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Winter is nipping impatiently at our heels, and for many, this means it’s time to go out and pick up what used to be known as a jalopy, rust-bucket, clunker, banger, bucket of bolts or whatever to use care-free as you plough through the snow, slush and piles of road-salt. For your purposes here, we’ll say that means a top price of $5,000 that people are willing to pay for the privilege. With a bit of luck, your “new” ride might even last you beyond one winter!
If you know how to look and what to look for, the market is full of little gems that could be your trusty servants for several winter seasons, for a really miserly sum.
Here is our totally scientific, blatantly un-scientific list of 10 used-car models, 15 years old or more, that can be had for under the $5,000 mark, and which give you a fighting chance of keeping them running and useful for another five, maybe even 10 years.
10 – Toyota Tercel (1990-1999)
Super hero or cockroach? Of all the cars Toyota has produced over the past 30 years, the 90s-era Tercel may be the most indestructible. If you don’t believe us, do a quick count of the old Tercels you see out on the roads on any given day. Just try to name any competitor’s model from that period that is still active in such large numbers; there is none. Currently on the used-car market, an old Tercel in good condition can be had for between $2,000 and $3,000 – if you can find one for sale, that is. People tend to hang on to them.
9 — Mazda 3 (2004)
Yes we know, as an old Mazda it rusts at the mere sight of a snowflake. But if you manage to find one that has been treated against corrosion, you can count on benefiting from your 2004 Mazda 3 for a few years. What’s more, precisely because of its vulnerability to corrosion, it can be had for a song on the used-car market. There are great bargains to be found… just be patient and keep looking.
8 – Subaru Outback (2004)
Canadian winters and Subaru vehicles go together like peanut butter and jam. The Japanese automaker has quite an ace up its sleeve, in the form of what may be the best all-wheel-drive system in the industry. And while AWD may be quite widespread in the industry today, this wasn’t the case 15 years ago. It’ll be important to seek out a model that’s been well-maintained and whose all-wheel drive still works effectively. But remember, finding the gem among the flotsam is part of the fun of shopping for a cheap used car.
7 – Acura TL (2004)
If you’re set on getting a higher level of luxury for your 5 grand or less, think outside the box and consider a TL from Acura. This car was the cat’s meow among premium cars in the early 2000s, and given the legendary reliability of that brand’s products in that era, you’ll be making a safe bet. As a bonus, you’ll benefit from a higher level of equipment, for example heated seats and a navigation system, circa 2004! Happy hunting…
6 – Toyota Matrix (2004)
Want something with the Toyota name on it, but turn your nose up at the Tercel? You might want to consider the Matrix. Here again, we’re talking about an exceedingly safe bet in terms of maintenance costs, as reports of problems with this model have been few and far between over the years. What’s more, since SUVs are such a hot commodity these days, the Matrix could be seen as a valid compromise thanks to its high profile and generous cargo volume.
5 – Honda Civic (2004)
The Civic has the best-selling car in Canada for the past 20 years and counting, and it’s not by accident. The Civic is an omnipresent choice on the used-car market thanks to its sturdy reliability – and of course to the huge numbers of Civics that have made their way onto the market in the past two decades. You do want to watch out for pre-owned models that have been treated harshly, however. Your bargain hunt should focus on finding that Civic that’s well-preserved. Trust us, they’re out there – just be patient and keep looking!
4 – Toyota Corolla (2004)
Like the Civic, the Toyota Corolla represents a great choice, and there’s no shortage of used models out there. In fact, you might have an easier time finding a decent one than its more-popular Honda rival. Buying a Corolla from this era means not only benefiting from an exciting driving experience, but experiencing the joy of not visiting your local garage with any regularity. This is a prime candidate for those who want to get several winters out of their banger.
3 – Honda Accord (2004)
For more years than we can remember the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry mid-size sedans have gone head-to-head as the best-selling cars in their category in North America. As with the Civic, there’s a good reason for this. And the advantage the Accord and Camry offer in relation to the smaller Civic and Corolla, is the more comfortable ride they deliver. If your comings and goings require extended periods spent on the road, this could make them compelling choices for you.
2 – Toyota Camry (2004)
As we just mentioned, the Camry is a veritable monument on the market in North America, and it has been for over 30 years. In its case, it may be a challenge to find a model with lower mileage on the odometer; because of its great durability and smooth ride, those who own Camrys tend to rack up the kilometres in them. But be perseverant and you should be able to dig up the gem you want, and then you can count on driving it for as much as 10 or 15 years.
1 – Toyota Avalon (2004)
To finish of our list, we go with what is certainly not the most exciting model of the bunch. But if you go by the general consensus among automotive experts when rating for reliability and customer satisfaction, the Avalon is the bomb. Even better, the demographics of those who have bought this car, which skew older, means that you have a good chance of finding one that has under 100,000 km on the odometer and has been impeccably maintained. If driving pleasure is not high on your list of priorities, but value is, then look no further.