My husband has a philosophical issue with buying new cars. I think it is bound up with the idea that a car depreciates thousands of dollars the moment you drive it off the dealer's lot. Or maybe he's just allergic to that new car smell.
I thought the $4500 from the "Cash for Clunkers" program would overcome that objection. But it turns out our V8 Cadillac Coupe deVille actually gets 19 mpg and doesn't qualify as a Clunker.
I had resigned myself to driving the Cadillac into the ground when it failed to pass inspection. Twice.
So, how to go about finding a comprehensive listing of used cars?
I ended up going to cars.com and using their Advanced Search function. This lets you search all makes, models, and body styles within range of your zip code (say 30 miles from your zip). You can specify max price, max mileage, year range, or leave these all blank.
For example, today I find 32 cars priced $1000 or less within 30 miles of my zip code.
When I'm seriously looking for a car, I'll go ahead and purchase access to carfax to find out the history for cars I'm considering based on their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). For less than $40 you can run an unlimited number of carfax searches [see a sample report], which will tell you all the intimate details of accidents, recalls, and odometer readings when the car was registered over it's life.
Most of these have pictures of the cars that you can browse and a VIN number. If there is no VIN number, there is a phone number (for example, for listings from newspapers). You can call, chat, and get the VIN number from them.
I ended up finding a clean, single-owner minivan with less than 100,000 miles for under $3000. Wow.