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Guide to Buying a Cheap Used Car in Canada (And 10 Top Picks)

A brand new car isn’t always in the cards, or more likely, not in the budget. That leaves either public transportation or ride-sharing or buying a cheap used car.

Unless you really enjoy talking to strangers on the bus or waiting for who-knows-how-long for your ride to show up, then getting a used car sounds like a pretty good plan.

But the used car market today is more robust than ever. Whether you're looking for a car, SUV, truck, or van, you can find a great deal in a cheap, used car. And you can do it all in days, not weeks. This quick guide will show you the easiest way to find a great deal on your next vehicle.

Looking for one of the best pre-owned vehicles to buy now? We pick older models between 2012-2018 with great overall value, standard features, and more - jump down to the list:

Buying an affordable used car, here's what to consider first

1. Beware of higher than advertised interest rates

The sticker price on a used car can be enticing. But it’s what you don’t see on the online listing or window sticker that changes the game. If the car needs inspection and safety repairs, that can be expensive. Then there are warranties to consider, not to mention taxes. But the factor that takes most people by surprise is the interest rate. 

On a used vehicle, interest rates are higher than the advertised rates for new cars. Where it’s common to see new car interest rates between 0% and 4.99% depending on the car and financing term, used vehicles don’t qualify for those subvented interest rates. Two options remain: finance at a higher rate or pay cash. 

2. Should I pay cash for a car?

The idea of owning a vehicle outright with no payments is certainly intriguing. But it’s seldom a good idea to pay cash for a used car. 

  • Most car buyers don’t have that kind of money on hand. 
  • If you do have the cash to buy a car, it can put you in a tight financial position if you have a surprise expense.
  • Your money can earn you more in a modest investment than you’ll pay in interest usually. 

For most used car buyers, the better option is to make payments on a pre-owned car loan.

3. Can you get a loan for a private sale?

When you look at the used car listings, many are for privately owned vehicles. The problem is that you don’t have the money on hand to buy the car right away. You can:

  • Make an agreement with the seller and get a bill of sale. 
  • Visit your bank or another lender to apply for a used car loan. 
  • Wait until the loan is approved and funded, which can be a day to a week. 
  • Or be denied the loan and start all over. 

Loans for privately purchased cars are possible, but they’re tough to navigate and time-consuming. And often, they’re at an interest rate that seems higher than it should be. 

4. Can I get a used car loan from a dealership?

You may be surprised to learn not only that car dealerships sell used cars but have some of the best loan options available to you. In fact, most car dealers outsell new cars with used 2 to 1. Because it’s a high-volume part of their business, dealerships have access to some of the best rates and terms with lenders specifically for auto loans. Better yet, financing is often done on the spot or within a day.

Where do you find the best cheap used cars?

In Canada, there are hundreds of thousands of used cars for sale at any one time. Many of those are in the range you’d consider a cheap used car, from $3,000 to $15,000. The various locations you’ll find cars listed run the gamut.

If you’re looking to sell your current vehicle, also read our article What Is My Car Worth? where we discuss free car value tools, trade-in value vs resale value, and depreciation’s impact on trade-in value.

Autotrader

Of the sites listing used cars for sale, Autotrader is one of the most popular. Typically containing more than half a million listings nationwide, Autotrader has many options to choose from. While diverse listings are a positive aspect, this site is notorious for sellers who don’t honour the price they advertise the vehicle for. It’s also inundated with premium listings that may be masking the gem you’re looking to buy, and Autotrader doesn’t offer financing.

Facebook Marketplace

Another option gaining popularity is Facebook Marketplace where you can browse through free vehicle listings. There are thousands of vehicles listed, but it’s definitely not user-friendly to sort through those listings. 

As well, there’s no guarantee that the details on the ad are true and accurate, and there’s always a chance the listing is a scam. Financing the vehicle is completely up to you.

Kijiji

Canada’s favourite classifieds website is Kijiji where you can buy and sell virtually anything. That includes used cars by the thousands. It’s relatively easy to search the listings for the model or details you want, but there are hiccups for Kijiji also. 

Like Marketplace, many ads are fake with the intention to scam you. And like Autotrader, there’s a trend where the listed price isn’t the actual price you’d have to pay. Kijiji also doesn’t offer any financing services.

Used car dealerships

Across the other platforms, you’ll find vehicles listed by dealerships. Dealerships have a responsibility to provide accurate details and are accountable for them. The vehicles are also professionally inspected and serviced. 

