Sunday, November 13: Today, I closed the deal on a car in Oman. I bought a 2008 GMC Terrain, a four-wheel drive vehicle commonly sold in the Gulf, for 5,550 rials, or around $14,415. The vehicle has about 90,000 km (56,000 miles) on it. I wanted a 4WD in Oman because much of what there is to see here is off-road. The vehicle was previously owned by an Omani, and expats who have been here awhile tell me that is a dangerous thing. Maybe it is. And maybe I’m too trusting. But the deal is now done. There is no turning back.
It was a big debate for me whether to buy a used or a new car. The cost of a new car is exorbitant here, especially for 4 wheel drives, which are in high demand. But of course, a new car gives an owner peace of mind, and that’s a worthwhile investment. It honestly doesn’t pay to buy a car in Oman unless you’re willing to make a 2 or 3 year commitment to stay here. I decided I could stay in here in Oman for that long, assuming the university will have me. Life is good here. I like my job and the university, I enjoy my colleagues. I love Oman and there’s a lot to explore within the country, as well as outside the country on extended holidays: to Europe and the Middle East, even to India and Africa. Oman is a modern country and Muscat has everything any Westerner could want. The only major drawback to Oman is the heat.
The other debate was whether I should rent a car rather than buy. Many expats here do just that. But to rent a car is about 150-170 rials ($390-$440) a month, and that’s for a small car. To rent a 4WD is much more. I rented a mid-size car (a Hyundai Sonata) for one month and it cost me 200 rials ($520). Transportation in Oman ain’t cheap.
I was here in Nizwa for two weeks without a vehicle. That was way too long. I am a person who loves my independence and without transportation, I felt trapped. I spent a year using public transportation in Korea, but Korea has a great public transport system. Public transportation in Oman is sparse, especially in Nizwa. Mostly you must depend on taxis, although there are some small buses too. I could stand out on a busy road for a long time without a taxi stopping. One night I came out of the Lulu Hypermarket with a cartload full of groceries. No taxi was in sight. I called the 5 taxi drivers I had on my cell phone, and of those, one was in the hospital after just having an accident two days before. Four told me they were in Muscat. (Taxi drivers make their biggest fares by driving people to and from Muscat, at 8 rials ~ $21 ~ a pop). Within Nizwa, they can charge about 200 baisas, or about 52 cents. It serves them well to drive back and forth to Muscat rather than trying to scrounge up business within Nizwa all day.
So there I was waiting at the Lulu, with my cartload of groceries, sweating and hoping, just hoping, a random taxi would come along and rescue me. I waited a good 20 minutes before any taxi appeared. Twenty minutes doesn’t sound like much, but it feels like an eternity when you are waiting for an unknown future. It also feels like a long time in Oman’s heat, as you think about your groceries slowly starting to spoil.
That was the end of the line for me. The next day, my friend Marcia offered to take me to the airport in Muscat to rent a car. There, I was frustrated to find that no small cars were available for rent because the tourist season had begun. I checked with every car rental agency at the airport, then I called a slew of numbers other people had given me. Finally I found the Hyundai Sonata available from Al Maskry. I told the guy on the phone I’d take it and I went immediately to his office by taxi to pick it up. I was thrilled to have wheels.
Once I got the Sonata, I started my search to buy a car. I went first to the Kia dealership because I heard they have a buy-back program for expats who buy new cars. I was interested in the Kia Sportage, but they didn’t have a single Sportage for me to test drive. The dealer wanted me to put a deposit down for the next shipment that would come in three weeks later. I couldn’t bring myself to put a deposit on a vehicle I couldn’t test drive. Then I saw the Toyota dealer about a small sedan called the Yaris, but I felt it was made of cardboard on the inside and had no pick up. Later I drove a Diahatsu Terios, an adorable car that has the smallest engine imaginable and thus NO pickup. I checked in Muscat for a used 4WD but they had nothing in my price range. Only a Ford sedan which I didn’t really want. My heart was set on a 4WD. I had seen the GMC Terrain on the Toyota dealer’s used car lot in Nizwa and I kept going back to that. It handled nicely, the mileage was low, and it was a 4WD. It was everything I wanted really.
