you do take on finance from a car company they may want you to present them with a handful of forward-dated cheques to cover each payment (what do you mean ‘why don’t they set up a direct debit’).
Remember what we said in a previous article about rules and laws in Dubai where we highlighted the fact that bouncing cheques is a criminal offence that can land you in a lot of trouble. If you do take this method of giving cheques upfront, make sure each will clear when the time comes.
Transferring the ownership of the vehicle
If you purchase a second-hand car you will need to transfer the ownership of the vehicle.
To do so, you and the previous owner have to go to the Traffic Police and fill in an application form as well as presenting the registration card for the car, an insurance certificate, any information from a previous finance company saying there is no outstanding debt and the car’s license plates.
You’ll pay about Dhs20 and both you and the vendor should have your passports and residence permits and copies of both with you.
Car insurance in Dubai
To get the insurance you just need normal information about the car such as make, model, chassis number and so on.
As with most countries, there is no end of insurers to choose from. You will most likely be guided on price or personal recommendation – but remember to check who will be covered by the policy to drive the vehicle as sometimes female spouses are not included.
Make sure you go for full compensation with personal accident insurance included.
Car registration in Dubai
With insurance in place, you can register the car. This has to be done every year, and for every month you’re late with re-registration beyond a one-month grace period, you will be fined.
If you’re buying a new car your dealer should help with registration, also many second-hand dealerships will assist you too. But if you’re buying directly from a vendor here’s what you need to know.
Cars over 2 years old have to first be tested before they can be registered, there’s a testing centre at Ras al Khor for example, or if you choose Emarat or EPPCO, for a fee they’ll actually pick your car up, test it, register it and return it to you – all hassle-free.
You will need to take with you your valid insurance certificate, registration card, purchase agreement and vehicle transfer documents if applicable. You will need to pay for the registration in cash, but before you do so, any outstanding traffic fines against the vehicle will be detailed and you’ll have to pay them.
And finally, as is almost always the case in Dubai, there are those who will take the hassle out of the whole process for you. Look around for companies such as AAA offering registration services – their fees are tiny compared to the amount of time and stress they will save you.