Car Buying and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a car loan in Doha, must be in want of a car.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering Doha, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding car sellers, that he is considered the rightful property of someone or other of their car.

“My dear Mr. Kmiecik,” said a co-worker to him one day, “have you heard that my Kia Soul is available to purchase?”

Mr. Kmiecik replied that he had not.

“But it is,” returned he; “for I am leaving at the end of this academic year, and I am telling you about it.”

Mr. Kmiecik made no answer.

“Do you not want to know the price of it?” cried his co-worker impatiently.

“You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”

This was invitation enough.

– – – –

I have been in Doha since August 2017, but it was not until November 2017 that I received my Qatari driver’s license. Upon receiving my license, I started renting a car, a Hyundai Accent. As part of my Qatar University (QU) salary package, I receive 1500 QAR/month ($412 USD) for my transportation allowance. The rental fee for my car was 1900 QAR/month ($522 USD). In short, I have been losing money the past months by renting my car—about $110 USD per month, to be exact.

Besides the transportation allowance, in order to help staff with their transportation needs, QU offers 0% interest car loans to its employees. The maximum amount for the loan, for my pay grade, is 60,000 QAR ($16,479 USD), and payments for this loan are automatically deducted from each month’s salary. At the beginning of my contract, I took out the loan as soon as I could and have been sitting on it all this time. So, why didn’t I buy a car right away?

The main reason was, like all new QU employees, I was on probation and was waiting until it was lifted in order to make a major decision like a car purchase. The other reason was that I was biding my time until I figured out how car buying in Doha worked.

During the past months, I have been seeking out the advice of colleagues who seem to have expertise when it comes to buying cars here. There are three individuals whose car buying insight I trust, and their advice can be sorted in the following manner: what to buy, when to buy, and how to buy.

– – – –

Mr. Kmiecik was directly invited to drive the car, but he declined it, observing that he could imagine but two motives for their choosing to drive up and down the road together, with either of which motives his joining them would interfere. The car sellers persevered therefore in requiring an explanation of his two motives.

“I have not the smallest objection to explaining them,” said he, as soon as the sellers allowed him to speak. “You either choose this method of passing the evening because you are in each other’s confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in driving; if the first, I would be completely in your way, and if the second, I can admire the car much better as you drive away

“Oh! shocking!” cried the sellers. “I never heard anything so abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?”

– – – –

In terms of what to buy, approximately 75% of the cars in Doha are Toyotas—maybe even more. The Qataris like their white Land Cruisers, and amongst the foreigners, Corollas, Camrys, RAVs, and FJs are popular. There are a number of reasons why Toyotas have such a dominant share of the car market in Doha. For one, they are well-made and can withstand the extreme heat of Doha. During the summer, temperatures can soar to 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit) and a lot of cars will deteriorate faster over time because of this weather extremity. When cars do break down—as they are wont to do—people need to get affordable and timely car service, and this is the second reason for the market dominance of Toyotas: you can go to almost any hole-in-the-wall car shop in Doha, and the Nepalese, Pakistani, or Egyptian mechanic will know how to repair the Toyota and, more importantly, will easily be able to procure the necessary parts. With other brands, like Ford, BMW, KIA, or Renault, the local mechanics will probably not know how to service your car, so you have to take it to the dealership, and the parts, additionally, might have to be ordered and shipped to Doha, which can take weeks or months. Lastly, because of the reliability and serviceability of Toyotas in Doha, their value depreciates less over time, compared to other car brands, and usually are always in high demand. The joke is that an expat who needs to sell their Toyota in a hurry can do so on the drive to Hamad International Airport before their flight out of the country.

