Looking to buy a used car? Here's everything you need to know

Notes to help cut through the confusion of what to keep in mind when buying a second-hand vehicle

By George Kuruvilla

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Published: Thu 11 May 2023, 7:04 PM

For as long as there have been cars, there has been a used car market. It caters to a variety of buyers — from utility-based users to those who aspire to own luxury vehicles but can’t afford them at retail rates. It also flies well with those who know how economic models and price markups work; and those who know that a well-maintained used vehicle is a simpler and, arguably, better solution to the ‘sustainability’ question.

But considering the amount of money to be spent, the fear of buying a lemon, and the lifestyle changes that come with it, buying a preloved vehicle can be a daunting task. But we are here to flatten out those rolling hills of anxiety by listing out what used vehicle to get and how to get one that satisfies your needs.

Stick to the plan

When shopping for a vehicle at the Al Aweer car markets or online, it is not uncommon to get sidetracked by the numerous fancy and expensive rides that are on display. But it is important to keep your mind on the objective, which is finding a vehicle that meets your needs and expectations. Speaking of which, ensure that the vehicles you shortlist meet your occupancy requirement, especially if you have a big family, fuel efficiency minimums if you spend a lot of time on the road and ride quality too for similar reasons. Sometimes it’s the kind of vehicle that may get one distracted, sometimes it’s the price, but always remember that a good deal is not necessarily a good buy.

And don’t discount all used cars. There may be little gems in the sea of vehicles, which may just need a wash and polish session, a change of fluids, a fill of the tyres and a charge of a battery to renew its spirit. Also, with the kind of prices the used car markets demand these days, it may also be a good idea to check out the new car market, quite ironically. You may have to wait a few weeks or months, but nothing beats that new car feeling at almost the same price.

Test drive

A car or SUV may be good on paper, and it may even get the green light from the local mechanic, but I’d always recommend a test drive. Get a feel from the driver’s seat, rear cabin, how easy it is to get in and out, and how spacious the boot is. From a mechanical perspective, make sure that the braking is effective and consistent, there isn’t excessive smoke from the exhaust tips, no unusual smells inside or out and certainly no vibrations from the steering, pedals or any other parts.


Authorised used car dealers often advertise and boast about their 100-plus point checklist. But I urge you to not take anything for granted. Request that list from the dealer and examine these points yourself. This may include the operation of the lights, horns, wipers blades, radio and other electrical parts, such as the power windows; and mechanical components, such as oil seals, mounts etc. Even the seemingly inconsequential things should be accounted for, like the spare tyre (its condition), the fire extinguisher and the warning triangle as well.


The condition of the tyres is of prime importance as they provide the points of contact between your 2-ton vehicle that can run at 120 km/h and the ground. I suggest doing a physical check to see if all four tyres are evenly worn and what’s left of the tread depth.

And there are some other things to be known, like the expiration date. If a tyre is stored in optimal conditions, it will last up to 10 years, some manufacturers claim. This is a rarity in my opinion. But most of them only guarantee safety for the first five or six years, and I believe the latter may be the better rule of thumb to follow. Just check the tyre wall for the four digits. The first two digits represent the week, while the last two are the year of manufacture.

Foreign spec vehicles

Very often foreign spec vehicles, like American and Japanese ones, turn up on used car websites, markets and auctions for a much smaller price tag. This may make them tempting purchases, but they come with a few concerns. For one, the instrumentation can be in Imperial units and not S.I. This means that speed may be indicated in mph and not km/h and coolant temperature will be in Fahrenheit, etc. The point is that these vehicles may have different features, thermal insulation levels, and cooling capacities from those available locally. This also applies to safety features.

But the main concern is that some of these vehicles may even be ‘flood cars’. North American cities are often victims of hurricanes and floods. And sometimes, not just residential and commercial parking lots (and roads) get flooded, even dealer parking lots can face the same fate, which means that even new or ‘0 km’ cars are not exempt from this natural calamity. While across the Atlantic it is mandated to disclose this information to the public, you don’t see it printed here, which can leave you in a bit of a fix later. You may see that the vehicle has been cleaned up rather well on the surface, but the mold and grime may only become apparent with time. The AC vents, under carpets, and even parts of the engine may be affected in a major or minor way. But if you still like that American spec Mustang or Camaro, go for it; just be aware of the challenges you may face.

Service and accident history

Once you get the vehicle, whether or not you choose to get it serviced at the designated agency is up to you. But when purchasing, it’s best to get one that has been serviced there to ensure that the parts installed are genuine and the protocols of installation are maintained. It’s also important to know whether the vehicle has been involved in a fender bender. For this, I recommend you obtain a CARFAX report, which is a publicly available detailed account of a car’s history for a small price. It will mention the vehicle’s title, mileage, previous owners and accident. But it should be used in conjunction with a certified mechanic’s inspection to ensure there are no real troubles.

It would also make sense to scout out a few local garages for the specific brand or car you are going to purchase, so you know exactly where to go and whom to meet when something goes south.


The other thing to watch out for is the warranty clause. Having a car that is still under a manufacturer’s warranty is a safety net, especially for someone who is new to cars or driving. Usually, cars that are no older than 3-5 years come with the remnant warranty policy, which is transferable. Other dealers provide coverage ranging from three months up to a year. And very recently, a popular used car dealer also provided a three-year warranty, which is, quite frankly, unheard of in the used market.


Like always, vehicles, even dirt-cheap used vehicles that may cost less than an Italian shoe, require it by law and logic. But having scouted the cheaper garage, you may only have to take up a third party insurance. But if that’s not the case, get a comprehensive or full insurance motor policy with non-agency repair. And if you have some extra dough lying around, check the box that says, ‘Agency Repair’. However, keep in mind that the last option may depend on the age of the vehicle.

Car colours

It is also not uncommon to resell a used vehicle when your requirements change. And if you plan to do so, keep in mind that some cars colours are perennial favourites and may be easier to sell than others, white being the favourite in this region. Silver, grey and black are also quite popular, while red, blue and yellow may work their magic on pickup trucks and sports cars, but they may not catch the utility-based motorist’s eye.

Choice brands

If price is a concern, then it is safe to say that reliability and residual value are also atop the list. For these reasons, go with a Toyota or a Honda. Camrys especially may show 200k on the odometer, but they will quite easily run another 200k without fuss. Just ask an RTA cabbie about his Camry and he will profess his passion for the vehicle in as many words as possible. And with vehicles from these brands, you may not lose much come the time of reselling.


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