I don’t like my car hot – in any sense of the term

“Your registration cannot be renewed,” said the policeman based at the RTA. “This car is stolen property.” I was winded, especially as I had paid for the car at that very counter a few years earlier. Turns out the car had been stolen from Canada and was now on the Interpol list.

That was three years ago. Now that I’d had a hot car, I decided to play things safe by renting one on a long-term contract, with zero mechanical issues, servicing, insurance payments, salik top-up or any legalities for me to deal with. All I had to do was fill it up and go.

The contract has just come to an end, and the suggestion that I buy the vehicle had me chasing them and then silly money being proposed – even after the rental company’s cheeky rates, my three-year-old car was going to cost me a mere couple of hundred dirhams less than a brand new one each month.

So now I am back in the market for a car, and a few days ago I was surrounded by vehicles that would get most palates in the UAE dripping. Not mine. My choice is basic and durable, and ticks a few functional boxes – along the lines of one chief executive I know.

The head of a big corporation based in the UAE drives a somewhat clapped-out 4×4 because his bike is on the back most mornings, and air is let out of the tyres in preparation to find camp most weekends when it’s cooler. He’s got it right. And no, he doesn’t have a second plush car.

After a house, a car is usually the most expensive thing any of us will buy, and I am lamenting the amount of cash lit up and burnt along with the exhaust fumes of the many machines that I have had over my lifetime. These include beauties such as a Lancia Delta and an Alfa Romeo GTV – both collector’s cars and old, and yes, gorgeous.

I bet you didn’t think me a past boy-racer type did you? I wasn’t – not really. My daily commute was on a moped or using pedal power.

Thankfully, a more sane head is screwed firmly in place here in the UAE. All I care is that the car I am in is safe, functional, comfortable and can cope with what it will be driven over.

With times being financially tight for many, I’d assume more people think like this, but when my keys jangled in public a few days ago, I got the distinct feeling that those who turned to look were figuring out what car I drove – as though that was a measure of a person. Silly.

Here’s my car checklist:

Sturdy, 4×4 because of my lifestyle, cheap(er) to maintain and fix, not a guzzler, good resale value, has a warranty, and comes checked and with a guarantee of its clean history.

And here are the things I learnt while hounding sales people with questions:

• White and silver are best. They are most in-demand and hold value because they are cooler – reflecting rather than absorbing heat as black does (and guess who has had a black car for the past three years now) – and stay cleaner longer.

•Toyota – the so-called Abu Shanab (the bearded one) because of the shape on the front bonnet – holds it value and ticks my boxes.

• Buy second-hand from a dealer that gives warranties. Better still, look for an extended warranty that comes courtesy of the previous owner.

This last point is quite important – three years ago, when the Interpol issue sank in, I spoke with the police to ask whether I could sell my impounded four-wheel drive for scrap at the very least. They eventually agreed – and told me that they had a file “this big”, which looked like 8 centimetres – indicating the amount of papers in the stolen car folder. So you too could be a victim if you’ve bought second hand – the cars don’t get put on international lists for months or years after the event sometimes.

I lost a pretty penny on the stolen one . I don’t know what more I could have done to ensure that I wasn’t buying a dud. The mechanics had been checked, and I had gone with the seller to the police desk at the RTA centre. The seller was known to someone known to me, and I don’t believe he knew he had been in possession of stolen goods – I think.

Alas. Sometimes, stuff happens.

Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website cashy.me. You can reach her at nima@cashy.me and find her on Twiiter at @nimaabuwardeh


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