It feels like I have been car shopping forever. In late July I went car shopping for the first time. I thought by the end of August I would have a beautiful new car to call my very own. In the end I got my car at the end of September, and while I am not happy about how long it took me, I am thrilled with the end result.
During the car shopping experience I had two wonderful partners to experience it with me. Carolyn, a professor in her 60’s at VCU and Justin the other new Residence Hall Director, both arrived in Doha at the same time I did and needed cars. We began looking and comparing thoughts. At the start we were all on the same page and thought we might end up with the same car. In the end a much different story unfolded.
Carolyn and I spend several nights driving from one dealership to another trying to find the right car. We narrowed it down towards the middle of August and were ready to move forward; however, I did not have a drivers license and needed to wait until it was finalized. I received my license as Ramadan began. This timing coincidence helped me in the long run because dealerships roll out their big deals during Ramadan. At this point in the car shopping Justin joined Carolyn and I (he had been looking on his own, and we would compare notes). We all ended up at KIA, Nissan and Renault. We all liked the Sportage at KIA and scheduled a test drive. Dealerships do not keep drivable cars on sight; so you have to schedule a time to test drive a car a day in advance. Carolyn also test drove the X-Trail, and Justin and I test drove some Renault car with a really cool key. After all the test driving Justin ditched all three options and went back to an early favorite in the Mazda 6 and Carolyn and I both chose the KIA Sportage. We all went to apply for loans – and the fun began.
In the US you could theoretically walk into a dealership and walk out with a car. The Dealership will help you with the loan onsite and if you met the criteria you could buy the car. In Doha you negotiate a price with the dealership and they give you a binding letter that you then bring to the bank. The bank then has to approve you for the loan and confirm it with the dealership. You then take the letter garunteeing payment from the bank to the dealership and the dealership spends another few days processing the registration with the government. Then you own the car! The lynchpin in this whole scheme is the length of time it takes the bank to approve your loan.
When I brought my dealership letter to the bank I had 3 weeks before the Ramadan deals ended. I filled out all my forms and the service rep at the bank said it would take about 3 days. Three days later, still nothing except the arrival of the weekend. I Went in the next week and was told things were going slowly because of Ramadan time (offices are open for shorter hours and things just don’t seem to happen). Again I was told a few days. At the end of the second week I went back and was told anyday. I went back the next day and found out I had been denied because I had only received two months of pay and I needed three. I was really frustrated because it was Tuesday and all the Ramadan deals ended on Thursday – and I did not have time to find a new bank. I went back to my office and pulled up my bank account. Guess what – my next paycheck was deposited that day! I went back to the bank and asked them to rush the loan.
I waited – and waited, and on Thursday morning… the last possible morning to get this loan approved, I received a call. The service agent asked me to come in right away. I went in and she told me the loan was approved but my signature was wrong and I needed to resign the card. I resigned and she said “no that is not your signature”. It took me 50 tries before I got my signature (the funny thing is they all looked the same to me). Part of me thinks she did this just to get a laugh. All being said, I was willing to spend the rest of the day signing if it meant I could get my car. After turning in the right signature I waited. Later that day after the bank closed I got another call letting me know I could come get my paper.
With the magic paper in hand I went to the dealership. I gave them the long sought after paper and the power shifted to the dealership. The Eid holiday began on Friday and I was leaving for Jordan. It was agreed that they would get the registration right after Eid (Wednesday). That was perfect because I would be back in the country Wednesday night and could pick the car up Thursday. I enjoyed my trip (se previous blog post) and arrived home ready for my car. I called Thursday to set up the time to pick up the car and was told they forgot to get the registration and it was too late to do it now. They would have to wait until Saturday and hope that they could get in. I was not happy as this would mean a weekend without any car, and I had just heard “inshallah”.
For those of you who don’t know Inshallah (alternate spelling insha’Allah) means “God Willing.” It is used very very very often in conversation in Qatar. It can mean many things, but often means, “I hope”. I could mean, I really want this to happen and I will do my best to make it happen, and as long as God is on the same wavelength it will happen. It can also mean, if God wants it to happen I guess it will, but I am not doing anything to make it happen. It can mean, nope this in not going to happen but I don’t want to tell you that. There are SOOOOOOOO many more meanings to this phrase. When I heard this I was really hoping it meant he was going to do everything in his power to make it happen, but part of me thought he was saying it to pacify me and in reality he was not going to try very hard.
Saturday morning came around and I gave the dealership a call. They said they just sent a guy to the office (it was 10 AM and the government office opened at 8 AM and closes at noon) and would call me if he got back with the registration. Thankfully I got a call at 11:30 letting me know he got the registration and I could pick up the car at 4 PM. At 4 PM I was at the door of the dealership ready for my car. It was clean and ready. I inspected it and drove it around the block to make sure it was ok, then got in the car to leave.
That is when I noticed there were no floor mats in the car. I asked the dealer where they were and he said “oh, if you want same you can buy some at Carrefour.” I told him I did not want to buy some I wanted some that came with the car. I was then informed the “ran out” and it would be at least 20 days before I could get the ones for my car. So I drove away happy, but knowing I would be back to pick up the floor mats.
While my story had a happy ending, Justin and Carolyn had their own drama. Justin was in a similar boat to me and he had to reapply for a loan the same day I did. He waited and waited and waited, but he did not get his magic paper until we returned from Eid. In the end he was able to drive away with is handsome Mazda 6 the same evening I got my beautiful KIA Sportage. Poor Carolyn had a different ending. Qatar has some interesting policies. It is very difficult for people over 55 to get loans (and sometimes even jobs) because the government considers them too old. I guess there is just too high a risk that you will die and not pay back the loan. Carolyn was denied a loan from our bank and had to go out in search of another bank. As of the end of Ramadan she still did not have a bank that would approve her. I hope one of the banks will come through.
Life is great in my Sportage. It is easier to go around roundabouts because I can see past the big SUVs and I feel like I get more respect on the road. I still have to deal with the ridiculous drivers in this country, but at least I feel safer venturing out.