It takes some legwork, patience and compromise in this market, but it is still possible to get a decent used car in Canada for a low price. This is true whether you’re in Toronto or another Ontario city, EV-loving Quebec, a rural town in the Prairies, or you live in Vancouver, Halifax, or otherwise closer to the coasts.
We’ve set a very tight budget of $3,000 on our cross-country search for the cheapest cars you can buy used. While we were able to find multiple examples of each of the listed models in our search, inventory fluctuations and individual market constraints may net you different results. For frugal-minded folks who are happy to give up the latest features and technologies to score some affordable wheels in your next new car—well, new to you at least—buying a cheap car used can save a bundle of money. Just be ready to practice some buyer-beware tactics. We've included some cheap used car buying advice at the end of this article.
The Best Cheap Used Cars in Canada
- Honda Civic
- Toyota Corolla
- Honda Accord
- Toyota Camry
- Toyota Matrix
- Honda CR-V
- Nissan Altima
- Ford F-150
- Honda Odyssey
- Honourable Mentions
- Things to Consider Before Buying a Cheap Used Car
Until recently, the Honda Civic was the most popular passenger car in Canada for nearly a quarter century straight. As a result, you’ll find plenty of them on the used market today in sedan, coupe, and hatchback body styles. Its reputation for reliability makes it a relatively safe bet as far as buying a lower-priced, higher-mileage vehicle goes. This is especially true if you can find one that hasn’t been driven too hard. With a bit of legwork, you can find a Civic for under $3,000. Don’t be afraid of an odometer reading that’s pushing 300,000 kilometres as Civics have been known to last for much longer.
It’s a good sign that just about every search of low-priced used vehicles in Canada turns up a few Toyota Corollas. Like every other Toyota still on the road, the Corolla benefits from the Japanese firm’s reputed reliability. Unlike the Civic, Corolla owners tend not to drive their cars especially hard, by stereotype at least. A scan through used car listings on CarGurus.ca shows several sub-$3,000 examples with less than 300,000 kilometres on the odometer.
There are two brands that repeat on this list: Honda and Toyota. Everything that makes the Civic a great choice as a cheap used car also applies to the slightly larger Honda Accord. You’ll also find these mid-size sedans tend to be more gently driven and maintain a more comfortable ride than their compact counterparts. This makes them a great choice as long-distance highway cruisers. It’s not a stretch to find a sedan or a coupe for less than $3,000 with an odometer reading that’s reasonable for its age.
Cars that were built to last are easy to spot out on the road: if you see a lot of older examples of a particular model on a regular basis, that’s the one you’ll want to seek out as a low-cost used car. The Accord’s primary competitor, the Toyota Camry, fits that bill. Camry owners tend to be similarly gentle with their rides. Our research showed several exceptionally clean sub-300,000-kilometre specimens at our under-$3,000 price point. But the fact that there are also some cars approaching 500,000 kilometres speaks volumes.
Canadians loved the now-defunct Toyota Matrix, much more so than our American neighbours. We flocked to them for their reliability, relatively low maintenance costs, and SUV-like properties such as a tall profile and large cargo space in a more frugal package. It’s a little tougher to come up with a really cheap example since the Matrix hasn’t been around as long as the sedans we’ve already mentioned, so if you find one for a good price, snap it up. The Pontiac Vibe was developed alongside the Toyota Matrix and is worth considering as well.
There are two compact SUVs that are still common to see on Canadian roads in their first generations, complete with rear-mounted spare tires and side-hinged rear doors. One of those is the Honda CR-V, and the number of these still kicking around is a true testament to this SUV’s longevity. The first generation ran from 1997 to 2001, and the second generation ran from 2002 to 2006. It’s common to see both still kicking around among the CarGurus.ca used car listings. Canadians will appreciate being able to access a used vehicle in an SUV body style, sometimes even with all-wheel drive, for less than $3,000. The Toyota RAV4 could be considered in a similar light, although there are far fewer of those at the cheaper end of the used market.
Nissan may not historically come with the same brand reputation as Honda and Toyota, but there are enough early-2000s Altimas around that you’re likely to find one in our prescribed price range. You’ll find them in both the smaller 2.5-litre four-cylinder and larger 3.5-litre V6 engine configurations. Like the Camry and Accord, older Altimas tend to be closer in size to what’s considered a compact sedan today, making them a good fit for the average Canadian family. It’s important to know that 2002-2006 Altimas had known oil consumption issues and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) became the norm from 2007 on. But you may consider those fair trades for cheap wheels.
