Does anyone have any clues as to where to buy a reliable used beater in the DC area?
Craigslist. If you are looking for a cheap beater (by the way, what is your definition of a “beater” as some people see things differently. Some people consider a two year old car with 40k miles to be a beater, others consider a <$500 car to be a beater), be sure to take a nice, long test drive and either take the car to a mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection or at least bring a friend (someone who won’t get caught up in the excitement of buying a new car and is preferably mechanically inclined) along to prevent you from buying a headache.
Should have been more clear-I meant a car around $5-$6K with (hopefully) around 80,000 miles. On AutoTrader and Cars.com I see a lot of ads from local dealers (usually Sheehy or Manassas Motors), as well as private people and wonder if you have more recourse with a dealer if he sells you a dud-
Well, there are dealers and there are dealers. I think it is important to check to see how long the dealer (particularly a dealer that handle only used cars) has been in business. Here in my midwestern city, we have a used car dealer that has been a family business since the 1920s. There have been other dealerships that only last 6 months. In your price range, I would suggest setting aside $1000 for any necessary repairs and make certain to pay to have a reliable mechanic check over your potential purchase. Good used cars can come from dealers or private parties. Most cars in your price range are sold “as is”.
Look for a Hyundai Sonata on autotrader, cars.com and craigslist. Find used car values on nada, kbb and edmunds. Get a pre-purchase inspection before buying it.
It looks like you are in Northern Virginia. Sheehy has been around as a Ford dealer for a very long time; I’m not sure about Manassas Motors. Since Sheehy is so big (9 brands now), I’m surprised that they sell inexpensive cars. A new car dealer normally sends them to auction. You will probably find a better selection at a dealer that specializes in used cars, like Manassas Motors, Check with people you know to get information about them. We won’t know anything about a local used car dealer.
As mark9207 noted, meanings can vary but you can do much better than a “beater” for $6-7K / 80K miles. At $6-7K you can end up in a very solid and dependable car.
I would find someone you know who knows at least something about cars.
I would have a trustworthy mechanic on hand to look over potential cars.
Then I would go exclusively with private sellers. I have spent a lot of time on things like Craigslist. Dealers put crazy markups on used cars. I am often astounded by it. If you use a friend to help you “prescreen” candidates and a mechanic to help you check out ones you get serious about, then odds are high that you will do much better just buying from a private seller. What little bit of recourse you might have with a dealer is unlikely to be anywhere near what you have to pay in markup. Individual instances will vary, of course.