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Buying a Used Car in Qatar

In the absence of decent public transport it can be difficult to get around Doha without a car, especially if you have children who require car seats. Although some people do manage, not having a car can restrict your ability to get out and about, which can be quite isolating. While you can always rent a car or hire a driver, it may make sense financially to buy a car of your own. 

Car buyers tend to fall into one of two camps: those who only feel comfortable buying brand new cars from the dealership and those who prefer to buy second-hand. Dealerships take care of most of the process when you purchase from them, but since purchasing a used car from a private seller can require a little more legwork this article will focus specifically on the process involved in buying a used car from a private seller.

There are pros and cons to buying used. One of the biggest costs of new car ownership is depreciation; the very second you drive it off the lot, your car is worth less than its purchase price. Buying a carefully chosen used car can help to minimise this particular cost. The other big issue in favour of buying a used car in Qatar is personal debt. If you lose your job, or something else happens which requires you to leave Qatar, you won’t be allowed to leave until all of your personal debt is paid off in full. Recently, when a large number of energy sector jobs were slashed in one go, the used-car market quickly became flooded and prices plummeted.

If you don’t feel comfortable holding any personal debts here in Qatar, then buying a used car is a sensible choice.

Which car to buy

This is a personal decision of course. It’s no secret that large Japanese cars with very big engines are popular in Doha. Road presence is important here and sometimes you need to put your foot down to create some safe space around you. For various reasons, Japanese cars seem to hold their value better than American or European marques, but there are also plenty of people who are very happy with cars that meet none of these criteria. 
It also helps to consider the reputation of the service centre for any given car marque before you buy. Some service centres have much better reputations than others so ask around before you commit.

Where to buy it

The classified ads on the private Doha Mums website are a good place to start, particularly if you are looking for a family car; cars found there are almost certainly “lady driven” if so claimed. Word of mouth is also particularly useful; start telling people you meet that you are looking to buy a car and you will quickly hear about people who were thinking of selling, but hadn’t got around to advertising yet. This can be a great way to minimise the amount of effort involved and to buy a car with an honest history.

Expats tend to advertise cars on the qatarliving.com classifieds section, on the specialist car sales website qatarsale.com and the Facebook group ‘Buy It, Sell It, Swap It Qatar’. There are also other local Facebook groups, where people often try to sell their car first, such as the Pearl Ladies Networking Page, or groups specific to certain compounds, but you will have to be a resident to join such groups. 

When to buy 

The market is very cyclical in Qatar and ties in with school terms. In May, June and July, there is usually a mass-exodus, but very few new people arrive at this time of year. Those who are staying don’t tend to be looking to buy a car before the long summer break, so the car market is very much a buyer’s market. But in September, the opposite is true and it becomes more of a seller’s market. There are also similar variations in the market coinciding with the Christmas and Easter holiday periods.

What to look for

When you find a car that that interests you, arrange to see it during daylight hours. It also makes sense to see it at the seller's house since some used-car dealers masquerade as private sellers when they are trying to get rid of a turkey. Another way to weed out dealers is to NOT mention the make and model of the car when you call—if they ask which car you are interested in, then it is quite likely that they are a car dealer. 

The most important thing to check is the service history. Something like high-mileage isn't an issue if the car has been properly serviced and maintained. Regular servicing is especially important with Doha’s hot temperatures and stop-start driving conditions. A car should have its major and minor services and oil changes completed on time. Check the manual to see when things like brake fluid changes and belt changes were due and check the receipts to see if these were done on time. If the seller doesn't have receipts, you can call the servicing centre—they should know the car and have records for it. Correlate the mileages recorded in the service receipts with the mileage on the car. There is absolutely no excuse for not having a full service history—if it doesn't have one, walk away.

It can also be helpful to find a friend who is knowledgeable about cars to take along with you. If you’re on your own then be sure to do a physical inspection.

