Dubai: Buying a used car?
Is your budget under Dh10,000? If all you want is to get from Point A to Point B without generally breaking down, then go ahead and buy one of the infinite boxes on wheels that blight our roads.
But what if you are not the type to paddle around in transportation devices devoid of character? What if you are the type who (albeit with Dh10,000 in the pocket) dreams of a bona fide luxury barge which, when new, cost up to 30 times more, was engineered to last decades, and is still a viable proposition?
Fret not, help’s here.
In the UAE, we live in what might be described as a Disneyland for car lovers. The choices are endless. The trick is to do your research, and know exactly what you are looking for. If you approach individual sellers (common people like you and I, not the dealers), with respect for their time, a seriousness of purpose, and with money in hand, you’ll be surprised just how much they will be willing to go down from their original asking price.
Inspections and spare parts
Of course, you should get the car inspected before buying: The engine, chassis, transmission, A/C compressor, and the head gasket must be in acceptable working order; don’t buy if they are not.
The other bits can be replaced relatively cheaply thanks to the used spare parts heaven that is the Sharjah Industrial Area, where de-registered/totalled cars are broken down into a million parts, and all working parts are up for sale – at about a tenth of the dealer price for a new one.
Another option is new aftermarket spare parts made by companies other than the original manufacturer, which tend to be up to four times cheaper than the original (which in most cases might not be available at all if the car is very old).
So here’s a list of the top 5 used luxury cars you can buy for Dh10,000 or less:
Mercedes Benz S Class 300 SE, S320 (W140 Chassis)
The S Class is the gold standard when it comes to luxury cars. It’s the car of world leaders, captains of industry, movie stars, Premier League footballers, and big time gangsters.
But you are none of the above, and still desire an S Class. Then, the W140 S Class is the way to go.
It was launched in 1991, replacing the famous W126 S Class. The brief for the engineers was straightforward: Build the best car ever built. And they did just that; in fact, they went so overboard that dozens of them were fired later for insanely busting the budget. It was a technological marvel of innovation, with many features that would become standard in other cars years, or even decades later (climate control, self-closing doors, double-glazed windows for sound deadening etc). When new, the base model, 6 cylinder 300SE was the $78,000 (Dh286,500) – in 1991 money, not 2019!
You can buy one that’s in overall decent working condition, with between 150,000 to 300,000km on it for about Dh10,000. I should know; I got extra lucky and bought a 1993 one for Dh6,000. Have had to spend about Dh2,500 fixing some bits and bobs, but the car has never left me stranded in the 8 months and 11,000km that I’ve owned it. And it floats like a boat on the smooth tarmacs of Dubai!
Pro tip: Japanese specs
Look for ones that are ‘Japanese specs’, as the GCC specs W140s tend to have sky-high mileage. Japan has right-hand drive cars, but some Japanese consider it fashionable to own left-hand drive vehicles. So, instead of, say, buying a Mercedes in RHD from the local dealer in Tokyo or Osaka, they might import one directly from Germany, in LHD.
Used cars from Japan tend to be in very good condition given strict quality control and emission norms in the country, and low mileage as a result of expensive fuel and parking fees, and superb public transportation options. These cars later get exported to re-export hubs like Dubai, and it is here, in the Al Aweer car market, that many of the best examples can be found. But, the trick to get the best deal is not to buy from the market directly (as that brings you in contact with dealers and customs fees), but from those who have bought it from Al Aweer, registered it, and used it locally.
Lexus LS400 (1992 to 2000)
The Lexus LS400, the first car developed by Toyota’s luxury division, ranks in the list of the 10 greatest cars in the history of the automobile. It was made to rival the aforementioned W126 S Class just as Mercedes introduced the W140.
The build quality of the LS400 was extraordinary; the quality of the materials used, the smoothness of the drive were only surpassed in that era by the W140.
But the LS400 comes with that biggest USP of used cars: Reliability. Japanese cars in general, and Toyota in particular, have a well-earned reputation for making cars that last long, don’t break down, and are cheap and easy to fix on the rare occasions that they do. Simply put, even an averagely well-maintained LS400 is the most reliable luxury car that you can buy for less than Dh10,000.
