I have a very short commute to work (1 mi.), so I generally have been buying economy cars that are between 6-8 years old with approx. 70-100k miles on them, running them for 3-4 years and then selling them. I generally pay $6,000 or less for them. I look for reliable, fuel-efficient brands and only buy from private sellers (no dealers) to save a few extra $$. It's also good to run a Carfax check on any potential used car.
Cars last longer and are better made than any time in history, so I always think that used cars can be a great deal.