This comprehensive used car buying guide covers the complete spectrum from the day you first thought of buying a used car till the day you bring that car home.
It is designed with clear headlines in a sequential manner so that you can jump to any stage with a quick scroll. We have spent a lot of time and effort in compiling this used car buying guide based on several senior members, experts, mechanics, and technicians advice with their years of experience in buying a used cars, fixing them, and spotting the dodgy repair work.
I hope this wealth of knowledge helps you and your family in driving a safer car eventually.
1. Research and prepare your budget
If you want to be successful in picking up that perfect deal, you will first need to build a target list of used cars that you are looking for. If you aren't sure about what you want, then check these 7 Car types you should know before buying. Once you have chosen the car(s) that you want to purchase, do some research online and try to find the model/year that suits your budget.
Whichever car you shortlist, the very first step you need to check if that car's year model has any recalls safety alerts and bulletin. You can check most of the GCC vehicle recalls, safety alerts and TSB here, and also you can search all newspaper websites one by one for recalls verified by the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Economy.
You should check the theoretical fuel consumption of the car with the distance you travel every month to factor in your fuel estimate. Be prepared that based on your driving style, this could be at least 15-20% higher. If fuel cost is a concern for you, then you can check 30 Fuel Saving Tips For Saving Over 30 Percent On Fuel Cost called Hypermile: Extreme Energy Efficient Driving.
Apart from the car cost and fuel consumption, there are a few more costs involved that you need to know before making up your mind about which impact the Real cost of car ownership.
Once you select your car based on your needs, research, and liking, it's always advisable to take a second opinion from a genuine car expert or a person who has owned a similar car in carnity car forums.
Look how Avinash took the real good advantage of discussing his car buying need with unbiased car experts and owners and finally changed his mind from buying a Jeep Wrangler TJ to Nissan Xterra. The people who have owned a similar vehicle are the best persons to advise instead of your social friends, family, or salesperson at a car dealership.
Buying a used car will probably mean that it needs some attention to bring it back to the condition that you really want. Consider replacing tires, having the full maintenance done, and bringing in the car for detailing and polishing will add to your total expenditure, so be prepared when setting your budget.
When going for luxury cars like BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche, be prepared to put aside a bit more than if you’d buy a Japanese or US car. Maintenance and parts on luxury cars cost a lot more. Same way when considering a 4x4, there are more parts involved and higher fuel consumption you need to factor too.
To have some guidelines on your budget, check these 3 Key factors for assigning next car budget.
2. Where to search and how to proceed
Without any doubt, it is always recommended to buy a used car from a car owner than any car dealer or private seller as a middleman. The reason is that you will be able to have a clear understanding of the car’s history, and reason for selling, and as there are no other parties involved, both will get the most benefit from the deal.
Always prefer Car Classifieds that have real car owners used cars and not from the car dealers. If you search car classified sites, always make sure to filter the ads from the car owner. Also, be careful because many so-called private sellers are in fact dealers on most of the car classifieds websites. If you don't see the seller's name on the car registration card or hear a story that I am helping my friend/brother then 90% chances are of a middleman acting as a private seller. You can find 5 Best places to buy clean used cars at good price here.
The major problem with car dealers or the middlemen is that they are flipping cars for business and if the car has no service history records then it must have gone under a lot of compromised repair or quick fix recently. This sub-standard repair or cost-cutting will cost you dearly in the first 6 months of ownership.
UAE has many used car dealerships, the Ras Al Khor auto market in Dubai is enormous, Mussafah in Abu Dhabi, Abu Shagara and Souq al haraj in Sharjah are a few of the big and famous used car markets here in UAE. Be very careful when buying a car from a dealer or auto market. The inspection steps mentioned below are to be followed even more rigorously to avoid ending up with an imported or salvaged lemon!
Once you found a good prospective vehicle, don’t immediately jump to view the car, but call the seller or dealer first to make sure if it is still available. At the same time, you can go through the first basic questions like why the car is being sold, if it’s still available, how long it has been up for sale, and if it had any unmentioned issues or accidents in the past.