- Check out used spare parts that are widely and cheaply available in the Sharjah Industrial Area
- A great way to narrow down is to look for cars with single or two owners
- In your Dh10,000 budget, leave some room for repairs and/or spare parts
Lexus spent a billion dollars (in late 80s money no less) developing the car; its team of world-class engineers spent months at a stretch in affluent cities in California, secretly studying the car-buying habits of wealthy Americans. Toyota figured, rightly, that if LS400 had to succeed in the world, it needed to first succeed in the all-important US market.
Since this is a Japanese car, you won’t find any in ‘Japanese specs’ that are in LHD; they were only sold in RHD locally. So your choices are GCC specs, and North American specs. Both tend to have huge mileages. But that is not a problem; YouTube is replete with videos of LS400 that have done more than one million miles (1.6 million km).
If you do buy a US import, ensure that the car comes from the southern and western states in America (Texas, Georgia, California, Arizona etc) as the climate conditions in northern US expose cars to a lot of rust.
BMW 3 Series E46 (1997 to 2006)
When you think of a BMW, you think of the 3 Series. And when you think of the 3 Series, you think of the E46. This model of the 3 Series was one of the biggest success stories for the German luxury giant.
The E46 is also one of the most reliable cars to come from the manufacturer, which is not known for making reliable cars. That said, a frequently occurring problem in every E46 with more than 160,000km (100,000 miles in US specs cars) is the water pump. It inevitably fails at this age, and replacement costs should be factored into your budget. While you are at it, it’s also a good idea replace the thermostat and fan clutch – cheap, preventive maintenance.
The benefit of an E46 is that it is economical to run; the petrol bills can be compared to that of a Toyota Corolla. Like almost all luxury cars, it is rear wheel drive, and also compact and sporty. The most fun is had in the 6 cylinder model (328i). The added advantage of buying one here is that there are loads of these that come in LHD in the desirable Japanese specs. Just go to Al Aweer!
And yes, there’s an entire alley in the Industrial Area dealing in nothing but used BMW spare parts.
Mercedes Benz E Class (1996 to 2002)
The Mercedes E Class (W210 chassis) is another excellent luxury car that you can pick up for less than Dh10,000. It is hard as nails; one of the most reliable models made by the company in recent history. Mercedes purists do not like the way the car looks; especially considering the dashing W124 it replaced. But that is one of the reasons the car is so cheap.
If you put looks aside (they are subjective, in any case), with its massive trunk and reliable engine, this car is perfect for family use and for daily driving. It was the first Mercedes to transition from boxy to curvy, a trend that started in the late 90s. The W210 is also popular in the station wagon (estate car) format, and comes with a back-facing third row seat. For those seeking Mercedes solidity with almost Japanese level reliability, the W210 is the car to go for.
For Dh5,000, you can pick up beat-up example. For Dh10,000, you get yourself a proper Mercedes. Again, the best W210 cars come from Japan. In the case of this car, it is advisable to buy directly from Al Aweer as those that have been bought from that market and used inside the UAE tend to be abused, and have very high mileage on them.
Used spare parts are widely and cheaply available in the aforementioned market in the Industrial Area.
Jaguar S-Type (1999 to 2008)
The sedate Jag, made famous in Sting’s ‘Desert Rose’, may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sold well in the UAE and there are still good examples that can be picked up for really low prices. What you get is old fashioned luxury in RWD and a retro design that was intended to replicate the legendary Mark II Jaguar of the 1960s.
The S-Type was introduced in 1999 and was in production until 2008. It was a success for the British manufacturer. The V8 is the fun model to buy but the regular 3.0 V6 Sport specification is a good, cheaper-to-run alternative. When buying, look out for the post-2004 models, as they are less unreliable than the others.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room: Reliability. No, Jaguar is definitely not known for making reliable cars. But that shouldn’t let that stop you; there’s a silver lining. Precisely because they are not very reliable, the resale value of Jags is not good.
You should be fairly OK as long as you look for a local, GCC model that has a full service history. Also, a great way to narrow down is to look for cars with single or two owners. It should not be difficult to find these, and you should do your best to buy them for Dh8,000 or less (not difficult) as that leaves you with two grand for repairs.