see all cities »


The Slightly Neurotic Way To Get A Great Deal On A Used Car

My husband and I just bought a car off Buying a used car is definitely not as convenient as buying a new car, but you save thousands of dollars in the process and get to drive around in a pristine fuel-efficient late model car with low kilometres. In other words, totally worth it. I’d have to be lighting my cigars with twenty dollar bills before I thought saving $10 000 – $20 000 wasn’t worth it.

Would you be caught dead in this used car? I sure would!


So how do you get started buying one of these pristine fuel-efficient late model car with low kilometres off a local classified website like Used?

Turns out typing in “used cars” in the search bar doesn’t really help. So, first you have to decide what kind of car you’re interested in. Maybe you’ve always liked your friend’s Mazda 3, or your brother’s Toyota Yaris. You can also look up recommended cars in Consumer Reports or the Lemon-Aid Guide, or you can just choose cars off a list like this one: Top 10 Cars For Smart People.

My husband and I needed a fuel-efficient car for commuting that could also handle our weekly trips to Home Depot, so we decided to look for a hatchback such as a Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Toyota Matrix (2003-2009) or a Mazda 3 (2004-2009), along with a few others. We also added a Pontiac Vibe to the list because it is the twin sister of the Toyota Matrix and is even produced on the same assembly line. Anything would be better than the crap pile we were driving around in – a 2002 Subaru with 260 000km on it that had no front bumper and was difficult to start when it was raining.

Cars age based on how many kilometres they’ve put on, not their model year, so a used car with only 50 000km on it is still a nice “new” car! Even a car with 100 000km on it has years and years of use ahead and more than 100 000km of low-maintenance driving left in it. Therefore, we opted to look for cars with around 50 000 – 100 000km on them that were in great shape with no rust.

As it turns out, ads from people selling excellent condition Toyota Matrixes, Pontiac Vibes, Honda Fits, Ford Focuses and most of the cars we were looking for are posted pretty much every day on Well, that was easy. We could just pick the first listing that fit our budget, contact the seller, test drive the car, get it checked out by a mechanic, and be pleased that we were saving money buying a reliable used car instead of paying a dealership $30 000 for the privilege of driving a new car off the lot and instantly having it lose half its value.

Average price of a new car in Canada: $27 000 (source: Statistics Canada)
Used car budget: $15 000
Total savings: $12 000

Of course, just buying the first listing you see isn’t a smart practice for any purchase, new or used. The only way to be certain you’re getting a good deal on something is to know how much you can usually expect to buy it for. So how do you know what people usually sell their used cars for?

If you’re a normal person you can look up the Kelley Blue Book value or the Canadian Black Book value for the make, model, year and mileage of the car you’re interested in (Kelley is an American site but you can enter a US zip code that borders your region to get prices that reflect similar market conditions). This will give you the average price of your used car based on transactions across the country. If it compares favourably with what the seller is asking and the car checks out, you’re a sane person who has found a pretty good deal.

Used car budget: $15 000
Kelley Blue Book price of a 2009 Pontiac Vibe with 70 000km: $12 000
Additional savings: $3000

If you’re a slightly neurotic person like me you can track the used car listings in your city until you know exactly what used cars routinely sell for around you. After all, Toronto prices are much different than Ottawa prices. (If you’re not a slightly neurotic person, you can just scroll down to the bottom of this article where I share my findings and list what you should pay for a used car in Ottawa.)

Using Excel, I tracked used car listings by their price and mileage over the course of the summer as they appeared on Each model of car gets its own spreadsheet, but all you do for each one is record the kilometres in column A and the price in column B. Once you have a few listings in the spreadsheet, select all the data in both columns (make sure to select some blank rows below too so you have room to add more listings) and insert a chart. The chart type you want is XY Scatter. Now right-click on one of the data points on the chart and select Add Trendline (linear).

With this chart, the line represents the average price used cars are selling for based on their kilometres. If a point falls above the line, that means the price is higher than average. If a point falls below the line, that’s a deal! As you add more data points to your spreadsheet, the line adjusts itself to become more accurate. Once I had enough data points that my line wasn’t moving around much anymore, I could confidently say what the average used car price was in my city for each model I was interested in. More importantly, I could choose a listing that was selling for much less than average.

Kelley Blue Book price of a 2009 Pontiac Vibe with 70 000km: $12 000
Price range of Pontiac Vibes with 70 000km in Ottawa: $7500 – $14 000
Additional savings: $4500

Knowledge is power. The more information you have about what used cars sell for, the more confidently you can pick deals and negotiate prices with a private seller or a dealership.

In the end my husband and I purchased a 2009 Pontiac Vibe with 70 000km for $8400 from a used car dealership that listed cars on It is smooth, shiny and spotless and we love our “new” car! This method was so successful we actually bought two used cars off, but that’s another story. Everybody’s convenience has a price. What’s yours?

Oh, and we sold the Subuaru for $750 on!

Psst! Based on the price data I collected in my car search, these are the average prices of reliable used cars in Ottawa this year. Anything below average is a deal!

All prices are based on 100 000km.

Ford Focus (2005-2009): $7500
Honda Fit (all years): $10 000
Hyundai Elantra (1999-2006): $7000
Mazda 3 (2004-2009): $7500
Nissan Versa (2007+): $8200
Pontiac Vibe (2003-2009): $10 000
Suzuki Aerio (2003-2007): $5200
Toyota Echo (2000-2005): $5000
Toyota Matrix (2003-2009): $10 000
Toyota Yaris (all years): $8000

Saving the planet is a nice side benefit to going green, but I have to admit I'm in it for the money. Why pay more for new when used is better?

4 Responses to “The Slightly Neurotic Way To Get A Great Deal On A Used Car”

Pam Stewart

Lisa, this is all kinds of awesome. That is all.


    Lisa Higgs

    Thanks for the encouragement, Pam!

Betty Higgs

I do love your new car!!! Knowledge is power!


Used Cars Montreal

Thanks for sharing this wonderful Car..It is really nice.


Leave a Reply