How to get a great car for cheap (we saved $14,500!)

Ben and Natalia stand next to their new white 2016 Hyundai Elantra GT hatchback car

How we got here

This is how we ended up getting a great car for cheap, told through a story of how we got our own low-mileage, pimped out 2016 Hyundai Elantra GT for $9900 ($11,500 after tax) through a private sale! To put that number into perspective, Natalia and I test drove a new 2020 Elantra GT and the salesman said it would come to $26,000 CAD! That’s a 55% difference! Let’s dive (or drive?) right into this story.

Knowing it was time for a cheap new-to-us car

After having put 240,000 KM on Natalia’s Nissan Versa -which was also a cheap car- it had started to show signs of truly dying. So, we brought it to her trusty mechanic to get his say on its time left on this planet.

Here’s a quick, harshly entertaining clip from that conversation:

Ricky: Ricky Ratchet’s

Natalia: Hi this is Natalia calling. I dropped off my Nissan Versa yesterday and I was just checking up.

Ricky: Yep, I got a list sitting right here right now. Are you ready?

Natalia: Oh okay! Uhmmm… Sure, yeah!

Ricky: I think you should stop putting money into this car.

Ricky: Transmission pan is rotten, oil pan’s rotten, break lines are rotten, tires are bald on the inside edge, hole in the subframe, front swaybar bushings are bad, left front CV boot is ripped, high beam light’s out. You have enough stuff here going on that you should stop.

Natalia: Ok, that’s good to know.

Ricky: Get another car.


After hearing that, we knew it was definitely time to get a new car! That’s when the search for our new-to-us car began.

The search for a great new-to-us car for cheap

A good rule of thumb is to never leap into a purchase without knowing what you need. This is our process for doing that.

What we needed in this new car

The first thing you need to do when searching for a new vehicle is to know exactly what you’re looking for. There are just way too many options out there to just say “I want a car”. To be honest, narrowing down the criteria for a new car is my favourite part because different life milestones account for different criteria. That, and it’s the easier part with absolutely no commitment! Anywho, at this point in our lives, these are the things we needed in a car:

  • a hatchback
    • versatile cargo space (often hauling house-related items)
    • inexpensive operation/maintenance
    • good reliability over the next 10yrs
    • fairly good fuel economy
    • easily installed trailer hitch (specifically for a solid bike rack)
  • not a dark/black colour (absorbs too much heat which makes the engine work harder)
  • between 2014 and 2019
  • less than 50,000km on it
  • around $10-15,000 CAD (aka cheap)

With those in mind, we narrowed our choices down to three different cars that suited our needs; the Hyundai Elantra GT, Subaru Crosstrek, and Volkwagon Golf Wagon. All different brands and all bringing something different to the table. We test drove all of them just to be sure of our choice though.

Subaru Crosstrek considerations

We were looking at Crosstreks but we and our parents have survived our entire lives without AWD and are fine with a less expensive FWD car. In the end, FWD cars are cheaper to operate and maintain (equalling more adventuring per dollar). Natalia likes the ride height, but the used cars themselves are a bit too limited and expensive for our budget. The good news is that Subarus hold their value quite well and people buy them because they want to hold on to them for longer than just a few years!

VW Golf Wagon considerations

We’ve driven multiple VW Golf Wagons as rental cars for work (3-4000km) in both FWD and AWD variations and really like it handling and cargo space. The biggest strike against is that it’s German. If you recall, one of our main criteria is a low maintenance cost. German cars (ie. VW, Audi) are known to cost more than Asian cars (ie. Hyundai/Kia) to maintain, which was a big red flag for us.

Hyundai considerations

My parents have had Hyundais since 2006 and the cars have been good to them. Hyundais and Kias -although cheap- are now more reliable than earlier models (which had horrible reliability ratings) and Hyundai is the 5th largest car company in the world!

Random aside: In the same week that we started looking for cars, it was officially announced that the Elantra GT will be no more as of 2021 in the Americas. It’s unfortunate but not unexpected because American and Canadian consumers have been increasingly more eager to get SUVs and trucks rather than smaller cars.

Either way, we were considering an Elantra GT because we don’t need SUV space. I don’t think we’ll need a roof rack, either. But we definitely want a trailer hitch for our ebikes!

Ultimately, the 2016 Elantra GT is the car we decided on getting.

Cash, finance, or lease?

We looked into more expensive options and even financing… but WOW. Dealerships make a ton of money off of financing! For example, to get Financing on a $17,000 2019 Elantra GT from a dealership, we would be paying the following prices:

  • 84-month financing at 6.7% with no money down for a $17,000 car
    would come to $24,089.87 after taxes and interest.
    $4900 of that being interest.
    That would come to around $286/month.
  • 24-month financing at 4.99% with $5,000 down for a $17,000 car
    would come to $19,210 after taxes and interest.
    $730 of that being interest.
    All of that would come to around $800/month.

