Need advice on what to look for in a used Mazda

Hello everyone,

My 17 year old niece is looking for her first car and really likes Mazdas. I had a 2005 3GT, and currently drive a 2014 6GT and my wife drives a 2016 CX-9 so she's been around them. She's asked me to keep my eye open for an inexpensive (think $4000 or less) Mazda 3. I know anything that inexpensive would have high miles, but as long as a car is well maintained I don't mind (my wife had a 2003 civic that had over 210K miles with no issues).

So what should I look for when looking at older Mazdas? I know enough to check the oil and smell the tranny fluid as well as check for leaks around the struts and suspension. Any internal engine issues I should ask the owners about? I can take the car to a mechanic, but if I know what to look for I can do most of the checks myself.

Thanks in advance!
2014 Mazda3 S GT auto, 2008 MX5 6-speed
Here's what I do:
1. Peruse Craig's list and maybe some other sites for a car in which you may be interested.
2. Conduct a phone "interview" to ask about the car's history, repairs, and maintenance. With a copy of that car's owner's manual/maintenance schedule (download online), question whether scheduled maintenance was done at what mileage and by who/where/when. Ask if there is at least a history, if not hard copies of maintenance and repairs.
3. Specifically ask if anything is currently wrong with the car. If the title is not clean (salvage), ask if the owner has photos of the damage that was repaired. Note: I have a salvaged car and it has been great. It saved me 40% off what a clean title car would have cost. Of course, if the car shows signs of flooding, forget it.
4. If the owner passes your phone interview, ask to see the car. Bring ramps so that you can look underneath the car. Bring proof of what similar cars are selling for, as well as the Kelly Blue Book values for various conditions. Look at the tire wear for signs of over/under inflation and alignment issues. Examine the fluids and their colors. Take the car for a 15 minute or more ride. Listen for odd noises, braking/steering/tracking characteristics. Check the air filter and try all power equipment.
5. In California, the seller is responsible for having the car smog-checked. If your state has smog check requirements, ask to see the last test results.

Mazdas are excellent cars but like all cars, need to be properly maintained. Good luck with your search.