Do not discuss the prices on the phone yet. Keep that for when you are face to face with the seller and once you have fully assessed the car’s condition. The reason for not discussing or negotiating the car price on the phone will set you aside as a real buyer as 90% of car dealer phone call starts with "what's the last price?" which is pretty sad and painful for any car seller that buyer wants to knock down 50% of asking value without even looking at the car or its condition. So with this strategy, you will have a better head start compared to other viewers and this approach might help you know a lot more about car history when the owner is at ease and not furious with bargain hunters.
When you set up an appointment to view the car, make a preference to see the car in daylight hours. If it's not possible, then bring a good torchlight and ask the seller to head to any fuel station. This will help you in assessing the paint and bodywork.
3. Seeing the car and service history
Once you go and see the car that you have prospected, it is very normal to be excited. But please do not ever show this to the seller, as you would give him the signal that you REALLY want the car, and that puts him at the competitive edge in the upcoming discussion about the price. Keep a poker face, stay friendly, and stick to the facts. Do not disclose too much information on why you are interested in this type of car. The less the seller knows about you, the less ammunition he has that he would use to ask for higher prices.
It is ALWAYS recommended to bring a friend on the visit, he might see things that you don’t see. If that friend is a bit technically inclined, or even a mechanic, all the better!
The car's mileage should represent what the seller tells you. While in theory, it is always better to have a car with low mileage, this depends on how the car was maintained and driven. Many high mileage cars are sometimes in better condition than that low mileage driven cars that have been standing still for years or are poorly maintained!
Ideally, the car should have complete service history, preferably from the dealership or a reputable garage. If nothing is available, walk away from this vehicle or buy it at your own risk if you are technically inclined. This should ring alarm bells!
Verify if the car is GCC specs or not. A GCC car will have the metal sticker on the driver sill containing vehicle info and has Arabic written on it then which means it is GCC specs. It is recommended to go for GCC specs vehicles in the UAE or GCC countries, but you’ll also find plenty of American and Japanese imports that will be a lot cheaper. Buying a non-GCC car is a big risk as most of these cars have been written off (accidental), stolen, or have unknown damages or issues.
Ask for the previous RTA inspection documents and valid insurance and registration card to avoid problems when doing the official handover in the RTA offices. Check the mileages mentioned on the documents to see what the yearly increment was and whether it is in line with the current mileage of the car.
If the car is on a loan or lease, the seller will need to settle that first otherwise transfer of ownership cannot take place. Ask him to check with his/her bank for the procedure and timeline required.
Check for recent repairs and verify if the maintenance schedules were properly followed. Check when the next big maintenance is coming up, as that might include expensive parts like timing belts and suspension parts. Those are quite expensive maintenance jobs and if they are almost due, you should reduce the asking price accordingly.
A VIN Number is an international Standard code on every vehicle. On most cars, you will find it on the dashboard driver's side. When cars are written off by the insurance due to a heavy accident or flooding, it will appear in the International VIN Database. For imported vehicles, you can use a website like carvertical.com that allows you to enter the VIN code and for a small payment receive a full report on the car.
For checking the accident records inside the UAE, there are the following options:
4. Exterior and bodywork inspection
As mentioned, make sure you see the car in daylight, or if not possible, bring a torch with you and ask the seller to put the car underneath the streetlights or at a fuel station.
Dodgy paint job
A good way to tell if a certain car has been involved in an accident is to check for signs that it has been repainted and the way to do that, is to look at the reflection of the paint. The surface may look clear and smooth when viewed straight on, but sit by the side of the car and you may spot some unevenness or wavy lines with dips. If you do, there’s a good chance that the car has got a body repair job after the accident. Walk around the car and see if the color on all the panels matches — if it doesn’t then you know some patchwork has been done too to the car.
