Buying a car should be an enjoyable experience. Ideally, you're moving on to a vehicle where everything actually works and you can get behind the wheel knowing that the chances of getting where you want to go should be better than they were. Even if your new purchase is pre-owned, there's still the small thrill of a change for the better.
But the road to used-car nirvana is paved with bad intentions. There are lemons galore out there and your vision of a step-up could be the previous owner's idea of a piece of junk. It's especially tough on a budget.
Which we do. The goal is to find a reliable commuter-mobile – a vehicle we can drive to work, use day-in and day-out, that doesn't cost a fortune, has a decent reliability record, a modicum of convenience features, and won't put us in the poorhouse if things go south. Our bottom line: $15,000.
Before we get into it, some notes: First, we're going straight to dealer lots here. Why? Dealers have more cars to choose from, may offer extended coverage, and, theoretically, have a reputation to maintain.
Second, chances are you can visit the dealership's website beforehand. That way, you start off with an idea of what you want and how much you're prepared to pay. Otherwise, you're leaving it up to the salesperson. You may even be able to have a cyber-chat with a sales rep through the website.
Third. Perform your due diligence. If you find a car, research its reliability, residual price, recalls, consumer complaints, and so on through organizations like Consumer Reports, Carfax, J.D. Power, Transport Canada and so on. Knowledge is power.
And be picky. Don't get attached to any one car right off the bat. There are plenty of cars on the market which dealers are anxious to sell. Needless to say, go for a test drive and make it a long one.
With that, here are some models priced at less than $15,000 that I found.
2007 Honda Civic EX
This one comes with a bit of sticker shock. The Civic is generally regarded as the best of the commuter car bunch, but, at $10,988, this one is no bargain – its price is about $2,000 over that found in some price guides. Still a nice unit, with an automatic transmission and a miserly 5.7 litres/100 km highway fuel economy rating.
- Black Book: $10,825
- Red Book: $8,550
2011 Chev Cruze LS
Just a scant 30,000 km on the clock and one of the better fuel economy ratings in the industry make this a frugal everyday hauler. This one had the larger 1.8-litre four-cylinder with a manual six-speed, which gives it one of the better highway fuel economy ratings of 2011: 5.4 litres/100 km. On the downside, no a/c, and at $10,888 asking price, not exactly a steal.
- Black Book: $13,300
- Red Book: $9,825
2009 Hyundai Accent GL
This one is a hatchback, and pretty bare-bones. It does have a/c, and an automatic transmission, but the mileage is getting up there at more than 75,000 km. Plus, at $8,988, it's overpriced.
- Black Book: $7,875
- Red Book: $5,725
2007 Volkswagen Jetta
This one had the five-cylinder engine and is possibly the best handling/braking model discussed here. But with more than 105,000 kilometres, and the warranty gone, there is cause for apprehension. Extended coverage from the dealer is definitely recommended. Price: $9,998.
- Black Book: $9,400
- Red Book: $8,075
2006 Buick Allure CXL
This is a grampa car, but for its asking price of $8,988, you're getting a lot of automobile. 137,000 kilometres indicates highway usage, and a massive trunk, all the modcons – a/c, power windows, block heater – make this a decent family hauler. If you've got kids, this may be worth considering. Fuel economy is inferior to a Civic and a Corolla, but a comparable year of these imports will cost you more right off the top.
- Black Book: $9,200
- Red Book: N/A
So what's my choice? It's a toss-up between the Buick and the Civic. Haggling will likely be more fruitful with the Buick – Civics sell well, and dealers know it – but with the Civic, your chances of daily reliability are statistically better. The Allure has a decent reliability record, but the Civic has a good one.
If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at email@example.com.
Follow us on Twitter @Globe_Drive.
Add us to your circles.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter.