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You used to be able to buy a beater for cheap. Is it still possible to buy a car for $2,000? I don't care if it's a 2010 or 2011 with semi-high mileage as long as it's in good shape. – Donald, Toronto

Chances are, a 2010 car for $2,000 will end up costing you a lot more – if it's even driveable.

"At that price and that recent a model year, you are looking at a vehicle that has quite a large number of kilometres on it – pretty much over 200,000," said Brian Murphy, vice-president of research and editorial for Canadian Black Book. "The vehicle may have had insurance claims and may have outstanding repair work or other declarations, such as it was used as a taxi or a police vehicle."

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He's not kidding. On AutoTrader.ca, there are about a dozen 2010 or newer cars in Canada for $2,000 or less. There are just three in Ontario, including a 2010 police cruiser being sold "as is" for $1,600.

"This vehicle is being sold 'as-is,' unfit, not e-tested and is not represented as being in roadworthy condition, mechanically sound or maintained at any guaranteed level of quality," the dealer ad said, as is required by law for dealers but not private sellers. "It may not be possible to register the vehicle to be driven in its current condition."

Even if you're looking for something older, it's still tough to find a vehicle for less than $2,000. On Canadian Black Book, the closest we could find was a 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier with an average asking price of $1,986.

Cars now better, kept longer

So what's the deal with the lack of deals?

Today's cars are better than they've ever been, and that's been true for a while. That means, unlike the good old days of sub-$1,000 Dodge Neons, it's tougher to find even a 10-year-old car for next-to-nothing than it used to be.

"For $2,000, you will likely have to look at a car that is 10 or more years old and one that has quite a number of kilometres," Murphy said. "Newer vehicles that are $2,000 may not have been the best new cars in the first place – you might want to go a back a lot further in years and get a solid car that has been well cared for with fewer kilometres on it."

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Are cars keeping their value better than they did 15 or 20 years ago?

"That's a tricky question as so much has changed during that period of time," Murphy said. "What the market prefers changes and that drives up prices – it is simple supply and demand."

Over 20 years, what a typical compact car is worth has risen but only by about 5 per cent.

Currently, there's demand for SUVs and light trucks, so they're keeping their value better than compacts, Murphy said.

"Pickups and full-size SUVs have gone up well over 20 per cent in just the past four to five years," Murphy said. But still, there's not a flood of compacts, either. That may be because people are keeping their cars longer.

"The proportion of older vehicles is certainly increasing," Murphy said. "Much longer loan terms – 84 and 96 months – may mean that some consumers will opt to keep their vehicle longer as it will take them longer to pay it off or be in a position where the car is worth more than the amount owing."

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Those deals we remember from decades ago weren't always deals. This writer owned a 1979 Dodge Challenger that cost $1,100 in 1989 – and spent more time stalled than on the road.

"There can be bargains, but sometimes a bargain isn't really one when you do your research," Murphy said. "Make sure you get a third-party vehicle history report and, if possible, have a mechanical inspection. Research how much similar vehicles are worth."

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada's a big place, so please let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

We travel to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Virginia to see a Subaru slam into a barrier and learn what makes it safe for the driver
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