These numbers are all without any “additional dealership fees”. So, because we like avoiding interest all together (for most purchases), cash was the way to go for this relatively small purchase. You see, we knew we didn’t need to pay a lot for good value. Take it from Warren Buffett himself:

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”

– Warren Buffett

As for leasing a car… no. Just no. The dealership wins big with leases and we just don’t even consider it. If you want to learn more about how leasing is a bad idea (financially), check out this article from canadadrives.ca.

Finding a great cheap car deal

After 2 weeks of talking with car-enthusiast friends, researching, searching, and narrowing down our options, we found it. But not without a little more help from the interwebs.

Online car-hunting tools

Autotrader and Kijiji Autos are the two most popular online vehicle listing sites in Canada. Using these two sites, along with their numerous filters and alerts and some patience is probably the best way to find a great car for cheap — exactly what you’re looking for.

I’m a huge fan of Kijiji for buying, selling, trading, and giving away things that are less than $5000. But when it came to car-hunting though, Autotrader was the site I felt most comfortable using. Its filters made the most sense and from what I could see, people and dealerships alike tend to fill out more accurate information on the Autotrader ads when compared with Kijiji Autos.

To be fair, Kijiji Autos is still relatively new to the game, only having been launched in October 2018 as its own website (separate from kijiji.ca). Either way, I didn’t have much luck with Kijiji Autos. But, because you don’t want to miss out on potentially great deals, my recommendation is to browse on all of them.

Facebook Marketplace is an option too – but I didn’t check there a single time during the entire process (didn’t think of it at the time).
Oh, and don’t forget: if you stumble upon this in the future and I haven’t updated it, make sure you do your own research into which vehicle listing sites are at the top of their game in the year that you’re car-hunting in!

We found exactly what we were looking for – a great car for cheap

Our white 2016 Hyundai Elantra GT in the sunset with glowing grass in the foreground

After a few slow weeks of pursuing our options and casually trying different filters, we decided to step it up a notch. We decided that we wanted to dive in and do it and get this thing. It wasn’t all that real but now it was. I started messaging people and figuring out a lot of the information that you see in this post.

After only four days of messaging people, having CARFAX reports and email alerts sent to me, a few cars stuck out. But we had still been looking in the $15-18k range. We sat down and asked ourselves if we really wanted to dish out $20,000 cash between us. The answer, clearly, was no. We wanted to pay half that.

So, yet again, I narrowed down our search results to include Elantra GT models as old as 2016. Bam. A goldmine appeared. We found two cars for private sale: one for $10,500 and the other for $9,950; both in near mint condition and under 40,000km. I messaged both of them. After going back-and-forth with each for a few hours, we decided to meet one for a test drive for the one in Woodstock, Ontario.

The cheap car buying experience

It was a scorching hot summer Sunday afternoon and my parents offered up their own 2017 Hyundai Accent Sedan for us to drive to this potential deal. Why? Because Natalia’s Versa’s air conditioner hadn’t ever worked haha! We would have shown up with our backs absolutely drenched – a fantastic look (and smell).

Showing up

We arrived at the owner’s place of work, where it was explained to us that the person we had been talking to was actually Rosie’s (the Elantra GT owner) boss (John). You see, he heard about the horrible trade-in deal that she would be getting and he knew that she could sell this great car privately for more than the trade-in value. So John took it upon himself to be the filter between the internet and Rosie. But there are a lot of people that could low-ball or be nasty to a nice, innocent, not-car-savvy lady. So he was the filter. It all checked out and still does to this day.

We checked out the exterior and interior of the car to the best of our ability but in the end, we knew we’d be bringing it to the local Hyundai dealership to get a Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI) done on it.

Newbie tip: Unless you have a “car guy” that’s going to bring a jack, tools, extensive knowledge who’s willing to to spend 1-2 hours checking out the car, always get that PPI done. No matter how nice the seller is, their intent is to sell the car (biased) and they are probably not a mechanic (unknowledgeable, even if completely honest).

Test drive and Pre-Purchase Inspection

The sellers were nice enough to hand us the keys, take a picture of my driver’s license, and let us drive off with the car. We told them what we were up to and where were would go and then we were off. Testing the car’s brakes on the side streets went well, as well as hitting the highway and flooring it to highway speeds. For a wee li’l 2.0L engine, it had a bit of pep to it! We pulled off near the dealership to check out the car inside and out with our own eyes a bit further, delving into the trunk area and making sure there weren’t any nasty surprises.