Looking for a cheap pickup truck? Consider a long-in-the-tooth Ford F-150. Like the Honda Civic we mentioned earlier, Ford’s F-Series trucks have been the best selling pick-up nameplate in Canada for decades. For a budget of less than $3,000, you’re looking at a 20 to 25-year-old truck with at least 200,000 kilometres on the odometer. But these trucks are built to last, so even at that age an F-150 should be ready to get to work. Ram trucks are far less common but could be worth considering if you find one at this price point.
If you’re looking for a low-budget people mover, a third-generation Honda Odyssey is a good bet. This version ran from model years 2005 to 2010 and is generally viewed as a reliable minivan for its time. The fact that most of the used Odysseys priced under $3,000 in Canada are pushing 500,000 kilometres is a testament to their durability. If you’re looking for six or seven seats and you find a lightly driven example at this price point, it should serve you well for some time.
Fair warning: older Mazdas have a reputation for rust issues, which doesn’t make for a great combination with the snow and salt that are common on Canadian roads. However, if you can find a rust-free and treated example, you might land a deal on a fun little car that’s generally newer and lower in price and odometer reading than vehicles of a similar age. It will take a little extra work to find a good one, but in the case of the Mazda3, it may be worthwhile.
Although our research didn’t turn these models up, they may be worth keeping an eye out for when searching for the cheapest used cars. The Mitsubishi Mirage subcompact hatchback is currently Canada’s cheapest car to buy new, so their lower starting price means they should become available occasionally at lower prices and lower odometer readings than some of the cars on this list (and the same goes for the recently discontinued Chevrolet Spark). The Hyundai Elantra and Kia Rondo turn up from time to time, but beware of reliability issues on older models.
The Chevrolet Uplander is a lesser-known minivan that could be a cheap way to get into three rows of seating for those who need it; there are plenty of Dodge Grand Caravans kicking around, too. If you’re willing to dig deeper into Nissans, a Nissan Sentra or Nissan Versa Note might get the job done for you. A Volkswagen Jetta or Passat might be harder than average to find, but they typically last a long time if you can find one at this price point. If AWD is a must, a Subaru Legacy or Forester may fit the bill. There are some cheap Ford Escapes and GMC Terrains around, but less commonly so. For a rare but surprisingly fun option, try looking for a Chrysler Sebring Convertible.
In today’s used car market, luxury marques like Acura, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Volvo, Land Rover, and Lexus rarely dip this low in price. But you might find the occasional Acura TL, BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, or Lexus ES worth looking into.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Cheap Used Car
Be ready to research
With older or higher-mileage cars, it takes more work to figure out whether you’re getting a good deal. It’s definitely worth investigating factors such as an automaker’s reputation for reliability and a given model year’s commonly reported problems. You should also ask the seller to produce maintenance records so you can determine how well the vehicle has been cared for. Furthermore, if you come across a car with a price that’s too good to be true, it probably is. While no sub-$3,000 used cars for sale will be in perfect condition, a seller who’s treating you fairly will draw your attention to any issues so that you can make an informed choice. Buying a vehicle history report such as CARFAX might be helpful in some parts of Canada so you can check whether a vehicle has an accident history or outstanding liens.
Have a higher budget, and tolerance, for unexpected maintenance
A cheap pre-owned car is highly likely to need more frequent and unexpected service, and you won’t have the benefit of a warranty. Unless you have a garage with a hoist and are decent with a wrench, be prepared for the added expense of frequent visits to a dealership or you local mechanic in the short term.
Expect higher fuel costs
As a vehicle ages, its engine becomes less efficient and fuel efficiency tends to take a dive. Plan to redirect some of the money you’re saving by choosing an older vehicle into bolstering your fuel budget.
Look into your insurance options
All drivers are required by law to carry certain types of insurance such as liability and accident medical expenses. However, the forms of insurance that protect the value of the vehicle in the event of loss or collision may not be worth the investment if you pay a low price for it to begin with. Bear in mind that you should have some cash set aside for purchasing a new vehicle, though, in case something happens.
Be aware of what you’re giving up
Older cars sometimes come with features that might surprise you, like power windows, a sunroof, cruise control, automatic climate control or heated seats. But if you’re spending less than $3,000 on a used car, you’re probably giving up modern amenities like Bluetooth connectivity or a backup camera. That’s to be expected, but it’s important to know where your money is going. And if you do happen to find those features at this price point, consider it a huge bonus.
Note: Images may show US models.