In terms of when to buy, I was told because of the blockade there was a glut of cars in the Doha market. Some formerly lucrative ventures had been downsizing, and there were a lot of foreigners without jobs who need to offload their vehicles in a hurry. In addition, because of the border closing between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Saudi car buyers were unable to shop in the Qatar car market. The past several months was supposedly a good time to buy, and in June, as the academic year comes to a close and contracts are ending, there will be more academic expats who would be looking to sell their vehicles as they make preparations to depart from Doha for good. (In terms of when to sell, the inverse is true: August and September are a good time to sell because new academic expats would be starting their contracts.)

In terms of how to buy, I learned that car sales in Doha—like shopping in the souq—might require some aggressive haggling and feigned walking away from a transaction that isn’t as favorable as you would like. Speaking Arabic would probably be helpful, but a savvy monolingual English-speaker might do fine—if they were willing to put in the time to coax out a better deal. When in doubt, you can always enlist the help of a bilingual friend or colleague to help finesse a deal with a determined Arabic-speaking car seller.

Though I had my car loan, and my probation was lifted in in February, it was April, and I was still renting a car. However, people knew that I was looking to buy a car, and they came a courting. Hey, I heard you were looking for a car? Did you know that I am selling my car? Would you be interested in test driving my car? I was very much the belle of the car-buying ball these last few months.

Still, none of the cars that people tried to sell me really interested me all that much, but I was afraid that if waited too long, I would become a car-renting spinster and continue to lose money every month! Fortunately, my colleague M, offered me car a couple weeks ago.

M has been living in the Gulf for the past 15-20 years. He is a dune-bashing enthusiast and frequent buyer/seller of used cars. He is quite good at finding deals on vehicles and selling them for a profit. About a month ago, he bought a 2013 Dodge Challenger with 30,000 km from a Syrian doctor who wanted to leave Doha in a hurry. M acquired the car at a good price—I knew this because he regaled me with all the details. I expressed my admiration for the car and wondered if I would be patient and shrewd enough to purchase a similar car, should another one ever appear on the market. Sigh!

A couple weeks later, I was walking by M’s office, and we started to chat. Again, he regaled me with a story about a great deal on a Lexus that he purchased over the weekend. It was a luxury model with a great engine and probably the nicest car that he dared own. He was looking forward to driving it after it came back from the shop. Oh, by the way, my wife says I need to sell one of my cars. Would you be interested in the Dodge Challenger?

– – – –

Mr. Kmiecik thought, “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

– – – –

That night I went to M’s compound and test drove the Challenger. Most of my life, I have owned and driven family cars (for example, a Saturn or Corolla), and the acceleration of the V6 engine was one of the most alluring things I have ever experienced. While I had been resigned to buying and driving a practical car, as the old chestnut goes, “The heart wants what the heart wants.”

That night, I told M I would buy the car.

The next day, I withdrew the cash from the ATM on campus to purchase the car (used car sales in Doha are usually handled in cash). I wrapped the bundle of Riyals in a piece of paper and stapled the stack shut. Then I went to teach my last class of the day with around $10K in my computer bag. After work, M and I were driving out to Zekreet to see the East-West West-East desert installation by Richard Serra and the Film City film set. We would finalize the car transaction after the trip.

M wanted to watch the sunset from the western coast of Qatar before we headed back, and as we were sitting on folding chairs on the beach, I became antsy. I asked him about finalizing the car sale when we got back. He said that we could take care of it now and pulled out his phone.

Car ownership and traffic fees in Qatar can be tracked using the Metrash app. To transfer a car title, the owner has to simply open the app and type in the Qatari ID# of the buyer. The buyer has to pay the 200 QAR registration fee via credit card and hallas (finished). Thankfully, M was able to get a good signal on his phone, he typed in the information, I entered my credit card information, and handed him the bundle of Riyals. He counted the stack of cash as the sun dipped below the horizon.

I was now the owner of a Dodge Challenger.

– – – –

People’s spirits soon rising to playfulness again, they wanted Mr. Kmiecik to account for his having ever fallen in love with the Challenger. “How could it begin?” said they. “We can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning; but what could set you off in the first place?”

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”

Actual photo of my car

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