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Debunking the Myth of the Doctor Car!

Everyone knows about the doctor car. Doctors know about it. Non-doctors know about it. Other than the doctor house, it is the symbol of medicinal consumerism.

But today, my friends, I am going to completely debunk the doctor car myth!

What is the doctor car myth?

This car myth states that a doctor must have a fancy car to legitimize herself or himself as a physician.

To drive a fancy car is to show that you are very successful. And a doctor must be a very good doctor to be so successful to have such a car.

To not drive a fancy car is to tell the world that you are not a successful doctor. And who would want to go see an unsuccessful doctor?

Which cars are doctor cars?

Ah, this is where is gets tricky.

A doctor car can really be any car. Any car that impedes or slows or otherwise is not compatible with the ideal financial plan of the physician is a doctor-mobile.

Now, these obviously tend to be luxury automobiles since they generally come with the higher sticker price. But they really can be anything.

Give me an example of why doctor cars are not a good idea

Well, take me as an example.

Before I began my financial education at the end of my fellowship, I was prepared to lease a doctor car. I budgeted $600-700/month for my car’s lease.

But,

  • My student loans totaled over $450,000
  • I had not even made my first attending paycheck
  • I had credit card debt
  • My financial plan was non-existent
doctor car

Hmm, maybe this $7200-8400/year could be better allocated to increasing my net worth by decreasing my debt instead of buying a depreciating liability?

Oh yeah, that’s the other thing. A car decreases in value the moment you drive off the lot. It’s not an asset. It’s a liability.

And leasing a car, you basically are subsidizing the depreciation of the car for the dealership.

But really, I don’t even car about cars

This is the biggest thing in my situation however. I really don’t care what car I drive. I’m not a big car guy.

To spend $600-700/month on a car would definitely give me much less joy than that dollar amount should. Therefore, buying or leasing such a car would not jive with my goal of intentional spending.

Also, once Selenid and I came up with our financial plan, we had a ton of financial goals and priorities that were much higher than our cars.

So I did without the doctor car

I ended up buying a used 2011 Toyota Avalon from my aunt for $2000.

It’s a great, reliable car. It’s not a doctor car.

Especially not with the scratch I put on the side of it trying to get into my garage. (Hey, don’t judge. I hadn’t driven for 7 years while in NYC before moving to Buffalo!)

doctor car
Ain’t she a beaut’?!

Ok, now comes the debunking

So how can I debunk this myth so confidently?

Well, the other day I had to drop of some paperwork to my investor real estate agent for our second investment property that we are closing on.

He is a great guy. But definitely a bit motivated by the material. (That’s a nice way to say it, right?)

He had not seen my car before because my wife and I usually drive hers to the houses that we see for whatever reason.

When I got to his house, he met my outside in the driveway.

“I knew it was you. I saw you coming out of the window and said ‘Yup, that’s the doctor car!'”

This is what he said to me as soon as I pulled up. He asked what it was. I told him it was a 2011 Toyota Avalon and internally laughed as he did a pretty good job of backpedaling.

If this is not proof that actually having a doctor car is not important, I don’t know what is!

He just assumed I must be driving a fancy car because I’m a doctor. And not just a doctor, but a plastic surgeon.

That assumption even overpowered his rational brain that actually was looking at my decidedly middle-of-the-road car.

So there you have it. You really don’t need a doctor car. You just need to be a doctor in a car!

Beyond this anecdote, I have never met a patient who has decided what doctor to go to based on their car.

Heck, I am very confident that 100% of my patients have no idea what kind of car I drive.

If they wouldn’t want me as their surgeon due to my decision not to chase over-consumerism for something that is not important to me, I would probably question their judgement.

Advice for getting your car

Ok, so what advice do I actually have for doctors the need a car?

  • Try to buy your car with straight cash homie. That’s what I did. It’s how my wife and I plan to buy our future cars. Save and then buy.
  • Never “buy” a car using a loan. It’s not your car then, it’s the banks. Don’t take on more debt for a depreciating liability.
  • If you can’t buy the car you want outright, find a cheaper car that you can afford.
  • If you can’t buy the car you want outright and a cheaper car just won’t serve you, lease the car. But make sure it fits in your budget and financial plan. And save to buy that car or another after your lease is up. This is what my wife did as we needed one car to fit all of our kids and she wanted one she felt really comfortable in driving in the snow.

Learn more of the financial habits of highly successful physicians here!

What do you think? Did you buy a doctor car? Was it worth it? Am I totally off base? What do you think of my car plan? Let me know in the comments below!

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    The Prudent Plastic Surgeon

    Jordan Frey MD, a plastic surgeon in Buffalo, NY, is one of the fastest-growing physician finance bloggers in the world. See how he went from financially clueless to increasing his net worth by $1M in 1 year and how you can do the same! Feel free to send Jordan a message at [email protected]

    14 thoughts on “Debunking the Myth of the Doctor Car!”