Unfortunately, if you have bad credit, some dealerships may not be equipped to take care of you well. Also, you'll often be charged various dealership fees, so make sure you're clear about this before you sign any paperwork.

Canada Drives

Canada Drives is the country’s largest online vehicle retailer that makes it easy to shop, buy, and pay for your next car completely online. All vehicles are certified, which means they are professionally reconditioned, warrantied, and ready to drive. Canada Drives can get you approved for financing too. We'll even deliver the vehicle to your door.

We've helped over one million Canadians find great cars with affordable auto financing. Here's why more and more car buyers are shopping with Canada Drives:

  • Hundreds of cars in one place: Browse hundreds of low mileage cars, trucks and SUVs—all online (no more hopping from dealership to dealership). 
  • Love it or return it: Shop confidently knowing you can easily change your mind with our ‘Love it or Return it’ money-back guarantee. 
  • Great prices: Our online-only model doesn’t rely on brick-and-mortar stores or dealer fees and you’ll see those savings reflected in our prices.
  • Free CARFAX history reports: Make an informed decision about each car with all background checks just a click away. 
  • No more face-to-face appointments. We do everything online, so you can skip the dealership and be driving a car you love in as little as 24 hours.
  • Delivered to your door: Tell us where and when—we’ll bring your car to you as soon as the same day.
  • All credit situations welcome: Bad credit, good credit, or no credit, we can help you. Learn more from our article: How to Get Approved for a Car Loan with Bad Credit in Canada
  • Flexible financing options: Our team of finance professionals will work to get you the best rate possible. You can also finance with your own bank or pay with a card or bank draft.

What to look for when buying a cheap used car

No matter how much or how little you’re looking to spend, you need your car to be reliable. Certain things should be on your checklist for a cheap used car including:

  •  A vehicle history report such as CARFAX. A VHR identifies any red flags like title issues, major accidents, or gaps in history that you may want to walk away from. 
  • Warranty included or available. Unless you’re ready to pay for costly repairs, you’ll want a warranty on your used car. Find out how much factory warranty is remaining and price out extended warranty options. 
  • A vehicle inspection. Make sure the car has been checked over and safety certified by a licensed technician. But you should personally look for warning signs like rust spots, dents and dings, mismatched paint, leaks under the car, and unusual wear on tires. This is especially important if you buy from a private seller who probably won't provide a CARFAX or inspection report.

Is it cheaper to lease a used car?

Leasing may also be an option for a used car, depending on where you find the vehicle you want. Since new car advertisements often promote leases at a lower monthly price than financing, what are the perks for leasing a used car

  • Lower monthly payment. Like a new car lease, it’s usually less expensive to lease a used car. 
  • Flexible options at lease end. When your term is done, you can either give it back or buy it out. 
  • More bang for your buck. You may be able to afford a used luxury or premium car by leasing rather than financing. 

But there are negatives to leasing a used car too: 

  • You don’t build equity. 
  • You may need to pay wear and tear penalties. 
  • Most of all, there are very few dealers who offer used car leases. 

10 top reliable cheap used cars for Canadians

Wondering what kinds of reliable pre-owned cars you can get these days? Here, we’ve picked 10 of the best based on overall value, features, and more.

2012-2013 Mazda3 GS-Sky - $4,900 to $13,000

The 2012 Mazda3 was the first one offered with the brand’s SkyActiv powertrain technology, which introduced a then-new 2.0L engine with direct fuel injection and other features that improved the second-generation 3’s fuel economy without sacrificing its entertaining performance.

As the middle of three trims, the Mazda3 GS-Sky is affordable but comes nicely equipped: 2012 models got heated seats, alloy wheels, and leather-trimmed steering wheel and shifter, while 2013 models added a trip computer and could be optioned with passive keyless entry, dual-zone A/C, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

2015 Kia Forte sedan - $8,300 to $17,000

In 2015, the Kia Forte was two years into its second generation, a redesign that gave this compact economy car a more upscale look inside and out. If your next vehicle purchase decision will be driven mainly by a tight budget, look for an entry-level LX model powered by a straightforward and low-maintenance 1.8L, 148-hp engine.

An LX with the optional automatic transmission is attractive for also coming with A/C and keyless entry, while an LX+ model added alloy wheels and heated front seats. If there’s a little more room in your budget, EX and SX trims come with more features and a 2.0L, 173-hp engine with direct fuel injection.

