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Debunking the Myth of the Doctor Car!

In a candid reflection, our friend Jordan Frey, the Prudent Plastic Surgeon, debunks the pervasive myth of the “doctor car“. Drawing from his personal experience and financial philosophy, Frey challenges the notion that a fancy car is a necessary status symbol for physicians.

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?

Doctor Car
Ain’t she a beaut’?!

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.

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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

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 care 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 around $4000. A little less than KBB value…call it a family discount!

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!)

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 were closing on at the time.

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.

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.

(Update! I recently had to drop off an escrow check for our now 4th investment property to this same awesome realtor. He came out to see me. We spoke for about 20 minutes. And at the end, he looked at my car and, in shock, said “What happened to your 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 be suprised.

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.

In the end, it all comes down to intentional spending.



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

  1. This is such bad advice!! If doctors don’t focus on over-consumerism and feel that an expensive car is essential for their reputation, we will put a real dent into the economy !! Just being facitious… great advice notjust for doctors but everyone!!

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  2. Subscribe to get more great content like this, an awesome spreadsheet, and more!
  3. I find it very amusing at all of the “chest thumping” about paying cash. I am retired with a very nice net worth. I have a 2023 Genesis GV70 Sports Prestige which I love. Financed over 5 years at 3.49%. Could have paid all cash for it many time over, but I rather finance it and invest the money. Especially with ~ 4.5% return in money markets, and stocks, on average returning ~ 8%. Could stocks go down – sure, but over 5 years the odds are quite good. Similarly amusing are the comments on the doctor blogs about paying off ones mortgage ASAP : I have 3 years left at 2.75%. If you take out a 15 years mortgage and invest the funds, the likelihood of losing money over that period is very low single digits. On a 30 year mortgage, there is NO 30 year period going back over 100 years that you would have lost money in the market (as per Ben Carlson from A Wealth of Common Sense, and i’m sure others).

    Reply
    • Just remember… not all have the awareness and calm to take out a loan (at a good rate – like you did) and then go ahead and actually invest the difference in cost over the ensuing 5+ years. It takes a conscious initial effort and then set it and forget it plan to invest the difference in these situations. How many individuals do that? Based on my understanding of the facts…. a small %. So, paying for the car in cash is more of safety net and a behavioral decision rather than a 100% sound financial decision.

      Reply
  4. I love my “doctor car”. A 2023 Volvo XC 90. It is beautiful, I’ve wanted it for 20 years and I LOVE to drive it. I also love how my kids love to go on road trips in it, how we can fit so much more in it and that I can drive my parents, sister, kids, husband and myself all in the same car. We used to have to take 2 cars if we were all going the same place in my previous Volvo… a 2014 XC 60. But, I don’t have a “doctor house”. In fact… I don’t live in the “doctor neighborhood” and I often tell others that I think that my house is the ugliest house in our neighborhood. However, we don’t have a mortgage and I paid cash for my “doctor car”. I do however often think that my patients would think I’m not a good doctor if they saw my house. The stigma is real. I just ran into my cosmetic patients at the 4th of July parade. He is a contractor and is currently building a 12,000 sq ft home for another doctor. He told me he thinks the guy is crazy. I agreed. But, when he found out what neighborhood I live in, I definitely though that he might think I’m not a good doctor, even though I have already completed his cosmetic procedure and he is very happy. I have even worried about having an upcoming fundraising function in my home… what would people think???

