Beware of imported used cars
One of our readers sent in photos of yet another car that went up in flames in the UAE for no apparent reason. It seems to be becoming a common occurence, and is simply being blamed on heat and bad maintenance. While some cases have been due to age or bad stereo installations, others can simply be attributed to the source of the cars. Take this Jeep, for example. I also drive a Jeep, but mine is a GCC-spec version with full service history. The one in the photo is not.
The American-spec bumpers give away the fact that this burnt Jeep Grand Cherokee was probably bought from one of the UAE’s used car dealers in Dubai or Sharjah. It is now time to bust some myths.
There is nothing inherently wrong in buying an American-spec import. Except for the gauges in “mph” instead of “kph,” most of the mechanicals are usually the same nowadays, and there are many people who are happy with their “grey” imports here. The used car dealers are happy too, since resale values in the United States are comparatively much lower for every car there, so they buy low there and sell high here.
The problem comes with the used car dealers who get greedy and try to make even more money. It is a given that there will be no service history with these imports. Even more disturbing is that many dealers are buying up cancelled cars from the U.S. at auctions. These cars were either in major accidents, hurricane-season floods or even fires. I’ve seen the state of these scrap cars myself, and I am pretty sure people died in these accidents, considering how badly they were crushed. I think I spotted blood a few times too.
There are garages dotted around Dubai and Sharjah that are openly repairing these cars using cheap Indo-Bangladeshi labour, effectively building these cars up again from scratch. For the accident-damaged cars, they weld hooks onto the chassis and pull them straight enough to pass annual police inspections. Then they cut off these welds, beat the dented body panels flat, slap on some “maajun” bondo to smoothen out the body, replace the rubber and glass, and add a thin layer of new paint that will probably fade in a year or two.
The flood-damaged cars are in visually-better shape, since they were only dunked in salt water for a few weeks rather than suffering a crash. Of course, half the electronics have fried by then and there is probably rust forming in unseen parts of the car. Electrical problems will only make themselves known randomly, while new paint will hide the rust underneath.
The worst part is they sell these fixed-up cars at regular used-car rates. For example, I spoke to a garage selling a destroyed-but-fixed imported 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee V6 for Dhs 100,000, while a new 2009 one costs Dhs 115,000.
It may seem hopeless now for those looking into imports. Fortunately, there is an online service in the States called carfax.com, where one can enter a VIN number for any American-market car and come up with its full history, provided you don’t cheap out on the small fee, payable by credit card.
Indeed, it is not that hard to buy a “good” import. My old 1990 Mercedes-Benz was a Japanese import, and it ran safely for four years before I sold it in 2008. And I have a nagging feeling that my latest BMW is a European import too, as it has been repainted and lacks a service history. The trick is to know how to spot a “good” import, but that is a lesson for another day.
As for why the “bad” imports catch fire? All it takes is a loose fuel line and some static-electricity sparks among badly-placed components in a botched repair. Or the guy just drove it until it overheated. But would you want to be in something put together completely by ultra-cheap labour? Let’s not divert to a discussion on the local property market now.