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Buying and selling cars in Dubai, UAE

Monday 18 February 2019 (UAE)   

Buying or selling a car in Dubai

Buying and selling cars in Dubai and the UAE - where to buy, how to check a used car, how to register a car and transfer ownership.

It is not advisable to accept a personal cheque as payment when selling your car. There are a number of reports of people losing their car and receiving no money as a result of the cheque bouncing.

Buying or selling your precious auto is always a fun process, and you'll enjoy it in Dubai as much as anywhere. Take a few posh cars for a test drive - you'll find second hand dealers a lot more willing to throw you the keys to a Mercedes or BMW than in many other countries. New car dealers are usually pretty good too as long as you look halfway sensible.

What follows are details of where to buy, how to buy, how to sell, how to register, etc. Remember that cars seem to age more quickly in the arid climate in Dubai and look old sooner than you might expect elsewhere. Maintenance tends to be fairly casual too, FSH (Full Service History) usually means the car had a service every now and then, and there's no record of it. At the end are a few suggestions to consider (it's not advice but just a couple of ideas to get you started on your car shopping adventure), and a few tips on what to look out for when shopping for a second hand car (it's not comprehensive, and it's no replacement for a proper test or check up by someone who knows what they're doing).

Selling a New Car

You may wonder about the heading here but it's not completely unheard of for private individuals to sell a new car - quite a few are given away as raffle prizes. You'll be offered a ridiculously low sum of money from a second hand dealer (or even the original dealer), and will probably do much better if you sell it through other means. A difficulty is that you can't test drive it unless you register it - which makes it second hand then.

Buying a New Car

A choice many new arrivals to Dubai shy away from but there are a number of things going for this option.

  • New cars are relatively cheap compared to many countries (probably not USA, NZ, or countries in Europe where cars are cheaper - France? Germany?)
  • A bank loan is often cheaper than you first expect and usually, most working expats have more disposable cash compared to previous country of residence.
  • New cars have some protection with the warranty.
  • Some come with service agreements or contracts included (eg 3 years or 100,000 km worth of servicing, not usually transferable when selling car).
  • You don't have to wonder if it's been looked after properly or not.
  • Usually you can choose your preferred color.
  • Often there'll be a good promotion on something close to what you want - especially unsold one year old models just before the new ones come out.
  • The downside is the loan (if you've opted for that) and the depreciation (insane, like anywhere).
New Car Dealers

There's usually only one dealer per car manufacturer due to the Sole Agency law in the UAE. So the lack of competition does mean you're stuck with that dealer for servicing if you want your warranty to remain valid. This applies to 2nd hand cars also if they're still under warranty. That law applies on a per emirate basis so you will find some automobile manufacturers with a different agent in different emirates. Some of the bigger car dealers in Dubai are:

  • AGMC - BMW
  • Al Futtaim - Lexus, Toyota
  • Al Ghandi Auto - Chevrolet (Dubai & Ras Al Khaimah, from January 2008, previously was Al Yousef Motors), GMC
  • Al Habtoor Motors - Aston Martin, Bentley, Mitsubishi
  • Al Majid Motors - Hyundai, Kia
  • Al Nabooda Automobiles - Audi, Porsche, Volkswagen
  • Al Rostamani Group - Citroen/Citroën (31 May 2010 agreement signed for all emirates)
  • Al Tayer Motors - Ferrari, Ford, Jaguar, Landrover, Lincoln, Mercury
  • Al Yousuf Motors - Chevrolet (changed to Al Ghandi in Dubai & RAK from Jan 2008), Daihatsu, Daewoo
  • Arabian Automobiles (Al Rostamani) - Nissan
  • Galadari - Mazda (used to have Ford also but Ford paid them a few million dollars to get out of the agency agreement in about 2001 or 2002).
  • Gargash - Alfa Romeo, Mercedes, Saab
  • Liberty Automobiles - Cadillac, Chevrolet, Hummer, Opel
  • Trading Enterprises - Chrysler, Dodge, Honda, Jeep, Volvo

It's possible to buy grey imports - new cars from second hand dealers at cheaper than new prices. Usually come from other Middle Eastern countries, sometimes further afield. Often advertised as "unwanted prizes". The difference is the grey import "unwanted prizes" might have warranty problems with the UAE agent, the real "unwanted prizes" won't.

