Guess who owns a car?
About two billion irresponsible, reckless jerks with no concern for pedestrian safety or traffic protocols, that’s who.
It’s just how it is. There is nothing to do but shrug and accept it as something that just exists, like a personalized Gangnam style video. But that shouldn’t stop you from asking a follow up question next week – Guess who owns a car?
About two billion PLUS ONE irresponsible, reckless jerks with no concern for pedestrian safety or traffic protocols. And this prodigal surplus jerk will ride a white, 2008 Honda Civic right into the sunset, which – I feel – is far better than the Gangnam style guy’s invisible horse.
For those who are pointing puzzled expressions and raised eyebrows at the passage above, let me clarify – That was my ever so subtle way of telling you that I will probably be an owner of a brand new car… I mean… branded old car by next week. This is the culmination of nearly two years of carelessly meticulous-less planning. (Immeticulate? Non-meticulous? Unmeticulous? Bah, you know what I meant.) It was the end goal of trying for a driving license, a process that started out last year. Despite several valiant joined efforts by the road transport authorities and fate in general to maintain my pedestrian status, I finally managed to slip by the system with a drivers license two months ago. With license in hand, I started my hunt for a car.
Almost immediately, I decided that I would be opting for a second-hand car. The UAE is a car lover’s dream. Ferrarris and Lamborghinis whiz by in Dubai every so often that you are constantly reminded of how invisible any family car is going to be in their midst. The cab drivers drive around in Toyota Camrys or Nissan Altimas; cars that were once staple possessions of the rich and pompous businessmen back in my hometown of Cochin, India. The next time I go to India, I’ll wait until I see a flashy Camry with a sunglassed rich guy at the driver’s helm and hail it down, saying “Oh, I’m sorry, sir. I thought this was a taxi.”
In the UAE, there is a large chunk of rich consumers selling off their cars after a few years of use, but at the same time, you also have salvaged vehicles polished and sewn together to hold up long enough to dupe an unsuspecting buyer. The second-hand car market is a dream come true for car enthusiasts, and a minefield of disguised problems for amateurs. The capital of the used car market is in Abu Shagara, Sharjah, where over 600 dealers operate, each offering the widest range of cars you’ve seen outside the Fast and Furious franchise. These cars do not maintain a proper history of accidents or other issues; therefore, unless you’re a real expert on cars, you can never be sure whether you’re getting a slightly scratched, sparsely used gem or the automobile’s equivalent of a well maintained, lush comb-over.
Men are stereotyped as genetically attuned to understanding cars and their problems. However, in reality, there are differing levels of car expertise. The seasoned, veteran mechanic can diagnose cars with Sherlockian conviction even the minutest details – “The distinctive smell on the car’s oil filter indicates that it was in a minor scraping accident five… maybe six months ago, possibly a rear end collision with… sniff… a Mercedes. No, wait… sniff sniff… it was a Toyota Camry painted with Mercedes’ matte black color finish”.
And then we have less seasoned car enthusiasts who may not be able to fish out minor imperfections, but can easily diagnose performance listening to the engine noises – “This car has obviously been used as a taxi cab earlier. It’s obvious from the irregular rhythm of the engine and the scruff marks around the gearbox, not to mention the chipped paint around the fuel hatch.”
Unfortunately, my personal car-sense is far less useful in such situations. The best I can do would be “I can see that this car has had some fire damage. I can tell this by the heat bubbles on the car’s bonnet and by the fact that the car is actively on fire right now”
So with this stinging handicap, the wise course of action would be to avoid the car dealer and buy from a direct owner, who is less likely to polish a dud and dump it on me. So prudence dictated that I scan the classifieds and keep searching online posts until I found the right seller. But here, I had another handicap – I was going for my car via a bank loan. The used car market is a volatile place, with swarms of car seekers running around with pockets leaking bundles of cash, ready to pay cash in full for the right car. There really is no real incentive for a car owner to agree to wait around for bank loan procedures.
The rate of purchase/ sale in the country is simply insane. I see an ad online/ in the paper, and rush over to the owner, only to hear the news that it has just been sold. A good car stays in the market only for a matter of hours. I was toying with the theory that Dubai/Sharjah was secretly infested with hoards of car-hungry leprechauns who, as soon as they find an ad out for a car, materialize at the car owner’s place with large bags with $ signs on them.
There were a couple of cars I had my eye on, which got swept away right in front of my eyes. I saw an attractive ad for a used Toyota Camry, and called up the owner. He said he would only be available from 5:00 p.m. onward, as he had work until then. I hurried up and got there on time, but I needed to cross the road to actually see the car; it was parked on the other side. Crossing over to the other side may be a piece of cake for chickens, but I had to take a detour to get there, and that cost me about 7-8 minutes. By the time I got there, another prospective buyer was scouting the car, making me wait in line. As I looked on, helpless, the owner and the p. buyer shook hands on a deal done well. The car was sold. It was literally right in front of me, and within a small window from 5:00 to 5:08 p.m., but it was enough for the UAE market.
It started to look like I’d never get a car, but fortune shines on the patient. And sometimes, when you are unsuccessful in impatience long enough, fortune can get misled into labeling you as patient. Eventually, I managed to outleprechaun the leprechauns and managed to latch on to a car. Once I got to the car, I asked the owner whether it was sold yet. As soon as he told me it wasn’t, I latched on like… like… like something that latches on by paying a deposit and calling dibs. So, if all goes well, I would be honking at pedestrians within the next few days.
So which car am I getting, finally? A 2008 Honda Civic in pretty good condition, as far as I can tell. And you know what that means. It was not on actual fire when I saw it.