Buy a used Honda Fit (2009 or newer) for your daily driver.
That's it, I'm going to write a bunch to explain why but all you have to do is buy a used Honda Fit and not think too much about it and you'll probably save thousands of dollars a year. Mr. Money Moustache says the average american family spends $4500 per car per year (ref). This will be significantly less than that, could easily be more than $1000 less per year.
My goal is to find the lowest cost per km car and the Fit might not be the absolute lowest cost per km but from what I can tell it is the least effort safest bet in the pursuit of a all around car.
1) They still make them, so there will be supply for a while
2) They are very versatile, they can fit 5 adults, or they can fit a lot of cargo
3) They are consistently on the top of reliability lists
4) They are the cheapest Honda model, and they look pretty good
5) They are near the top of all fuel economy lists, they'll beat out some hybrids
6) The model range has all the features you could want
7) They are typically at the top of the lists for cars that retain their value
Tips to avoiding headaches:
1) Try to avoid those smaller private used car dealerships. They cost less but they generally deal in cars which have been in accidents. The prices are cheaper but you never know if all the accidents have been reported or not.
2) Use CarProof not CarFax in Canada. Some dealers in Canada provide a CarFax report outlining the accidents, but a more reliable source for Canadian information is CarProof. This happened to me, I was told a certain car had an accident and the driver side door was repaired. There was a CarFax to back this up. I got the CarProof and the car had been in multiple accidents, the second one was an insurance write off (total loss).
3) If you want help negotiating a good deal consider using a broker. Here is an example of one in Ontario http://automallnetwork.com/. Contrary to what their website says, they want you to contact them before you contact the dealer. You can do some searching but when I talked to them on the phone they were quite adamant that once you walk into the dealership you are the dealer's customer not the broker's. The broker wants to negotiate the price and then have you go test drive the car. They said if you do contact the dealer don't give them your full name or contact info. If you are contacting them by email don't use your normal email account. I don't know how this works if you end up not wanting the car. It seems like you just get their negotiating help with one car at one dealership for $195.
If you really want to dive into how to save money a bit more here is an article outlining how having a series of cheaper cars can save thousands of dollars vs. buying an expensive car and having it for 10+ years. The idea behind it is that it allows you to pay less interest on other loans, or investing the extra money. It might seem complicated, but it's just really just as simple as having less money tied up in your car so you can get the other money to work for you.
On the topic of auto loans here is a scary video about those small dealerships that give credit to anyone. Watch out for these traps
If you're all the way down here I'll let you know an even cheaper option.
If you read enough personal finance advice you'll hear someone say you can Drive For Free (DFF), or even make money by driving. This is not quite accurate, what they are generally saying is, you can become a (one car at a time) used car mechanic/salesman easier than you think. Many people sell cars undervalue because they don't want to put in the effort to tuning them before selling them, they just want to move on and spend more money. This is real, you can do this, you could even take it to the next level and have a hobby of fixing exotic cars and really make some big money while doing something you enjoy. If this sounds appealing look into it. If you just want to drive a car, buy a Honda Fit.
Here's an article on DFF
I'm reluctant to mention other options because as soon as you get too many options you can get overwhelmed easily. If you don't like the Fit consider a used Civic.
If you want more options ..., I'm warning you, this can take up a lot of time ...
I highly recommend Phil Edmonston's Lemon-Aid Car Buying Guides. Just buy it and read through it and try to stick to the low cost cars that he gives a 'Recommended' rating to. You can go to a library to read it or a book store to get some tips, but to really get all you want out of the book you'll need to spend a lot of time reading all of his general car buying advice, in addition to the specific advice for each car, so I'd lean towards buying it and considering it part of the price of the car you are buying.
Generally the lowest cost cars are more reliable, it's like they know those customers won't put up with unreliable cars, unlike people buying for looks or performance, they'll push the limits of reliability in order to have the latest and greatest.
Here is a list of 10 cars to consider, but cross reference these to the Lemon Aid book before considering them too seriously.
Save money, save gas, save your headaches with costly repairs, buy a nice looking economical car, with as many features as you need. I'm not recommending buying something you don't like, I'm saying take a look at the true cost a car you have or want. Add up the extra money on more gas (sometimes premium gas), larger wheels, insurance, repairs, depreciation. Start to realize the reason companies have to pay their employees so much per km when driving for work, it's because your car really is costing you close to that much per km, it's just hard to see it since the costs are so spread out. Then using that knowledge buy a car you like that is within a price per km you want to spend.
Wanting things can give us motivation to be more productive and to make more money, so wanting a nice car and working hard for it can work out for some people. I just don't want people being tricked into thinking they need to spend more than they need to by marketing and by having the costs spread out so much.