Bank Loans for cars and automobiles
  • Most or all banks have some sort of car loan arrangement, easily set up if you have a regular salary and a residence visa.
  • A car loan means the car is owned by the bank - you can't sell it until paid off and get clearance letter from bank.
  • A personal loan means the car is owned by you. Interest rate is higher than for a car loan.
  • Normally banks will want three to six months bank statements, passport with resident visa, and salary certificate or letter from your company addresses to the bank. If you're getting a car loan then driving license also.

Buying a second hand car or used car

It's impossible to find one in Dubai now - they're all "pre-owned" instead. Makes them sound better than new right?

One thing (of many) to bear in mind is whether or not a car is built to "Middle East or Gulf specifications". A number of older cars have arrived in Dubai from other countries (used Mercedes from Europe for example) and have different specifications to new cars supplied to Gulf dealers. The main concern is the air conditioning and engine cooling system. Avoid if it's not Gulf specification, or at least find out how much it will cost you to upgrade it. This is less of a worry with newer cars. Keep reading for more useful tips...

Warning: Do not accept personal cheques as payment for selling your second hand car. There are a number of cases reported where the cheque has bounced and the cheque-writer could not be traced. For example ...

  • Gulf News 26 August 2010: A couple agreed to sell their 2007 Mercedes for AED 125,000 in August 2010. The purchaser met the couple at the Dubai Traffic Department to transfer registration, and then gave them a personal cheque which subsequently bounced. The couple were quoted saying that "He asked us to sit down and would not allow us to do anything as he went about getting the car passed, doing the Arabic paperwork for the car transfer and getting an export number plate," The report also said They filed a complaint with the Bur Dubai Police Station who told them that the Emirati had nine similar cases against him.
  • There are a couple of UAE car magazines that have classifieds - Wheels (free, weekly) and Auto Trader (weekly, 5 dhs, sold at service stations).
  • Al Awir used car market in Rashidiya - Ras Al Khor has car auctions a couple of times a week run by Golden Bell Auctions - www.goldenbellauctions.com. Lists prices paid at previous auctions so good to look through and get an idea of car values. Good luck.
Supermarket notice boards
  • It's somewhat quaint to arrive in Dubai and look for cars on a supermarket noticeboard but it's a popular way to buy and sell used cars.
  • Spinneys and Choithram's seem to be the best choices. Take the same precautions as you would anywhere when shopping privately for a used car.
Newspapers - classified advertisements

See next section for a list of newspaper and other online classifieds websites. See also Dubai newspapers.

  • 7 Days - limited
  • Emirates Today - replaced by Emirates Business 24-7, limited
  • Gulf News - has the largest selection and is probably your best choice.
  • Khaleej Times - some.
Online websites for car sales

Note these are listed for reference, that does not mean they are recommendations (unless comment says so).

  • www.autodealer.ae - claim to be the largest market place for cars, 4wds (4x4s), and bikes. Maybe. Many entries are often repeated.
  • www.automalluae.com - Al Futtaim automall website, or not? Information received November 2011 was that it was not Al Futtaim Automall website but the About Us page says "Al-Futtaim Automall is the Used Car Division of the Al-Futtaim Group ..." We're confused.
  • www.autosouk.com - good list on home page of cars for sale/wanted.
  • www.autotraderuae.com - online version of magazine of the same name. Clumsy navigation to for sale ads (14 May 2008).
  • www.cartrader24.com
  • dubai.craigslist.org - just started in the UAE in 2006, very popular overseas.
  • www.dubaiautozone.com - network error (14 May 2008)
  • www.dubizzle.com - popular online classified ads website
  • www.gnads4u.com - Gulf News dedicated classified ads site, not an online reproductive organ outlet
  • www.khaleejtimes.com - Khaleej Times classified ads (in alphabetical order)
  • www.starauto.com - slow loading
  • motors.souq.com - auto section of souq.com
  • www.uaemall.com - general auction site with vehicle section. Slow to load (14 May 2008).
Al Awir Used Car Market (or Al Aweer) - Dubai Municipality Used Cars Showroom Complex

The Al Aweer Used Car Market in the Ras Al Khor Industrial Area - a great place to look around and see everything from your most feared POS jalopy to exotic carriages you thought only existed in Jeremy Clarkson's imagination. But take a good dose of salt with everything you hear and Caveat Emptor should be painted on the windshield of every car there. Undoubtedly there are some good cars available but how are you going to recognise them from the questionable imports, the ones that have been clocked, the insurance write-offs welded together again, and so on? The market has a poor reputation and prices don't seem particularly cheap compared to other used car sources. Except for perhaps the auctioned cars.

