Go to your library and look in the Consumer Reports Buyers guides for the last several years and see what cars have the highest ratings on reliability. Then look for these cars in the classifieds and small independent used car dealerships. Find a trustworthy mechanic who will go with you on a test drive. From just riding in the car, he should be able to tell if there are any serious problems.
I’ve had several used cars, starting with a 91 Geo Metro, which I wish I still had, I sold it rather than doing minor repairs. I heard it was still running with over 250,000 miles. I currently have a 94 Geo Metro sedan, which I bought new, and have spent less than $1000 in repairs and it has 160,000 miles on it. I expect to have it for several more years. I also have a 97 Lincoln Town Car in excellent shape with years of life in it. It was bought used, for a tenth of what they cost new. Even if I have to several thousand a year, it will be cheaper in the long run than buying a new car.