We bought 3 used cars through dealerships. One of those had the tranny blow 3 days later. The pontiac was the car we bought after that because they already had our money.
We had a carfax on it, but it was still a piece of crap despite a clear report. After having 2 cars clear carfax but yet have major issues, I'm not a major carfax report fan.
My first car was given to me by my parents. It was an used VW golf that was bought private party. After that fiasco I won't even look at private party cars. Nothing like having your kid go into debt trying to repair the "gift" car. I spent several thousand dollars trying to repair it. And never looked back when I traded it in for my used Saturn. That was the first car I bought myself was used, and was through a dealership. And I will tell you not all dealerships are equal. That car *was* a good car. And I still miss it. (it got squished in 2004, thus the subsequent oldsmobile that blew up and crappy pontiac purchases) The Saturn had it's share of repairs, it was a 93, but I liked the car
It's definitely a "Buyer Beware" market out there. I think you'd probably be best with an used Honda or Toyota if you do buy used.
We were so burned by our last experience, we bought a brand new car and traded in the Pontiac. Mike wheeled and dealed. We also used the Consumer Reports car report ($15) to help us negotiate a good deal.