The complex has over 100 dealers, a car registration department, insurance companies, and a branch of the Middle East Bank so you don't even need your own money.

Opening hours are 7:30 am to 2:00 pm and 4:30 pm to 11:00 pm Saturday to Thursday, maybe half day only on Thursday or Saturdays for some businesses. Showrooms and dealers might be also open Friday afternoons, but banks and government services (vehicle registration etc) are closed Fridays and possibly Saturdays. Note that some timings changed after 01 Sep 2006 when the government sector changed weekend working days from Thu-Fri to Fri-Sat.

Other used car dealers in Dubai

Is there any country in the world where used car dealers don't have a bad reputation? The answer is not Dubai or the UAE. And you have less comeback if there's a problem than you do in countries which have some degree of consumer protection (assume none in the UAE). Look at every car you buy on an "as is, where is" basis. The only realistic exception being ones that still have a manufacturer's warranty. There are second hand car warranties sold by Gulf Warranties which may give you some piece of mind but there's a long list of exceptions in what they cover, and check the fine print for servicing locations and frequency.

If you have an accident and it's attributable to a defect that the dealer should have known about and had rectified, the police may get involved. But that's a bit late if you're laid up in hospital as a result. You'd have a very difficult time getting a successful outcome anyway.

  • 4x4 Motors, near Dubai Airport - well known, large, they sell a lot of cars. Everyone seems to have a story about themselves or someone they know getting ripped off by 4x4. Which probably makes it about the same as a used car dealer anywhere else in the world.
  • Auto Plus, Sheikh Zayed Road tel +971-4-3395400, Al Wahda St (Sharjah) tel +971-6-5321122, www.autoplusdubai.com.
  • House Motors, Sheikh Zayed Road - seems to focus more on luxury cars (and the customers they think belong in them).
  • House of Cars - similar to 4x4.
  • Jumeirah Motors
  • Off Road Motors - similar to 4x4.
  • Western Autos - unknown opinion.
Registering a new or second hand car in Dubai

Information moved to car registration in Dubai procedure. Also includes information about:

  • Renewal of car registration in Dubai
  • Tasjeel offices and contact details
  • Registering a new car in Dubai
  • Importing and Exporting cars between emirates
  • Importing cars from overseas
  • Exporting cars from the UAE
  • Vehicle registration in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain (UAQ).
Car care and maintenance
  • Oil changes can be done quickly and cheaply while you wait at the many oil change places connected to petrol stations. Just check what your warranty obligations are, and make sure you get synthetic oil if that's what your car normally uses. Synthetic oil is expensive but regarded as better for your car although there's not much point in making a change from non-synthetic oil if you have an old car. About 100 dhs for normal oil & filter change, 300-500 for oil filter and synthetic oil change.
  • Tyre checking, balancing and wheel alignment can be done at similar places - usually they sell batteries too. You're unlikely to save much by going to a back street tire shop and there are many fake (unsafe) tires around - it's doubtful a shop on the premises of an EPPCO or ENOC petrol station would sell dodgy tyres or batteries.
  • Mechanical problems - you can get solved cheaply in one of the auto repair shops along the main road to Al Awir or in Satwa. Expect to get what you pay for. There are better, more expensive places around. If you're not sure, best idea is probably to go to main dealer (not guaranteed to be reliable but less of a risk than Mr-Very-Cheap-Mechanic-With-Only-A-Spanner-And-Two-Screwdrivers), at least until you find a good mechanic through word of mouth. Remember that cars under warranty will normally have to go to the main dealer.
  • For cosmetic care, petrol station car washes do a reasonably good job for about 20 dhs. Make sure you fold in the wing mirrors, remove or retract any aerials, and tape up rear window wipers.
  • For a good polish and tidy up of your car (eg prior to selling it), places like Sara Auto Care in Al Quoz, and Grand Service Station off Sheikh Zayed Road near Defense Roundabout [check - closed in 2014?] do a good job for 200-300 dhs (prices estimate may be old).
Suggestions when looking for a car to buy in Dubai
  • Buy a light colored automobile - black cars get unbelievably hot in the summer. There's a good reason why there are so many white cars in Dubai.
  • If you buy a leather interior and it's a dark colour, expect second-degree burns when it contacts bare flesh after sitting in the summer sun. Burns from pale colors shouldn't scar too much.
  • Most driving in Dubai will involve frequent stopping and starting on flat roads in straight lines, except for intersections. Many will say there's little point in getting a manual car. An automatic is less irritating in the traffic jams you'll be bound to get stuck in.
  • A large 4wd (often called "4-wheel" instead of a "4-wheel drive" in Dubai) guzzles petrol and doesn't stop. But it's true you'll feel less vulnerable, and there are times it is easier to take a short cut over a bit of sand, or park on a pile of dirt. Parking on curbs and pavements is also possible but you risk being charged 150 dhs by the parking wardens.
  • Window tinting is allowed up to 30% for foreigners or expats resident in Dubai. It makes the interior noticeably cooler. Cost is 50 to 100 dhs depending on quality.
  • Consider seriously a new or nearly new car (and a loan if you don't have cash). Otherwise go the other extreme and buy something very old and cheap - at least it won't surprise you if (or when) it falls apart although there are sometimes cheap reliable cars around. In order of likelihood of being reliable consider this list for old car purchases (top is most reliable), and remember that car parts for posh cars are still expensive even if the car is old.
    • Toyota
    • Other Japanese
    • Mercedes
    • Hyundai
    • Other Asian
    • Skoda/Volkswagen
    • The rest would rate as poor to very poor in this order: American/other German, British/French/Italian, anything else.
Test driving a car (especially an old banger)