  • Ideally, the tyres should be a matching set of the same make and model. Check their condition—the tread depth should be good and there should be no cracks or bulges in the sidewalls. There will be an oval with a 4-digit number printed on the tyre, which corresponds to the manufacturing date (i.e. 0614 is June 2014). If the tyres are more than three years old, budget for replacement tyres when you agree on a price. Due to the climate here in Qatar, tyres deteriorate more quickly than in less extreme environments. 
  • Get on your knees and have a good look under and across the car. Look for any ripples in the bodywork. Make sure the doors fit well and check for any changes in the paint texture. Do the same across the roof. You are looking for evidence of body repairs from collisions.
  • Examine the panel gaps—are they uneven or different from side to side?
  • Look under the boot carpet for any ripples in the boot floor or welds at the rear end—a sure sign of a rear-end collision.
  • Inspect under the car with a flashlight for signs of fresh underseal or rough welds running across the car.
  • If the seller will let you, pull the rubber door seals off and look for signs of cuts in the metal seams that run around the door apertures. Look inside the sunroof opening for the same.
  • Run your hand down the windscreen pillar to feel for any small bumps that could indicate welds.
  • Always try to see a car with a cold engine that hasn't been run for at least half an hour. That way you can check oil levels and see how it starts, whether it blows smoke at cold, etc.
  • Before you start the car, pump the brake pedal until it goes hard and then start the engine. If the brake pedal drops as the engine starts, the vacuum servo is working. If the pedal stays hard, it may be faulty. This indicates problems with the braking system that will need to be inspected and repaired, so factor this in to your decision about how much to pay for the car.
  • Take the car for a drive (and make sure you drive it yourself). Choose a route which includes tight corners, speed humps and some fast open road. Listen out for knocks and squeaks as you go around corners. Feel for play in the steering wheel and give the brakes a check by performing an emergency stop somewhere safe. 
  • Check out the stereo and make sure everything on the dashboard works. The air con is especially important in Qatar—do the blowers work in the back? Does it cool down quickly once the car is running? 
  • Make sure you feel comfortable driving and parking it. 

If you like the car, it's a good idea (and perfectly acceptable in Qatar) to drive it to an inspection centre on Salwa Road before you agree the sale—there are a number on the left side of the road as you go past the Al Azizya area in the direction of the Qatar-Saudi border. Some are better than others. Ask around for recommendations before you go so that you can be sure that you are going to a good one.

If you are happy with the inspection, then it's time to agree on a price with the seller. Don't be pressured into it and don't be afraid to go home and sleep on it if you think you need time to come up with a sensible offer.

Once a price has been agreed, it's time to transfer ownership.

Transferring registration

You must have your residency permit (RP) in order to have a car registered in your name and the car must be insured before ownership can be transferred. Compulsory third party cover is required in Qatar. Prices are set by the government and depend on number of cylinders the car's engine has. A 4-cylinder engine is QR 400, a 6-cylinder is QR 500 and an 8-cylinder is QR600. For 4WD cars, these amounts are slightly higher. In Qatar, the car is insured, not the driver, and if it's a third party-only policy, it transfers with the vehicle ownership. Not all full cover policies can be transferred so check with the insurer. It may be possible to transfer the policy into your name as the buyer, but if not, you will need to purchase your own policy. 

Full cover includes damage that you cause. However, be aware that a policy of parts depreciation is utilised, whereby when a vehicle is over a certain age, the owner will be expected to contribute a percentage towards the costs if original manufacturer parts are used. The older the car gets, the higher the percentage—meaning, the older the car, the more expensive it will cost you to repair it after an accident.

So assuming the insurance is in order and you have your RP, it's time to transfer. What used to be a horrible process, designed to give you your worst 'Doha Day' ever, can now be very easy indeed, thanks to the recent introduction of some fantastic e-government services.  

The online option: If the seller has registered with Metrash 2 (the Ministry of Interior e-government app) and you have a mobile telephone registered under your Qatar ID, then the transfer process is easy. The seller simply logs into Metrash 2, enters the car number, your ID and telephone numbers, pays the transfer fee by credit card and presses "GO." Both parties will get an SMS confirming the transfer and within two days you will receive a telephone call from Q-Post asking where you want to have the registration card ("Istimara") delivered.

If the seller isn't registered with Metrash 2, encourage them to register; it’s simpler and faster than registering the sale in person at the Traffic Department (of which there are various branches around the city).

The Traffic Department option: You and the seller must both attend the traffic department in person and present all of the required documentation in order to transfer ownership. Before approaching the traffic department you will need to ensure that an ownership transfer form is completed in Arabic, with copies of your and the seller’s QIDs (both sides) to give to the police officer. There are small typist offices that will do this for you for a fee, in or around most traffic department locations. If the car is on comprehensive (full) insurance cover, you will also need to take a copy of the relevant document from the insurance company showing that the cover is in the buyer's name. 

Once at the traffic department, take a ticket and wait. This wait can vary from minutes to hours, depending on how busy it is. Once called to the desk, present the paperwork and (fingers crossed) the officer on duty will ask you to pay the registration fee. Once this has been done, go and wait some more—the officer will call you back once your registration card has been printed.

And that's it. Congratulations on your new car! 

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