Many cars that are 6 years and older, will have some scratches left and right. That is perfectly normal and does not mean the car is not worth buying. If the scratches are small, a decent polishing job can hide them again, and you can use it to push down the price a little bit.
When the doors, boot and bonnet are closed they ought to be perfectly flush with other panels. If the alignment isn’t right, it could be a sign that the car has been involved in an accident. Similarly, the front and rear bumper should fit straight but if you notice it’s at a slight angle or the gap between left and right doesn't match, chances are high that the car had an impact. Open and close all the doors once, there should be no rattles and they should align perfectly.
Check the tyres
Get your hands on your knees and give the tyres a good close look. If the tread seems uneven, it could be because of a misaligned wheel or even possibly caused by damage to the chassis. While you are down there it’d be a good idea to have a good look at the underbody and the wheel wells – if you see a fresh application of a rubberized undercoat it could be because of recent structural repairs and this was a quick way to cover that up.
Inspect the windshield for cracks. Even the smallest crack can suddenly cause a complete crack a few weeks or months later. If the crack is smaller than a coin, there are companies that can repair it and make it structurally intact again, so it does not crack in the future. Inspect the windshield rubbers too, many cars that have been parked in the bright sun for a long time might have dried up windshield rubbers.
Most modern cars now have plastic headlights, which become yellow after long exposure to UV radiation (in sun). When they become too hazy, RTA will make note of that and might not pass the car. If both headlights do not have a similar level of haze, then either the headlights were replaced after an accident, or the careful owner got them polished (and that means the owner is a bit perfectionist 😊), or kept the car in the shade at all times.
Try to look under the car and see if there are any noticeable damages to the chassis. You can spot the recent damage by seeing the color differences on the repaired areas compared with the original paint. For older chassis damage you'll need to consult the proper technician who can check the chassis with computer alignment, including RTA Tasjeel selected branches.
Have a look underneath the car's engine bay and sides to search for any wet markings of oil drops or pools of oil. Minor few drops or stains are acceptable to some extent if they are occasional, but regular drops or a pool of oil or any other fluid will require an immediate checkup!
Clearwater dripping when the car is on = AC condensation - nothing to worry about.
Clearwater droplets coming out from the exhaust = it's a sign of a healthy engine.
Front side underneath - golden or brown oil = Engine Oil leaking - Immediate check needed.
Front side underneath - green or red water-based fluid = Engine Coolant leaking - Immediate check needed.
Under front driver or passenger side - red or brown oil = Gear Oil leaking - Immediate check needed.
5. Interior and minor detailing
When entering the car, you might be either put off by the mess, or pleasantly surprised about the cleanliness. Both are possible impressions and be careful not to make an early judgment. Car dealers will get the interior professionally cleaned by third-party companies, so it looks super clean. When buying from a private owner you would hope that he shows you the car in a clean external and internal condition. If not, then better to walk away from a dirty interior car, which is expensive to restore.
If you notice that the dash light, or the power windows or indeed other electronical equipment doesn’t seem to be working right, it could be a sign of flood damage. Too many air fresheners in the cabin should sound the alarm bells – is the owner trying to cover up any damp smells caused by water damage?
Visual signs of aging
A car interior should match the km driven even if the car has a full service history.
For cars with mileage below 50,000 km, you shouldn’t be seeing any broken knobs, faded buttons, worn-out brake or accelerator rubber, or loose and shaky gear levers.
Car seats should not have too much play when you sit.
Pull the seat belt out and see how smoothly it rolls back, if it doesn’t or gets stuck halfway then either car is accidental or driven over 100,000 km.
Look on the driver's door sill, to spot any fuel station service oil change stickers to contradict the full-service history.
Not all dashboard warning lights are serious, the one in yellow is an indication and orange is a warning and red is the problem. Still all lights are having different meanings for different brands, so worth checking further with the owner’s manual what any existing light points to and then decide to make a purchase.
Try all functionalities such as an electric folding roof, electric seats, lights, indicators, radio, fans, and others before starting the car. Listen for squeaky noises or rattles.