Finally, I put a 100 rial deposit on it before I left for Jordan. On November 13, I went to Bank Muscat to pick up checks I had ordered and to withdraw the cash for the deposit. Those two simple things took me over an hour to do because of the slowness and incompetence of Bank Muscat! I had to put down 25% because it was a used vehicle and because I’m an expat (and probably because I’m a woman too!) which was about 1,400 rials (~ $3,650). I took the money to Shyam, the Indian salesman, and then he made me sit and sign all 36 checks for my 36 payments of 141 rials ($366) a month. We drove to the insurance company to buy insurance for 220 rials (for one year). And then I gave him 5 rials to register the vehicle with the Royal Omani Police.
There was another hassle earlier in the process with the Royal Omani Police. When the dealer and I were making the deal, he told me I had to have an Omani driver’s license. I had heard as Americans we had 3 months in Oman before we had to convert our license. However, to BUY a car, a person must have an Omani license. This is just a matter of going to the zoo of a police station and converting it for a fee. However, my Virginia license expired while I was in Korea so when I returned home to the USA in March of 2011, I renewed it. In America, our driver’s licenses do not specify the original date of issue. It only shows the last date it was renewed. As far as the Omanis were concerned, it appeared I had only had my license for 6 months and they require that you have been driving for at least one year. I protested that I’ve been driving my whole life, almost 40 years, but they wouldn’t believe me because the license said otherwise. I said, “Look at me! Look at my age!! I’ve been driving my whole life!!” They were unfazed. They told me I’d have to go to my Embassy and get a document showing the original date of my driver’s license.
I remembered that I still had a copy of the license that had expired in October of 2010. I asked if I could bring that in as proof I’ve been driving longer than one year. After much hullabaloo they agreed to accept that photocopy.
Finally, when Shyam drove me to the insurance office in my own Terrain, he parked the car with the hood facing the sidewalk in front of the office. As I was sitting there, I looked up and I saw a dark green 4WD sitting in front of me with a dent on the hood. I was just sitting there staring absently when it registered. I jumped up and I yelled, “What the heck! Is that my car??” Shyam said, “What? What’s wrong?” I said, “Is that MY car with the dent in it?? What the heck!!! My car did NOT have a dent in it before I went to Jordan!” He said, “Yes, that car has had a dent in it since I bought it from the previous owner.” I said, “NO! That car did NOT have a dent in it!” We went back and forth, arguing heatedly, while the insurance guys looked on in surprise. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember that car having a dent in the front. I said, “What happened? Did you let someone go out driving it after I gave you the deposit, while I was in Jordan??” He insisted no, that the car was sitting in the lot the whole time I was gone. I searched inside my brain for a picture of the car as I saw it last. In my mind, I MIGHT HAVE seen a small dent, but no, no, I really couldn’t see a dent. Or could I? I couldn’t remember for the life of me. Shyam said, “Ask anyone at the dealership. Anyone will tell you that dent was there all along.” I thought and thought. Honestly I didn’t remember a dent, but then I did seem to remember some small flaw. Wow! Am I getting Alzheimer’s??
After the deal was closed, that evening I took the car to Precision Auto, the mechanic who checked out the car before I put down the deposit. He had given me a list of small repairs that needed to be made. I asked him, “Do you remember this dent in the front of this car?” He didn’t remember seeing it. He said maybe the smaller one toward the center may have been there, but he couldn’t remember the larger one. He asked the mechanic who checked it out. That mechanic only remembered the smaller dent as well.
Later that evening I texted Shyam and said that the mechanic did not remember that dent being there. He called me right away and we went around and around about it again. What could I do? It was my memory, which is not so dependable any more, and the memory of these two mechanics who saw it for one short hour, against his word. Shyam said we could forget the whole deal if I wanted. But I didn’t want to go back to the drawing board searching for another car. I took the car, dent and all. It’s mine now, with all its imperfections.