After that, we drove over to the local Hyundai dealership where we paid $130 for a Pre-Purchase Inspection just to make sure all was good (by pros who know what they’re looking for). We offered $9,900, got it, and registered it for $1,530. That’s a total cost of $11,560 Canadian… or about $8,800 USD. Because saying that makes it sound like an even better deal 😅! 

The Tour of our cheap car

Let’s take a look at this sexy beast. With 35,000 KM on it when we got it, this 2016 Elantra GT is exactly what we were looking for. The previous owner had pimped it out with tinted windows, remote start, set of winter tires on rims, and custom-moulded WeatherTech mats. For us, that was the icing on top of this amazing private sale. We paid her cash, and she used that cash as a downpayment for her new car. It was a win-win-win situation for us all. 

Not only was this find low-mileage, but it was also in pristine condition! The previous owner had barely driven it, never used the back seats, and in the 4 years and 35,000km that it had existed for, she’d had the oil changed 8 times, with every summer/winter tire swap. To say the least, this was a great car for cheap and was in FANTASTIC condition! 

I mean look at this, the previous owner had this pimped out! 

  • Tinted windows, 
  • remote start, 
  • A separate set of winter tires on rims, and 
  • custom-moulded WeatherTech mats. 

Private car sales are a win-win-win! 

When you’re looking for your next great car for cheap, I advise you to go through private sales instead of dealerships. There are tons of benefits for everyone by doing it this way!

The Buyer wins

The buyer wins because you (obviously) don’t pay as much as you would at a dealership. There’s no overhead and private sellers often want to get rid of the car so they can move on with their life. And with the PPI, you get the same look-over by a professional. Debatably, a PPI at a random shop is better than at the dealership because they aren’t incentivized to sell the car to you.

The Seller wins

The seller gets more money back than they otherwise would with a trade-in. As a matter of fact, the previous owner of this Elantra GT was using the money we paid her as a down payment on her brand new car which she was upgrading to.

The Government wins

Unfortunately, you can’t get away from taxes when buying cars here in Canada. I’m not sure about other places around the world. But just remember, you have to pay taxes no matter if you’re buying from a dealership or a private seller. But also remember you only pay the taxes when registering your vehicle, not to the seller. The seller just gets the sale price of the vehicle (in our case, $9900).

We wish…

Of course, there are some sacrifices you have to make when you’re looking to save money… and you can’t always get everything you want in a used car if you’re trying to stick to your budget. 

This was already a lot of car for not a lot of money, but saying yes to this deal meant missing out on: 

  • A big Android Auto and Apple CarPlay screen
  • No heated steering wheel
  • Lane assist, adaptive cruise control, etc.

But honestly, the cost of getting those would be $14,440. That’s right, a brand new 2020 Hyundai Elantra GT with under 100km on it comes in at around $26,000… at minimum. 

You can’t have everything (especially early on in life)

This is just one demonstration of living below your means. You don’t need a new vehicle to get something that’s 80% nice! Just get a great car for cheap – something within 5yrs or so and make sure you do your research. Realize that new features trickle into cars all the time and you’re not really missing out on much by waiting a few more years for new tech. We’ll all be in electric cars soon anyway.

Related side note: early on in life is the best time to take advantage of compounding interest. So saving every dollar you possibly can and investing is more important when you’re younger, even if you’re not making as much as you will later on in life.

A funny, smelly note…

As we got into this 4-year-old car, Natalia did a big sniff in to check the smell. It had that new-car smell, even 4 years later and we were super pumped about that! The funny part is: after we had been test-driving around for a bit, Natalia started to feel overpowered by the smell. We figured that it was just because she wasn’t used to it, but it was also a funny little reason we told ourselves that -even if we wanted to- we wouldn’t be able to buy a brand new car! We’re only ever going to be able to buy great cars for cheap. Because of Natalia’s not-so-secret superpower: her super smell! 😂

Thanks for reading!

I hope this post helps you the next time you’re getting a “new” car for you or your family that’s cheap. Keep in mind that although we got a new car, we only use it when we need to and most of the time, we bike around on our DIY ebikes! Owning vehicles is expensive and if you can avoid commuting with them, you can save loads of money!

You might find the other blog posts that I write and videos that I make helpful too. With this content, comes a lot of questions from readers/viewers and I try to get back to every single comment that people leave – especially questions! Sometimes I even make posts and/or video responses to comments, so if you want to hear back from me, hit up the comments section!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

Related articles

ben in red shorts on a yellow ebike in a snow storm with a bright yellow jacket on, laughing

Ben Durham

ebike enthusiast &
video storyteller

Just a regular bicycle warrior who’s super into ebikes, infrastructure, personal finance, and efficiency!

my favourite posts

check out my videos

Ben's YouTube Channel