After many hours of web searches, checking out car buying guides, blue book and carfax sites, and local dealer's cars online, I targeted a 2001 Mazda Miata with an automatic transmission, 39000 miles. I carefully checked customer and experts' reviews, weighed the pros and cons of a convertible, then we went and test drove it. I had already run the carfax report myself.
Let me say that it is to your advantage to have your financing in place elsewhere before you go to a dealer. Dealers make part of their profit from financing, and they try to get you to focus on the monthly payment rather than the percentage of interest and the number of months you'll be paying it. They will try to run a credit check (which pulls down your FICO score 5 points) even if you have financing in place unless you make it clear (in writing) that they can't. Or they will try to tell you their financing is a better deal--in my case they wanted to give it to me at 1/4 per cent point more and throw in an unnecessary warranty for two years--an amount of time during which I'm unlikely to need one, as gently as I drive a car, under 2K a year. So although it was low pressure with the sales person, it was the finance guy's job to try to milk me for all I'm worth. Don't fall for this stuff! Go read the online used car buying sites, they have good advice, I just did a quick google last night.
They have to finish detailing it, they had already done their inspection and I saw the paperwork. I pick it up on Wednesday and I can bring it back for an exchange in 5 days--going to have my mechanic look it over. I have a 30 day warranty and I will try to drive it well in that time to see if anything is going to show up in use.
I have to think of a name now. :)
Much credit goes to daveseeker for talking me through my anti-materialistic programming from years of Vaishnava austerity.