Shopping for a first car is a rite of passage for many young people — spending hours poring over used car ads, looking for that perfect low mileage, gently loved beater that falls within the allotted budgeted of squirreled away dollars.

But is it still possible to find that gem of a beater for under $2,000?

According to Brian Murphy, the vice-president of research for the used car guide Canadian Black Book, those cheap, yet reliable finds, are very, very rare.

  • Was your first car a beater? Tell us about your story in the comments below.

Murphy says $2,000 is a really tough price point in the current market. While 30 years ago, a great car could be found for just a couple thousand, Murphy says in 2017, you have to consider inflation — so $2,000 in 1987 is $4,000 now.

Anything available today in the $2,000-range is likely not going to be the deal you hope it will be.

"You're looking at something that probably has 200,000 km on it, and you're also getting into the part of that car's life where there is some risk you could have major repairs to things like the engine, drive train, that kind of thing," he said on the Calgary Eyeopener Thursday.

Spending more can save money

For reasonable quality cars, Murphy says you're more likely to pay around $6,000 to $7,000.

"It's easy for us to say, 'oh, you need to spend more money,' but that's maybe not the reality of everyone's budget. But if you can afford more, it may actually save you money in the long run," he said. "Because you could get a $2,000 car that has $2,000 worth of problems."

Regardless of your budget, it's important to do your research. Murphy offered these tips to used-car shoppers.

  • Check out third-party sources like Consumer Reports and Canadian Black Book — sites that offer comprehensive research data on vehicle reliability.
  • Consider buying from a licensed used-car dealer — the industry is regulated and you're less likely to have problem.
  • Get a vehicle history report on any car that piques your interest to make sure there are no liens on the vehicle.
  • Don't rush the search process and don't make any hasty decisions.

If you're shopping for a car in Alberta, however, advocates have raised concerns about the industry in the province and you should expect to pay between eight to 10 per cent more. 

"Generally car prices in total are higher in Alberta," Murphy said. "There's several reasons for that; for one, salt isn't used in the wintertime as much as it is in Eastern Canada. We all know salt's the natural enemies of cars and it makes corrosion more prevalent."

For more information on buying used cars, Alberta Transportation offers a series of tips on its website.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener