My sister is buying a car and asked my advice on how to make a good purchase. A 3 year old used car will be 30 to 50% less than new, and will still have many years of useful life. It's a big decision, and if you buy a lemon you will be stuck with it for a long time!
The first thing I do is to use consumer reports to research reliability. They have great repair history reports from their members experience. A yearly membership to their web site is only $26 and gives you access to detailed reports and reviews of thousands of products. They're non-profit and don't accept any money from advertisers or manufactures, and are very unbiased.
You will want to know how much it costs to operate your car. At Dimentians we built a fuel economy calculator for CAA that is very useful:
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