    Reply
  5. Great article! Back in 1977 when I started my internship I wanted a new car. My salary then was $12K/year. I looked at the Datsun B210 “econobox” but the 1978 280Z was calling to me. It had a sticker price that was $8K out the door. I thought, “I deserve this!” Back then a car like this was called an “internmobile”. I nervously wrote the largest check of my life for a $2K down payment and gulped at the daunting prospect of the $179/month payments for the next three years! Fortunately my Navy medical school scholarship meant I only had no medical school debt and only $6K in undergraduate school debt. I still have that car and after the abuse my two kids did to it, I fully restored and customized it 3 years ago. The car has 310k miles and is now worth in excess of $30K. I have employed all of the tips I’ve read about investing throughout my medical career. I also stayed in the Navy reserve until I turned 60 and have been receiving a monthly pension for the past 11 years that equals an annuity worth $1M. My house in SoCal has been paid off for over 8 years and has a market value of $2.5M. My kids graduated from USC and UCLA and are successful and married and I now have 3 beautiful grandchildren within 10 minutes. I have retired from emergency medicine after practicing more years last century than this century. My retirement is filled with enjoying my grandkids, month long motorcycle tours though Europe every summer, tending my vineyard, enjoying my vintage automobiles and riding my motorcycles through America during the warmer months. I’m debt free and my net worth is over $8M. The key to building wealth: marry the right woman and avoid divorce if at all possible, delay gratification and invest as much as you can while young to let compound interest be your friend, give a portion of your wealth to God who is the source of all talent and wealth you have, and don’t work so much that you can’t take time to enjoy your family and take vacations when you are young and healthy.

    Reply
  6. Good advice on a subject that comes up a lot on bogleheads. Couple thoughts from someone who is a lifetime, somewhat reformed, “car guy”.

    I often find the most passionate advocates for driving a car way under your affordability limit are self-proclaimed non-car guys. Makes sense, it’s an easy sacrifice for them. I do notice however that these non-car high income guys often have a side-indulgence, because they can. A boat is a common one. Or they spend money on what they call “experiences” aka extensive travel. They call them experiences because it’s what *they* like to experience.

    For a car guy, the car is the experience. It’s not about looking rich. I had a Porsche GT4 worth well into 6 figures that I paid cash for, that I drove on the weekend in the canyons here in California. That was my “experience”, it’s what I loved, it made little impact on my 7 figure income, and never once did I drive it to work, meetings, or church. Nobody but my wife and my neighbors (if they got up early enough on a Saturday) even knew I had it.

    I don’t bring this up because I disagree with your premise, I actually agree and as a somewhat reformed car guy I daily a boring Lexus (cash) with a toyota sports car as my weekend fun car (cash), a significant downgrade from my former cars in years past. But want to point out that there are two types of people, doctors included, that drive expensive cars. One you reference that likes to look rich, and the other being the car guy that find the car is his “experience”, the first type is embarrassing and wasteful, the second type, if saying within their budget, I salute.

    Reply
    • I agree with your comments. My only real indulgence in a fancy car was my Internmobile, a 1978 Datsun 280Z I bought new in December 1977. I restored it and still enjoy driving it not only for the fun of driving a Datsun sports car but the thumbs up I get from people and the looks of the young people who don’t know what it is but like it. My other passion is motorcycles. I’ve owned over 30 in my 57 years of riding. As far as the “experience” factor of expensive travel, I do relatively inexpensive European monthlong motorcycle trips every summer. I bought a used 1995 BMW R1100GS in 2017 and shipped it to Germany. The initial cost for the bike and shipping was $5600. Annual storage, maintenance and insurance is around $1000. Not having to rent a motorcycle saves me around $4000 for a monthlong tour. I camp and prepare most of my meals while traveling. Fuel is around $35/day (+/-) depending on miles traveled. Average airline ticket from LA to Frankfurt $1100. I just completed a trip to Norway, Sweden and Denmark that would have cost in excess of $12K if you rented a car, stayed in hotels and ate in restaurants for a month. I spent around $3K. The savings alone for the 5 months (5 different trips) of not renting a motorcycle has saved me $20K for initially spending $5600 . Fun and exotic travel can be done when one thinks outside the box. Also, I keep a bike in Tennessee with my family for east coast travel and have 5 various bikes in SoCal that I ride. The value of my 7 used bikes is slightly more than the cost of one new Honda Goldwing and I get to enjoy so many different types of riding and have bikes pre-positioned for added vacation value.

      Reply

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