How much car will $2,500 buy in Canada these days?
January 27, 2016 4:20 PM   Subscribe

Will be returning to North America for about a year of traveling across Canada and the US. Will be looking for a used car able to make it a year without needing expensive repairs. Difficulty: a budget of around $2,500. More inside.

While I've not quite been living in a cave, living abroad for ~8 years does make you a little out of touch on what's going on with prices these days.

We'll be arriving in Canada in a couple of months, and we've big plans to take the sort of epic road trip everyone talks about doing after graduating high school or college. We'll have about $2,500 CAD to spend on a car that will (hopefully!) make it a year without needing much more than an oil change.

We'll be looking at the usual sources: craigslist, kijiji, etc. - but I'd love to know what to look for. Honda's? Ford's? Toyota's? What's most likely to be found in a week's worth of searching that also fits in the budget?

Most important: fuel economy, ease to drive, reasonably comfortable over long distances. Bonus points if it holds up to 4 people for the occasional ride-share.
posted by chrisinseoul to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have no specific brand or model recommendations, but one thing I do know is that Canada got a lot of diesel models of small cars that the US didn't. That would be my very first place to look, what small diesel sedans/hatchbacks(like the us Corolla, tercel, etc) are available. I know mitsubishi and Isuzu pumped out some.

Diesels are simpler from a mechanical standpoint, and the engines are much more heavily built. They also tend to get pretty damn good gas mileage.

I'm always jealous of the cool old diesel Japanese minivans I see people from Vancouver driving in Seattle. And the little compacts. You guys even got the diesel smart!(although that's definitely out of the top end of your price range, and those are built like crap, but yea).

I would pop open cl or kijiji, search "diesel", sort by price and just start looking at small cars.
posted by emptythought at 4:38 PM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

It depends on where you are in Canada but in the GTA I would not expect a reliable car for $2,500. Because of the strict emissions testing a lot of "beaters" have been pulled off the road and the remaining ones have a difficult time passing safety to transfer ownership.

I have a ten year old Toyota yaris, (very basic, no AC, manual windows) great fuel economy, tight squeeze for four adults but doable, 300,000k, hardly costs anything to maintain (but now aging into the time for major maintenance) and comparable cars sell for $6,000 minimum.

Don't even look at a car unless it comes with safety and emissions testing. Without it, you can't transfer the ownership (sad lesson for my sister who spent $5,000 on a cute little car without papers for her daughter and then found the repair bill to pass would be over $3,000) and she sold it for half because she wasn't willing to scam the next person.
posted by saucysault at 4:44 PM on January 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think if you're lucky and find an owner who just wants to get the sale over with you can do it for $2500 (keep licensing and taxes in mind as those are paid on top) but it'll be hard to find a car that is e-tested and safetied around that price from a private owner, maybe from a dealer.

In my experience good reliable used cars are toyota tercel, pontiac vibe, suzuki aerio, you might get lucky and find an older echo with low km's. If you look at vibes ask about/check for recalls, there's an outstanding airbag recall on most older vibes right now.
posted by lafemma at 4:45 PM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Where in Canada are you arriving? BC doesn't have safety or emissions inspections/testing for cars already titled in BC.

Around here @$2500 it doesn't really matter what you buy; they are all likely to be about the same. Makes considered to be reliable (toyota, Honda etc.) will have super high miles on them or be really old or both. Lower mileage newer cars will be from less reliable makes.

If it was me I'd buy a 4cyl manual Sunfire. The newer ones have the bugs worked out and you can get units with less than 150K kms under your budget with some looking around. It's pretty routine to see them reach 300K. And if something does go wrong you'll be able to get it fixed anywhere in the US and Canada.

In Canada Kijiji is the goto auto selling market place if you want to start looking. You can setup an alert to email you every time a car meeting your specifications is posted in your desired market.
posted by Mitheral at 5:02 PM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
Appreciate the suggestions, keep them coming. Can't edit now, but wanted to mention I'd prefer to avoid manual transmissions if possible. Never learned to drive them, but could if necessary.
posted by chrisinseoul at 6:58 PM on January 27, 2016

I'd prefer to avoid manual transmissions if possible

Frankly, so would a lot of used car buyers.

That's why you can often negotiate a lot harder on a manual. On your tight budget you'll want to consider that. If you can learn before you start test driving these cars that would be an advantage to you.

There isn't much point in trying to test drive a manual if you don't know how though, all you'll be able to tell is that the car keeps stalling. Learn first or have a friend test drive it.

If you have friends or family where you are headed, ask if anyone is selling a car in your price range. Sometimes people would rather sell to you for a lower price than have to deal with meeting strangers off craigslist.
posted by yohko at 7:44 PM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm just going to leave this here. Believe the hype. If it's been cared for even half decently, even if it looks awful- have a mechanic check it out, OF COURSE....but this is so true it's barely funny.
posted by metasav at 8:13 PM on January 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I recently sold a (manual) 2005 Mazda 3 with 160,000 km on Kijiji in Montreal for $1000.00. It was running more-or-less fine but needed some minor repairs in the short term. We wanted it gone and priced it low accordingly. So I'd say it's possible, but whenever you buy an old car like that there's no guarantee. My car could keep going another 100,000 km with no trouble, or it could conk out well before that.

If you buy in Quebec there's no inspection. If you can convince the previous owner to "gift" the car to you at the counter you can also avoid tax. Not that I'm advising tax avoidance you understand...

When are you driving? Bear in mind that a set of snow tires can run you $600-1000 alone if you need them.
posted by Cuke at 9:17 PM on January 27, 2016

I sold a running e-tested (but not safetied) automatic 2001 altima with about 120 000kms for $750 last year in the gta. I didn't want to drive far in the winter due to tires, but it would have been fine in the other seasons. My mechanic had suggested some work on the brakes soonish for about $600-$1000 depending on what i wanted to do. I think you could get lucky and definitely want to budget a mechanic to look at it. The altima engine/drivetrain is pretty bulletproof, the rest of the car starts to go after that many years.
posted by captaincrouton at 10:59 AM on January 28, 2016

You need to budget for repairs. I drove 14,000 km in 28 days going from Toronto to St. John's to Vancouver. I never went further north than Jasper. If you have a year to do this epic trip you might expect that mileage to go for 3 months. However, if you are looking to see everything from the Northern lights to the Everglades, I could easily see you putting 50,000 km on a car. These two countries are really damn big with swathes of long nothing to navigate.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:55 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

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