Before you start the engine:

  • Look at the dipstick - oil should be clear. If you see any muddy grayish color, engine might have cracked head or blown gasket (both expensive to fix). If solid black or dark brown, it more likely means the owner hasn't it changed for a while (not good but not an immediate expensive repair).
  • Look at the water - if it's oily, same problem as above. If it's low - that indicates at least that maintenance is poor, worse could be an external water leak needing moderately expensive cooling system repairs or an internal water leak needing expensive engine and cooling system repairs.
  • Check other fluids that they're at correct levels. It won't tell you much about the mechanicals if they're not but it does mean someone has been negligent with maintenance.
  • Open and shut all doors gently. If they don't close properly, chassis or body may be bent which would usually mean the car has had a bad accident and/or a bad repair. It could also just mean the doors are out of line. You can't usually tell if the chassis or body is straight just by looking at it. If it does look bent to you, that means it is really really bent and will probably drive like a crab walks. Needless to say, don't buy it unless you just want something to decorate the garden with.
  • Look around the car for rust and obvious accident damage. You'll be unlikely to detect a good accident repair. Ask if there's been any crashes though, and be very skeptical if the answer is no - most cars in Dubai have had a ding or two in their lifetime. Look underneath the car for any obvious dents, damage to the chassis.
  • Also look at the ground and underneath the car for oil leaks. An oil leak is not necessarily a disaster - many older cars have them - but something to investigate.
  • Look at the service history. If it doesn't exist, you may be able to get some information by phoning the main dealer if you have number plate and/or chassis number.
  • Look at the tires for wear and damage (check the spare wheel also). Try and find the date - if they're older than 3 years, you probably won't be able to register the car since it's supposed to be illegal to have tyres older than 3 years. And there is a higher risk of blowouts on older tyres.
  • If the tyres are worn obviously unevenly, there's at least a problem with alignment (easy to fix) and possibly worse.

Start the car but don't drive it yet, just let it idle while you...

