I've scoped out Consumer Reports, started looking seriously at what's available, and tried to narrow things down a bit. I'm pretty much set on a sedan (or, well, maybe a hatchback, coupe, or wagon, but anyway a car). Hondas or Toyotas are my top choices, with Nissans, Mazdas, and Suburus in consideration as well. I wouldn't be opposed to another Taurus if the price is right and the mileage is low.
Yesterday afternoon my mom and I fit in a little bit of car shopping around driving my grandmother places and running errands for her. We stopped at the first place to ask about test driving a Taurus wagon that it turned out wouldn't even start! (This does not engender confidence in a used car dealer.) I tried driving a Focus just to see what it was like, and, while it seemed like a decent car, they wanted way too much money for an American car with 90,000 miles. The owner of the dealership kept arguing with me when I told him that I wasn't interested in another Taurus he had because, although it was fairly new, it had been a rental car and thus had probably been driven by quite a few people who treated it like a disposable toy.
We then headed to a small used car dealer that had a Suburu Legacy I'd scoped out online. It would fit, just barely, in my budget. The guy was nice, helpful, and not high pressure at all, which was a pleasant change. The car, however, failed to impress. It was neat and well maintained, but the steering just felt sloppy.
The used lot of the massive car superdealership didn't yield any fabulous finds. There was a Honda we'd wanted to see, but it was a bit high compared to Blue Book value, especially for a car that turned out to be sticky and smelly so I didn't drive it. I tried out a nice, late model Taurus. It was comfortable and had reasonable mileage, but it was again at the very top of my budget, in part because it was a fancy model loaded down with power everything, leather seats, trim that looked like wood, etc., etc., utterly unimportant to me etc. The salesman wasn't too obnoxious, other than insisting I address him as "Coach" and correcting me every time I tried to cal him "Sir."
We then headed way the heck out into the country to go see a 2004 Civic I'd found in the classifieds. It was a one owner car with 87,000 miles on it and was in good condition. They'd done the oil changes and routine maintainance on schedule, and the asking price was a mere $6,200. Alas, there was someone else there at the time we'd arranged to see it. By then it was getting dark, and we all stood around with flashlights looking over the car. The other guy offered $6,000, and the owners accepted. They were very apologetic about our coming out for nothing. As we were walking back to my mom's car, a third prospective buyer drove up.