Buying a 4×4 in Abu Dhabi Emirate (Updated October 2017)

This blog has specific information on buying an offroad vehicle in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  However if you are purchasing a 2WD car in any emirate of the UAE you might find some useful info here.

A long time ago now - the day I took delivery of my SWB patrol!

A long time ago now – the day I took delivery of my SWB patrol!

Can I buy a car the day I arrive?

In a word, no.  Well you can buy it but you cannot register it or drive it!

It is possible to rent a vehicle upon arrival in the UAE and many nationalities are able to drive it on their own home licence until they have the residency visa stamped in their passport. Once the visa is stamped you MUST NOT drive on your home licence as your car insurance will be invalid if you do. Instead “exchange” your home country licence for a UAE one (not all nationalities are eligible for this – check that your country is on the list here.) The validity is 5 years.

Once you have your driving licence (which also requires an Emirates ID – part of the residency process) you can register a vehicle in your own name.  If you are sponsoring your family then they can also register cars in their names.

Finding your car

I heard of someone who went out and bought a brand new Toyota Sequoia to take to the desert.  Unfortunately, many clubs, including Oasis Offroad, will not accept these on their trips as they are a) too low b) too heavy c) ideal for camping but not for dune bashing.  So if you plan taking up dune bashing during your time in the UAE or Oman, please try to go out with a club as a passenger so you can see what their drivers have and to see how they perform in the sand.  This will help you make an informed choice which you are more likely to enjoy owning!  (If you’re interested in my favourite offroad cars, have a look here).

Most dealers have large stocks of new cars and in most cases you can take delivery pretty quickly.

There are many second hand dealers around and we have bought cars this way, negotiate hard on the price though and do not hand over the cash balance until they have had the vehicle tested at the registration centre. (see below).

Dubizzle is worth a look for second hand cars – if you are a western expat then try to buy from one!  Many expats leave the gulf in June so there are many great cars up for sale in April-June, and prices are generally lower at this time of year as supply exceeds demand.

New car vs second hand car

New cars carry a premium price worldwide – if you can find a good second hand model then you may save a lot of cash.  However, bank loans are cheaper for new cars, so if you are borrowing to fund your purchase then it might be time to get out the calculator!

Second hand cars may be in immaculate condition or they may have been thrashed to death. As in any country, CAVEAT EMPTOR (buyer beware).  If you know what you are looking for then it is possible to find a very good vehicle, and it’s a good idea to have it checked over by a trustworthy mechanic before committing.

If people advertise “only used offroad once” then ask yourself firstly if they are telling the truth and if they are then why only once – did some of the family get carsick, did the car under-perform in the desert or did they have an offroad accident with it?  That being said, Dubai is an image conscious city and it is often possible to pick up a big sexy good offroading car from there which has never seen the desert!

Old car vs newer second hand car

The main benefit of buying an old vehicle is initial outlay, however they will require more maintenance than newer models.  For the offroader, older cars can be very good – some models such as the Nissan Pathfinder and Jeep Cherokee have morphed into “softroaders” over the years and lack the clearance, chunky build and simple mechanics of the old models. (Simple mechanics and lack of electronics can be a good thing when you’re in the desert!)


The best type and make of tyre leads to many heated debates – there is not one tyre that is perfect for every car, driving style and terrain.  Make sure the tyres on your second hand purchase are newer than 2  years old as they will fail the next registration if they are older.  You can tell the date of manufacture by a four digit code on the sidewall – read more about tyre markings here.

There are two distinctly different tyre types commonly used for offroading.  M/S refers to mud and snow and these have a deep aggressive tread which is ideal for wadis and wet sabkhas but dig into the sand particularly if the driver has a “heavy foot”.  The other category are ATR – all terrains – and these generally “float” over the sand, however many have relatively soft sidewalls so they have a short life if you do a lot of rock crawling and wadis.  We run Pirelli Scorpion ATRs on both our Patrols, deflating them to 12.5psi on the sand- they are quiet and hold well on the road too.

Checking for accidents

The UAE and Oman have a very high accident rate – not all are serious though, many are fender benders from people not keeping enough distance or not paying adequate attention.  Get the chassis number of the car of your desires and check out if it’s been in an accident here.

Offroad driving causes more damage than road driving and it’s worth checking under the car to ensure that there the engine, axles, transmission are in good condition externally.  Wise owners have a “bash plate” fitted to their vehicles before they take it offroad and thus the engine and radiator are protected.


Financing your purchase

If you are buying your car from a dealer then they will be only too happy to arrange finance – however you should check the rate and the total amount to be paid against the deals you get from banks.

You can finance a car through a bank, dependent on earnings and status, with either a car loan (mortgage) or a personal loan.  Personal loans are more expensive but the benefit is that the vehicle is completely yours from day one – if the car is mortgaged then this is mentioned on the registration card.

If you are buying from a private buyer or a small garage, the bank will require the car to be inspected and valued at a garage of their choice before granting the loan.  This will cost you around 250aed.

If your employment comes to an unexpected end, any loans will have to be cleared before you are allowed to exit the country.  If your end of service benefit is sufficient, the bank will take the money from that.  If not, then you have a problem – google “uae debt, loan etc” so you can understand the situation before you commit.

Insuring your car

See here

Buying a car with outstanding finance

As mentioned above, the vehicle registration card will mention (in arabic) if a loan is outstanding.  If your seller owes money on the car then it cannot be transferred until the loan is cleared, and how this happens is a matter of trust between you and the seller.  I have heard of buyers paying off the loan, which allows the car owner to get a clearance certificate from the bank, which must be taken along to the registration centre at the time of transfer.  To avoid being ripped off, you should ask for a current dated cheque made payable to yourself for the amount of the loan.  If the seller – and the car – disappears then you can bank the cheque.  If it bounces you can raise a Police case against them – assuming they are still in the country, that is.

Buying a car from another emirate

This adds another stage to the process but it is not too daunting if you know what you are doing.

Go to Dubai with the cash.  Meet the seller at the registration station, have the car “tested for export” and once completed the seller deregisters the car and removes the numberplates.  Then hire a recovery truck (there are often some standing by at the testing station) and they will transport it to a testing station in AD emirate.  You then need to have it tested and registered (see below).

Registering your car

All vehicles have to have a visual/brake/suspension/emissions test prior to registration.  This is required annually for vehicles 3 years old or more and takes place at one of the Licensing centres.  A few years back there were only one or two located in major population centres which meant long queues but now a few large ADNOC petrol stations have them attached which has speeded up the process considerably.

The seller pays the fee of 160aed, drives his/your car in, and the tester will check it and he will collect it at the other end of the line.  A test certificate will be issued, stamped with “pass” or “fail”; if it’s a fail then the items needing attention will be detailed.  Note – the certificate is valid for 28 days so sometimes a seller will go and have the vehicle tested in advance of the transfer, which means they can take care of any work before the changeover day.

Sometimes vehicles will pass as far as mechanics and safety is concerned but will fail for certain modifications.  Aftermarket performance mods are illegal here and the car will almost certainly fail the test.  Metal bumpers, unless original specification (jeep TJ etc) will likely fail as well as winches protruding from the front of the vehicle, driving lights, stickers and many more items which may change from time to time.

Once the seller has the vehicle successfully tested, then you both go to the office where you hand over your ID card or your driving licence, your insurance certificate and sometimes an NOC from your employer.  The car will then be registered in your name and your next task is to go to the (attached) licence plate office where they will fit the plates to your car.

Mabrook!  You’re a car owner, safe journey!

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