  • Check the a/c (air-conditioning) on a hot summer day, preferably when the car has sat in the sun for a while. See how long it takes for cool air to come through at idle (and how smoothly car idles while a/c on full load). It's important not to rev up the car - you're trying to strain the system, not make it easy.
  • If the a/c doesn't work well, it's expensive to fix. Many older cars might have a leaky a/c system but you can top up the gas cheaply. It will of course leak again over weeks/months/years - or seconds if the leaky component breaks. If you're testing an old car with good a/c, it's quite possible the owner has recently topped up a leaky system unless there are records of repairs. You cannot realistically drive a car without a/c from June to September. Really! Ask someone who lives in the UAE if you don't believe it. It is possible but uncomfortable to drive without a/c in April and October, and tolerable to pleasant from November to March.
  • Check every electrical button and switch and control you can find.
  • Lift the bonnet and listen to the motor, does it run smoothly? You may not have a clue the first time you do this but after listening to several cars, you will begin to hear occasional rattles and splutters. Secure your long hair, ties and jackets before poking your sticky beak under the bonnet near fan belts and other moving parts. There's also a trick with a big screwdriver that helps here but you'll need to find someone mechanical to show you - there's too much chance of burning or removing fingers to try and explain it here.
  • Look at exhaust while someone revs the car a bit (not a lot - it's unnecessary). Any smoke should be white/light grey and minimal. Blueish/gray/black smoke is not good. Put a tissue over the end. If any oil appears, that should worry you.

Driving the car (turn the stereo off so you can listen to the car)...

  • You should be trying to listen for unusual noises (something grinding or whining is usually much worse than something squeaking), and trying to detect any sort of wobbles, vibration, and roughness. Check while driving in a straight line, and around corners. Make sure you check with steering on full lock - in both directions and while moving. Any clonking sounds are cause for concern.
  • Drive in reverse gear for 100m or so to see what visibility is like (and to make sure reverse works smoothly). Back the car into a car park or driveway also to see how comfortable you are manouvering the vehicle.
  • Stop the car hard without holding the steering wheel - but be ready to grab it. It should stop in a straight line (check no one is behind you and warn passengers before doing this).
  • Don't test the handbrake by trying to drive off with it set - it's possible to snap a driveshaft if it works well.
  • Drive the car in all gears and change gears often to get a sense of how smooth it is. Jerky sloppy changes in an automatic are not a good sign. In a manual (think about how much time you'll spend exercising your left leg in Dubai traffic jams before buying a manual), jerky gear changes might indicate a problem with the gearbox, or just the driver trying to adapt to the clutch/gearchange combination - watch closely how the owner copes with it when driving. If the clutch takeup is jerky / sudden, that could be a good sign. It might mean there was a new clutch recently. If the takeup is near the top of the pedal travel and/or so smooth that you think it's an automatic, that's probably not a good sign. Replacement is moderately expensive, adjustment is cheap. Try to find out when it was last replaced. Clutches are good for 100,000+ kms under normal driving. Less than 10,000 kms if used badly or in the desert.
  • Similar comments apply to brakes. Soft spongy brakes and long pedal travel may mean the fluid is low, or pads almost worn out. Grabby brakes with little pedal travel are more likely to indicate reasonably new pads. Grinding noises under braking means you've got an expensive pad and disc replacement to do. Squeaking noises are an annoyance but unlikely to be serious - get it checked anyway.
  • If you detect a whining sound, it could be the differential and/or driveshaft (sometimes called propellor shaft) which is expensive to fix, or gearbox (or less likely the engine) which is also expensive. Or wheel bearings which are cheaper to fix. Or tire/tyre noise which probably means new tires. For cars over 5 years old, fixing a differential, gearbox, or engine is going to cost from a quarter to half of the value of the car, and possibly more than the car is worth if it is over 10 years old. Hence the popularity of cheap second hand motors in Sharjah (which you should think of in the same way as disposable lighters - they'll need to be replaced after a few months). If the whining noise has a continual change in pitch as you accelerate despite gear-changes, then it's in the bearings, drivetrain, or tires. If the whining noise pitch changes abruptly as you change gear, then it's probably in the gearbox (or maybe the engine).

Don't make a decision to buy based just on this checklist, it's not comprehensive or complete. And there's always the occasional devious seller who can disguise problems in such a way the checks above won't pick them up. Hopefully it's enough to get you started though.

Good luck and drive safely!

Last update Saturday 21-Jun-2014
Related pages
Related websites (new window)
  • www.assayyarat.com - Arabic portal for car discussion and information.
  • www.ducamz.co.ae - Dubai Cars and Automotive Zone free zone set up for re-export of vehicles to Africa and Asia, managed by JAFZA. Website not available (21 Apr 2014), try www.ducamz.ae.
  • www.evolve.ae - aftermarket performance and styling products and information, has a useful car discussion forum.


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