The car needs to be 3000 or cheaper.
An old Japanese car will be cheap and still very reliable. Like Honda, Toyota, Subaru, or Mazda. Nissan is actually French owned btw, and like most other European cars has average reliability. Still better than most American cars I guess. Consumer Reports can give you reliability specifics, but you usually can't go wrong on those.
Do still have a mechanic inspect whatever car you buy no matter how reliable is, because the few heavily neglected broken ones are the ones people are trying to scam you into buying no matter what brand the car is. And then once you get the car don't neglect it but rather bring it in for all service scheduled in the owner's manual of course.
For a real bargain you can look for cars at repo auction for around $300-$700. The car was taken from the previous owner when he didn't expect it so they're usually in better shape than your typical old car that's being sold because something secretly broke. But the previous owner usually doesn't claim them because they're usually extra old and butt ugly. And these cars cost the same to register and fix as a $3000 car, so don't be afraid to spend more than what the car cost on standard maintenance and minor repairs.
Forget the Japanese motors--go for a quality used European motor. The Japanese motors have poor duco and are only designed to last for a few years. Their mechanicals may last forever, but that's not much use if the body is held together with rust! I should know--there is an old Toyota just a few metres from where I am sitting. The motor goes well, but the car has been deregistered because the body is literally falling apart!
Also, just a few metres from here is our Volvo 240. 22 years old and still in excellent condition. Drives well, very comfortable, and is designed for use in harsh climates. Will probably last for another 22 years! It runs on 91 octane (unleaded) petrol--this is important in Australia where petrol is very expensive--usually $1.23 to $1.35 a litre. Everybody who has seen my Volvo congratulates me on such a good choice. I paid only $A3000 for it, and it's the best 3k I've ever spent!
Motors are very expensive in Australia. In other countries, you should be able to get a later model Volvo for your $3000.
That's not true of all Japanese cars. My parents had a 1995 Mazda 626 and it lasted us until 2008, when it finally hit a curb. No, the car didn't snap in half, but the replacement was expensive due to the car's production end. A car will last forever if you treat it with care. Stuff like the shell of a car is known to rust and degrade over time. It'll rust more if it's kept outside in harsh conditions versus garage kept. My uncle has a '97 BMW and he has loads of problems on his car, like the muffler, the right door, the side skirts, and more. It doesn't really matter where the car is from, as long as you take care of it. Also, Japanese motors like Toyota's are known to be reliable over all of the others. So...riddle me that. xP
Of course it depends on where you live, but you can get a decent car for $3000 or even less. Especially when you buy it from the owner rather than a dealer.
I've had great luck buying Jeep Cherokee's that way...and I haven't paid over $2500 for one yet. The last one, I've been driving for 4 years, and have only had to replace a water pump....
Watch the want ads in your local Nickel paper...
You wouldn't get much for $3000 and most would be second-hands with heaps of kilometres on them. I think a 3 door hatch of any brand would be ideal. Do you have Holden over there, the Holden Barina is a beauty. If they have Toyota, the Corolla would be your next good choice or if you have Mazada, their cute 121 would be affordable thought the model of the car is very outdated.
I think a Corolla would be a nice starter car. Maybe even a Mazda 3 or Nissa Sentra. Each are affordable for under $4000 if you don't mind an older year. I'm sure you could also find a Scion for under $5K if you look hard enough.
EBAY! there are so many on there. and there cheap, some have low km