The last couple of weeks I've had several people ask me to help them find an inexpensive "run around town" car. (For some strange reason they almost always ask for a price around $10K.) I know they can be found - but a good car at a dealership for under that price may be a challenge.
Think about this - the dealership has to make a profit, right? I'm not talking about anything unreasonable, but enough to keep the lights on, pay the staff, keep the facilities current, advertise a bit. So, now your $10K vehicle just became really, let's say, an $8,500 vehicle, with some profit added on, and a little wiggle room for possible negotiation. (I have no idea what these numbers really are, I'm just trying to make a point.) You're also going to have to pay for taxes, license and fees. According to Carmax.com's calculator - for a $10K car in Utah, you'd be looking at about $1,150. So now, in order to keep your payment at $10K, you need to look for a car priced at around $8,875 and considering a need for profit too - your vehicle's ground level value is going to be about $7,400.
Well - if that's the case, why not just do a private purchase, why would you want to buy a car at a dealership? Actually, there are a number of reasons. One of the primary reasons is convenience. You can go to one place that has a variety of vehicles for you to shop, it will have (hopefully) a knowledgeable staff that can take you all the way through the purchasing process, and the ability to take care of all of the loan application paperwork for you. You don't have to drive to a sketchy neighborhood after work to negotiate with someone who put an add on craigslist, and may be leaving the county tomorrow. Part of what you're getting at a dealership is a relationship with the sales staff and management. I know several older sales people who have had customers buy dozens of cars from them, because they trust them. Even when they move to finance or management, people will come in "Because I only buy from ______."
Anyway, there are good used cars out there, but if you've asked a salesman to find you something in that $10k sweet spot, when they call, you really had better "hurry down" because it isn't going to last long.