x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The Air Bag: Renting a car is appealing but it doesn't take you hire

Neil Vorano is sticking with his trusty old Alfa Romeo, even if hiring a car has its advantages.

In a story in The National from this past week, car rental companies are reporting a spike in the number of people leasing cars in the UAE. Apparently, that's got a lot to do with the difficulty in getting loans for new cars.

To be honest, I can see the appeal of leasing and renting. You take away the responsibilities of getting mechanical repairs done, general upkeep such as oil changes and new tyres, and even the problem of what to do in case of a fender bender: the company simply shows up, takes the car away and gives you a new one. It's almost like magic; no more trips to Musaffah.

And, OK, for some people, that's fine. In fact, I can perfectly understand not having to deal with all those responsibilities, considering the freedom of having a car that comes with it. This is especially true if you've just moved here and are trying to find your bearings in a strange, new land.

But for me, this just isn't the perfect solution, for a few reasons. One of which is because I'm cheap.

If you're renting a diminutive Toyota Yaris hatchback for even a bargain basement price of Dh1,600 a month, at the end of the year that's Dh19,200 out of your pocket that you'll never get back - unless you use it towards buying it from the leasing company, should they offer that deal. And let's not think about if you've decided on leasing a larger SUV or saloon, which can be upwards of Dh4,000 or more per month. Ouch!

If you purchase a used car for the price of that Yaris, even if you just stay here a year, chances are you can recuperate a big chunk of that change. Of course, you'll have to find the money in the first place to buy it.

In my case, I was able to buy a car for just Dh13,000 and, in the year that I've had it, I've come out on top: for that price I would have leased a Yaris for just eight months, and minimal repairs have meant that if I sold it now I could get what I paid for it.

But the bigger reason I just couldn't rent a car here is that I'm a car guy; yes, a Yaris is a fully capable and practical little runabout. But I can't help but yawn every time I say the word Yaris. Yawwwwn.

Meanwhile, the car I picked up wasn't a new hatchback, it was a lovely, nine-year-old Alfa Romeo Spyder, a sporty, blue drop-top in great condition. It may not be as practical as a newer four-seat car, but it's got a hatchback full of Italian style.

In fact, a cursory search on Dubizzle.com reveals a whole showroom full of interesting cars for under Dh15,000: a handful of Jeep Wranglers, a 1996 Mercedes E320 AMG, a 2001 Saab 9-3 convertible, a 2000 Jaguar S-Type - there's even a 1998 Lancia Delta (that admittedly "needs a bit of work").

By no means am I insinuating that all of these cars are a good deal or, even, in working condition. In fact, getting these cars checked out represents part of the extra work involved in owning your own car. But it goes to show that there are so many options for cheap yet stylish and fun sets of wheels in this country.

If practicality and reliability are foremost on your list of driving, then maybe you should stick to that hire car. But, like life in general, some need just a little more spice and flair to make the drive worth driving.