2014 Mitsubishi Lancer DE/SE - $7,000 to $18,000

When Mitsubishi redesigned its Lancer compact sedan in 2008, the high-performance Evolution models got most of the attention. But most Lancer buyers went for the car’s less-exciting – and much less-expensive – variants. In 2014, those included the DE and SE trim levels, both of which were powered by a 148-hp, 2.0L engine that has proven durable, but is close to the back of the pack in terms of fuel economy.

The Lancer’s other downside is its plain interior, which had become dated by the time the 2014 model year rolled around. DE trim was equipped with power door locks and windows, but A/C was an option; SE came standard with A/C, alloy wheels, and heated seats.

2015 Hyundai Accent - $5,000 to $17,000

For many years, the Hyundai Accent’s reputation was one of basic transportation and not much else. That changed with the 2012 arrival of the Accent’s fourth generation, which was roomier, better looking, more powerful, and more efficient than its predecessors. The car’s 1.6L engine makes 138 hp, which is impressive for a subcompact car even by today’s standards.

The GL trim is the strongest value with its standard A/C, keyless entry, heated seats, and power windows. If you can afford a bit more than basic transportation, an SE trim came with alloy wheels and a sunroof, while the top GLS added automatic climate control, LED daytime running lights, and leather trim for the steering wheel and shifter.

2015 Nissan Sentra SV - $9,000 to $17,000

If you’re in the market for an affordable car with lots of interior space, put the Nissan Sentra at the top of your list. A comprehensive redesign a couple of years earlier effectively turned this compact into a mid-size with generous rear-seat and trunk space.

You’ll get the best fuel economy from the Sentra’s optional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), but you’ll be less impressed by the 1.8L engine’s 130 hp, which was below average for the compact class in 2015. If you’re looking for value, choose a 2015 Sentra in SV trim, which came with A/C, heated seats, passive keyless entry, a backup camera, auto on/off headlights, and alloy wheels.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta Trendline 2.0 - $7,000 to $14,500

In previous generations, the Volkswagen Jetta was positioned as a premium choice among compact cars, and so tended to be more expensive than the class’s sales leaders.

By 2014, the Jetta was four years into its sixth generation and carried a base price of just under $15,000; that was possible in part due to the car’s basic 2.0L four-cylinder engine whose 115 hp provides modest performance and no fuel economy advantage over an optional 170-hp five-cylinder. However, the 2.0L is a proven design with strong reliability. A Jetta 2.0 is a strong value in its well-equipped base Trendline trim.

2014 Toyota Yaris - $9,000 to $17,000

Toyota knows a thing or two about building dependable cars; the 2014 Toyota Yaris is proof the company also knows when to leave well enough alone. By the time this second-gen Yaris came along two years earlier, Toyota was already banking on its profitable SUV models, so the Yaris used a well-proven powertrain first employed at the turn of the millennium.

Still, that 1.5L engine’s 106 hp is enough to make the Yaris fun in city driving and efficient in all conditions. Only the 2014 Yaris’s top SE trim came standard with A/C, keyless entry, power windows, and cruise control, items that were options in lesser configurations.

2015 Honda Civic - $10,000 to $16,000

The mid-2010s was a rough period for the Honda Civic, which nearly lost its title of Canada’s best-selling car after a lackluster 2012 redesign to which Honda applied an emergency refresh the following year. Despite that misstep, the ninth-generation Civic held up the nameplate’s reputation for affordable, reliable, and efficient transportation.

The 2015 Civic – the final year for the ninth-gen design – used a 143-hp, 1.8L engine capable of good fuel economy without even trying. If you’re on a budget, an LX model came with A/C, heated seats, a backup camera, and cruise control. Look for an EX or Touring model if your budget can accommodate niceties like a sunroof, alloy wheels, passive keyless entry, and navigation.

2013 Chevrolet Cruze LT - $9,000 to 12,000

Options like leather interior, heated seats, and remote start are available in the Cruze LT trim. With its turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Cruze is an affordable compact car with tons of attitude behind the wheel. 

2018 Kia Rio LX - $12,000 to $15,000

If awesome fuel efficiency is a top priority, the Kia Rio LX will serve you well. The LX trim has auto transmission available along with Bluetooth, power windows, AC, and keyless entry, and there’s a good chance you’ll find one with low mileage that still has a bumper-to-bumper warranty in effect. 

Ready to buy a used car from this list?

Find all these cars above and more in our inventory here. Every vehicle has completed a 150 Point Inspection, comes with a no-charge 30 Day / 1,500 km warranty, and is covered by our 7-Day money back return policy.

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