Buying a used car is a risk at the best of times. I know this because I've bought many, many cars over the years and not a single one has been brand new. I've had my fingers burnt on more than one occasion.
The 1988 Range Rover that returned an average fuel consumption of 36L/100km and shot flames out of its exhaust when going downhill was a particular low point, as was a Series III Jaguar XJ6 that smoked so much onlookers thought it had a two-stroke engine. But, in general, I've got away quite lightly and not regretted my decision to go for cars with a previous owner or five in the logbook.
Cars have been on sale for more than 100 years in my home country, so it's hardly surprising that the market is as much geared towards pre-owned vehicles as it is to new ones. The fact some cars can lose a huge chunk of their value as soon as they're driven away from the showroom has caused many to go for the nearly (rather than brand-spanking) new motor.
That way, someone else takes the initial financial hit and, even after a year or two, the car can still be as good to look at and to drive as new. But here in the UAE, things are a little different.Here, the car market is still very much in its infancy - after all, there weren't a huge number of cars here until about three decades ago. As the populations of our cities have exploded and the skylines have grown higher, cars have come along to replace camels as the transport of choice. There's a very ingrained cultural difference here, too, inasmuch as the desire to own a brand-new car often comes before any fiscal prudence, which is obviously good news for manufacturers, dealers and financial institutions alike. Things are changing, though. The age of the approved used car is upon us.
There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, many consumers are exercising more restraint when it comes to large, expensive purchases as a result of the worldwide economic downturn. Secondly, UAE law stipulates that anyone financing a car, whether it be new or used, must stump up a deposit of 20 per cent of the asking price. And a fifth of the cost of a car that's lost perhaps half its value in two years is often very doable. Thirdly, most cars are incredibly reliable and efficient things these days, meaning they age rather well. And, last but not least, manufacturers have woken up to the fact that used or nearly new sales are big business and they understandably want a slice of the pie.
And that, for once, is excellent news for consumers.
"Approved Used" cars have been on sale for many years in Europe and America but, even then, not all manufacturers have been participating for very long.
Ferrari, for instance, has only in recent times started to sell warrantied used cars through its dealerships (they've started it here, too, this year), but high-volume companies such as Ford, Audi and many others have long been at it.
And, in the UAE, the first mass Japanese brand to really get its act together has been Nissan, with its "Nissan Certified Pre-Owned" scheme - represented by Arabian Automobiles in Dubai and the northern Emirates.
So rather than simply go through statistics over the telephone, I decided to pay them a visit to see just what is going on and what it means for buyers here.
I meet up with Mahesh Rohra, general manager for the pre-owned side of things, and he's evidently quite passionate about what his company is doing.
"We were selling used cars for a while here," he says, "but last November we started with Nissan Certified Pre-Owned and we were the first Japanese company to do this. What happens is that we follow set guidelines from Nissan, in terms of the maximum age of the car, its maximum allowable mileage. We inspect for any accident damage and, if there is any chassis damage, we simply reject the car. Once we have established these things, there are two sets of guidelines to go through before a car can become 'certified'.