After I part out my 2001 Honda Accord I'm going to be in the market for a used vehicle.
I will be able to spend $3,000 so I am going to be diligent in my search since time is not an issue.
The must have characteristics of the car I buy will be:
1) Manual transmission
2) 4 cylinder
3) 150,000 miles maximum
4) Timing belt must have been changed
5) Notes or receipts of claimed repairs or maintenance.
6) 1st of 2nd owner car.
I've narrowed down my car list in order of preference:
Saturn LS1 or LS2
Ford Focus ZX3
My dad had a devil of a time buying a MT Focus new, good luck finding one used. As far as Foci go, the 2nd generation models are better cars. My dad has a 2nd gen, my sister has a 1st gen. My sister's just does not drive as well as dad's (and both are dealer maintained in excellent condition) Dad's is better looking, more comfortable, quieter, etc. Its a nice little car. If a Focus in your price range comes up with the SYNC system on it, get it. You won't be sorry. Its a nice package.
Don't be afraid of a honda in need of a little work. Most parts are cheap and a novice mechanic can work on it. I got my Civic VX for 1300. I've see these things for as much as 4500! Now, I had to replace the radiator, the master cylinder, and there is a good dent in the rear quarter. i also had to replace the rear taillight. Sounds like a lot, but basically I spent $400 and a good days work. I also serviced everything in my budget... Spark plugs, wires, fuel filter, intake cleaning, oil change, air filter etc... I inspected the t-belt, and it looked new. Who knows, I plan on changing it in about 40k just to make sure. I love the thing. it does need an o2 sensor though.. one on order. Good luck