    1. You bought a 2011 Avalon for $2000 from your aunt? What a deal! I think she left some money on the table in that transaction.

      The funny thing is I’m fully on board with the concepts here, but can’t resist the siren call of the self-driving features on some of the newer cars. But to get that technology, you have to pay through the nose (mainly for Tesla cars). Thus, the Model 3.

      It’s one of the many demerits in my credentials as a finance blogger.

      Reply
      • She did (I think because she loves me!). The KBB is about $4500 in new condition which this is probably a little more on the “used” side.

        And when self driving cars truly arise, I suspect that I would be interested. But by that time, I will hopefully be financially free to be spend on it intentionally!

        Reply
        • It’s important to point out that you had the priviledge of having a family member who had a car you could buy, one they could afford to sell to you at half the value, and that it was in good enough condition where you are not saddled with costs of repairs. Ultimately, it’s great you took advantage of it in a great way and made a financially sound and disciplined decision. Kudos

          Reply
          • Absolutely! That’s why I always make sure to be 100% transparent. That’s the whole point of this blog! I was very fortunate in that circumstance. Before approaching this family member, I did have a similar used car picked out that I would have bought for about $1500 more. So a good discount for me!

            Reply
    2. Great post Jordan and it got me to ruminate on my automotive choices. I am very much a “car guy” and I’ve been interested in old cars since I was young. Everything you said about not spending a lot of money on a car makes perfect sense. However, for me, there’s a lot of emotion at play. I love cars and I even do a lot of work on them myself. Maybe I’m just shallow and superficial, but I love driving a nice car and it has nothing to do with being a doctor or a plastic surgeon (I think…). However, during residency in NYC, I did not own a vehicle because I did not need one. During plastics/fellowship training, I bought a Volkswagen Jetta and my wife and I drove it during the first few years when we were attendings. I think it’s financially irresponsible to spend a lot on a car when you still have student loans and are building towards retirement.

      Reply
      • I think you hit it on the head, with student loans and other more important financial goals ahead, it just doesn’t make sense to go all out for a car. But beyond that, if a car brings you joy commensurate or greater with its price and does not impede your financial goals, I say go for it! The weird thing about me is that cars just don’t do it for me. In contrast, a house is very important to me and my wife and kids so we spent more than some would on our home. But its brings us so much joy and fits in with our financial plan. Thanks for reading!

        Reply
        • The “doctor car” and “doctor house” are the rewards that people fall for when completing residency. I think you made a great call holding off on the car. As for the house, it is an asset and you clearly bought wisely by leaving room in your budget for other investments. In the end, there is a balance between all of these pressures. Like the Darwinian Doctor I think it is ok to enjoy the fruits of your labor as long as you are still investing and have a budget.

          Reply
    3. Love my 2016 Honda Accord I bought used with 9950 miles on it in 2019. Wife got 2017 toyota highlander in 2019 with 25K miles on it. Paid 18K and 30K, respectively. Each day these babies are running is like money in my pocket- hope to keep driving them until my kids start driving- and then give to my kids!

      I’ve done ton of research but seems to maximize your dollar you should get a car used at 3 years (after maximum depreciation) with lowest mileage. should be toyota or honda as these cars last the longest. What do you think Jordan?

      Reply
      • Hey Rikki, I agree! My reserve has sort of concluded the same thing that financially the wisest bet is to probably buy a 3 year old user car in good shape as it’s depreciation will level out at that point. That’s what we plan to do for our next cars!

        Reply
    4. Interesting..Have to admit I assumed doctors in private world, particularly plastic surgeons may need the image a fancy car promotes to bring business in. As a public hospital doctor I’m paid by tax payers, it seems rather crass to drive a fancy car. Good on you for challenging expectations and making the right choice for you

      Reply
    5. I agree however I am very much a car guy. The moment I got into residency I bought a house instead of renting and sold it for a profit when done training but at the same time I made a budget to buy a 1998 Toyota Supra on loan. That same car I sold for $8000 more than my purchase price(some profit after interest) that car right now is up for sale on eBay for $150,000.00. I recently bought a doctors car 1975 Porsche 911 S with steel turbo flare here in California 1.5 years ago with cash (definitely agree with cash buy if you can) and the price for it has gone up by $10,000.00 – $20,000.00. I guess what I am trying to say is if you are smart about it and have a taste and good sense for desirable and appreciating cars you can have your cake and eat it too.

      Reply
      • I totally agree about with intentional spending you can have your cake AE car and eat it I E Dr. it too! Unfortunately I think too many of us don’t spend much time and spending with intention and end up with purchases that hurt our wealth and also don’t increase our joy. Thanks for sharing!

        Reply

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