6. Test drive, warning light and feedback
Finally, the time has come to start the engine and focus on how the car drives and behaves on the road.
The engine should start with a single crank and have a stable RPM after a first 15-30 seconds of warming up. Any dancing rpm is a sign of an engine that's not in good health. Although it might not be a big concern or issue, you should know that it will require some tune-up or minor repair work for changing spark plugs, coils, HT leads, etc. in the very near future.
In idle, when you hit the gas, the engine response should be instant without any lag, unless it’s a turbo engine that has turbo kicking lag (not engine lag).
NO check engine light on the dashboard is acceptable. Period.
Use your nose. Do you smell gas, burning oil, or anything amiss?
If you hear a loud ticking noise from the engine bay (engine head), there might be a problem with the valve lifters inside the engine head. Some cars are known to be prone to this, but have it checked by a skilled mechanic before you decide to buy as it could be a more serious and very expensive repair.
Hitting the wide-open road:
Start off with giving the car enough time to warm up. During that time you can keep the windows open and listen for abnormal noises as the revs slowly dropdown.
Once on the highway, drive it at 120 km/h for at least 5-10 minutes. Listen for wind noises as this could mean the door panels or rubbers do not match up.
How are the brakes? Are they doing the job of stopping the car? Do they squeak? If while braking there is a shudder, brake rotors might need to be replaced.
Is the steering wheel centered, and does the car goes straight when releasing the steering wheel? Might need an alignment.
Does the steering go smooth? If not, then the servo pump might be defective.
Transmission and Drive train:
In an automatic gearbox, ideally, a gearshift should not be noticeable. The best to pay attention is from the 1st to 2nd gear shift and see how smoothly it shifts. As in any aging gearbox that is the first starting point to show little to moderate jerk while shifting. Minor jerk could be because of stale oil and filter that is manageable but worth getting it checked further with the proper technician.
In a manual gearbox, the firmer the gear lever shifts the better it is. Loose or soft shifting gear lever needs further inspection. Try to shift gears manually as fast as you can and see how the engine, clutch, and gear respond to your fast movement: If you see any hesitation or delay in engine response in fast-shifting need to be further diagnosed. If the clutch pedal feels loose or spongy, then you might be having a worn clutch that will soon need to be replaced.
At an extremely slow speed (in a quiet area), pay attention to any rubbing, grinding, and metal shaking noise. It usually shows when a drivetrain has some issue from the driveshaft or loses couplings often resulting in humming or vibrations or low-speed rattling. Go slowly over the speed bumps and listen carefully.
Try all gears, including the reverse gear.
If the car is a 4X4, pay extra attention to the transfer box, and try all settings (2H, 4H, 4L). If any blinking lights appear when changing the settings, this could mean mechanical problems, but could also be an easy fix like a sensor or vacuum solenoid. Get it verified by a skilled mechanic in that case.
7. Close the deal and register
Does the idea of "talking numbers" fill you with dread? It shouldn't. Negotiating doesn't have to be a traumatic experience. If you are reasonable and have a plan, chances are you can make a deal pretty quickly and easily:
Decide ahead of time how much you're willing to spend to get the car. But don't start with this number in your discussion.
Make an opening offer that is lower than your maximum price, but in the ballpark based on your average price research. If you and the seller arrive at a price that sounds good to you and is near the average price paid, you're probably in good shape.
And remember, the people on the other side probably hate negotiating too (even if it's their job).
Transferring ownership in UAE is easy, thanks to the RTA Tasjeel inspection centers. Some are even open 24/7 so you can meet up with the seller in the center to get all the paperwork done. Be careful with the insurance sellers in these offices. Prices will be significantly higher than if you enquire in advance at a regular insurance company.
When you buy from the Ras Al Khor auto market, there is an RTA center on site so you can quickly settle the deal.
When the car passes the RTA inspection, this does not necessarily mean that the car is in perfect condition. It merely means that the vehicle has no serious structural damage and is considered "roadworthy" by them.