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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 18 August 2018

Car servicing in the UAE: who can you trust?

In the extreme heat of the UAE, keeping your wheels healthy is an absolute must, but you need to know who you can rely on

Sand and dust can have a particularly wearing impact on our cars, from engines to lights. Victor Besa / The National
Sand and dust can have a particularly wearing impact on our cars, from engines to lights. Victor Besa / The National

If you read through the owner’s manual of a Volvo XC90 – a vehicle deservedly known for being extremely capable and well-built – deep within it mentions driving in “extreme” weather and the cautious approach required when keeping on top of servicing and maintenance. For Volvo, which let’s not forget is based in a country that experiences its own climatic extremes, anything above 40°C is considered over the top. When operating a Volvo in that kind of heat, expect its engine to use more oil and require more frequent servicing, at the very least.

The fact is that here, during the summer months, the temperature regularly far exceeds what Volvo considers to be extreme heat, so it’s perhaps timely to consider just how much punishment driving in the UAE exerts on our own cars. Not just on their engines, but also their interiors, which suffer terribly when we leave them to bake in the blistering sunshine; their tyres, which are put under unthinkable stresses on boiling hot tarmac; their electrical systems, which are battered by the permanent full-blast air conditioning; their paint, which has to fight against fading caused by ultraviolet light; even their headlamp lenses, which get scoured and go foggy because of the airborne sand and dust which also, incidentally, causes accelerated wear of all its various filters. If our cars were animals, we would weep for them.

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Servicing, then, is an absolute must if we are to be able to rely on our vehicles. Being stranded on a roadside in August is no time to start regretting our inaction, but once a car is out of its manufacturer warranty period, what are we supposed to do? Keep on throwing money at the main dealer or move on to an independent to save money? Do it ourselves, perhaps?Unfortunately, the days are long gone when we could lift the bonnet, tinker with a few cables and maybe carry out a minor service on our driveways. Not only are cars highly tuned pieces of engineering and computing, but strict environmental laws also mean we can’t simply throw used engine oils and filters into a ditch while nobody’s looking. Now we have little option but to turn to the professionals in regards to anything to do with maintaining our cars. Who, though, can we trust?

By way of a cautionary tale, consider the case of my previous car, a sporty coupe of German origin. When it was just coming out of its warranty period, I took it to the main dealer for its 75,000-kilometre service, and the service manager, when I collected it, told me that the next one would be “the biggie”. He said that at the 90,000km mark my car would need to have its camshaft drivebelt changed and the entire service would come to about Dh6,000. Reasoning that it would still be a lot cheaper than having to repair the engine when the belt eventually broke, I sighed and went on my way.

The Urus's 4.0-litre V8 engine. Antonie Robertson / The National
Many modern engines, such as this Lamborghini Urus's V8, aren't designed for DIY repairs. Antonie Robertson / The National

A few weeks later, my three-year manufacturer warranty expired, and at the same time one of my car’s headlamps stopped working. I rang the service centre to ask about having the element replaced and was told, remarkably, that there were none in stock and I would have to wait for one to come from Germany – something I thought was unacceptable.

“Try Autohaus,” advised a friend who owned a car made by the same manufacturer. I rang the Dubai-based workshop. Yes, they had the parts on the shelf, and I could head over right then for the job to be carried out. As the technician was carrying out the repair, the service manager asked me where I went for servicing. I said that I’d been going to the main dealer, but that my options were open because the car was out of warranty. And then I told him about “the biggie”.

“But your car doesn’t have a cam belt, sir,” was his response.

I should already have known that. But the fact that the main dealership was prepared to book me in for work that didn’t need doing – work that couldn’t be done – was enough for me to change allegiance. From that point, my car was looked after and serviced by Autohaus. I had not one moment of bother with them and I saved myself untold amounts of money, simply from the recommendation of a friend.

If your car is still under its manufacturer warranty then it does still pay to keep going to the official source for parts and servicing, but there’s always a premium to be paid and, as my own experienced proved, it doesn’t always guarantee a positive experience. Unless you drive something particularly exotic, though, there will be a variety of independent specialists you can turn to for general work. Google is your friend.

The T60 is powered by a 2.4-litre engine. Victor Besa / The National
In the heat of summer, it is especially important to keep your engine serviced. Victor Besa / The National

Trusted advice, however, is best coming from friends, colleagues and fellow owners. For instance, if you own an American car in the UAE, there are a number of social-media and internet groups that cater for the interests of their owners. Talk to them and find out about their own experiences. When you do find a garage or repair shop that you’re happy with, stick with it.

We ignore the service and maintenance needs of our cars at our peril. We live and work in an extreme environment and vehicles need to be given extra TLC if they’re to go the distance. Nobody likes spending money on car maintenance – and the costs involved are often shockingly high. But never forget the sheer complexity of modern automobiles and the fact that they’re safer and more reliable than ever before as a result. You might lose money when the time comes to sell your car versus the price you originally paid for it, but having it regularly inspected and serviced is still an incredibly wise investment.

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