Originally Posted by Koolau
Not being "flip", but my first strategy is to purchase used cars rather than new - and old enough that warrantee is not an issue. I've had reasonable "luck" with dependability (keep your AAA or similar up to date - just in case.) For the loss one takes just driving a new car off the dealer lot, one can replace almost anything (even an engine or transmission) on most used cars.
I agree- bought my last new car in 1991. DH and I have done fine with low-mileage used.
We found a mechanic shop we love via a referral form a neighbor who's a classic car enthusiast. You may be able to find good ones through CarTalk.com, where people can post referrals to good mechanics- I listen to their weekly podcast but have never checked the site.
I'm wary as heck of cheap oil changes. When I was young and stupid I went that route and it was pretty much a way to get your car in so they could find other things that had to be fixed or replaced at inflated prices. I still cringe at what I paid for an air filter (probably twice what it would be at K-Mart Automotive) and it probably just needed to have the dust shaken out of it anyway.