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“The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.” ~ Doris Rowland
In most households, the automobile is typically the second most expensive item purchased (with the purchase of a home taking the obvious top spot).
Although it is just a contraption to technically get us from point A to point B, the love affair Americans have with cars elevates it to another level.
Not just a means of transportation, the car has become yet another way individuals can outwardly show their status in society.
Car manufacturers capitalize on this status symbol perception as they compete for desirable product placement in TV shows or movies.
The Aston Martin in the James Bond films or the Ferrari on the Magnum PI TV show, for example, has led countless children to fantasize about being the cool debonair individual capable of possessing such a vehicle.
The problem is these childhood fantasies can still permeate the adult consciousness.
This could lead to some unsound financial purchases that only serve to delay our true path to wealth/financial independence.
I thought it would be nice to stroll down memory lane and recount the vehicles that I have bought since I first crossed the threshold into adulthood.
I hope to share some of the mistakes I made so that others could potentially avoid them.
[As I was not as detailed with my financial records as I am now, most of the values and terms presented are best guess, particularly when dealing with my earlier vehicle purchases.]
A Little Background:
I did not own a car throughout my four years of college and my first two years of medical school.
As I lived in on-campus housing for college the need for a vehicle was non-existent.
[I was fortunate that my best friend did have a vehicle (Toyota 4Runner) which came in handy when we wanted to go out to eat or drive from Baltimore to D.C. to go clubbing. We were both part of a DJ group and the 4Runner was also utilized to transport all the gear we needed for our various gigs.]
It was easy to be a part of a carpool during the first two years of medical school as I lived in a large apartment complex with many fellow classmates and we pretty much had the same schedule.
It was only at the start of the 3rd year of medical school (1995), when we started doing clinical rotations, that a vehicle became a necessity as we soon found ourselves scattered amongst the various participating hospitals.
Enter my first vehicle mistake.
“The Money Pit”:
One of the cars that my family owned was a Mercedes 380SE which my dad bought new in the early 80s.
Mercedes was known for quality and safety and for some reason I thought a Mercedes would make a perfect choice for a young up-and-coming doctor.
I knew I couldn’t afford a new Mercedes (and later found out, much to my chagrin, a used one for that matter) so I shopped the classifieds with an eye for the 3 pointed star.
I can’t remember the exact model year (believe it was ’87), but I did find a “Baby Benz” which was the 190E 2.3.
The color was not to my liking (sky blue) but it was still a Mercedes with around 115k miles on it.
Despite maxing my student loans each year, I still could not come up with the coin to pay for it outright.
Given that I was essentially unemployed, I was also at a loss in terms of getting financing as well.
In an incredibly kind gesture, one of my dad’s best friends, an Internist who had taken me under his wings when my dad passed away, co-signed a loan for me.
I believe the car was around $7.5k (this would be in 1995).
The loan term was probably for 5 years and I can’t even begin to remember the interest rate.
The one thing that I soon found out was that maintenance/repairs do not care whether or not you bought the car used to save money.
Luxury cars tend to have luxury prices when it comes to proper upkeep.
It did not help that I also chose to service this car at the Mercedes dealership where you always pay a premium.
Being naive, I got talked into replacing the handbrake of the car for around $600-800 which I never even used.
I kept this car until my 2nd year of radiology (6 years) until the repairs were getting out of hand as the car started repeatedly breaking down and became very unreliable.
The last straw was when it broke down on the exit ramp for work in the morning and I had to be saved by a fellow radiology resident who helped me get it back on the road.
I shudder to think how much money I actually spent on the car for service and repairs during those 6 years but it was likely a multiple of the original purchase price.
I did manage to make all the payments on time and did satisfy the loan, paying it off in full by the time the vehicle was making its last gasp.
Car: Mercedes 190E 2.3
Purchase Price: $7500 (estimated)
How It Was Paid For: Bank loan requiring co-signer
Could I Afford It?: Hell no!
Disposition: Traded in for subsequent vehicle.
“The Barney Mobile”:
In desperate need to replace the aforementioned vehicle, I visited a used car dealership near my home.
Having semi-learned my lesson from the Mercedes, I decided to go domestic this time.
Lo and behold I came across a ’97 Plymouth Breeze which had quite the audacious color choice of purple.
The car was priced at around $9500 and the mileage was somewhere in the higher 5 figure range.
Foolishly I didn’t comparison shop.
I didn’t even really read any reviews about this make and model.
I also didn’t even think to negotiate the price.
I ended up getting financing for this vehicle as well, but this time, buoyed by my resident’s salary, I was able to qualify for it on my own merits.
Unlike the Mercedes, this car was bare bones, with manual door locks and windows, manual seat adjustments, etc.
This car performed admirably well and lasted throughout the remainder of my residency and fellowship.
It could have easily lasted even longer but alas, I soon succumbed to lifestyle inflation.
Car: 1997 Plymouth Breeze
Purchase Price: $9500
How It Was Paid For: Bank financing
Could I Afford It?: No but not as bad compared to the first car
Disposition: Gave it to my mother (fully paid off) to use after my vehicle upgrade
“It Certainly Did Not Give Me Financial Liberty”
It was at the start of my last year of radiology residency that I got married (spoiler alert, it didn’t go well).
Even though we were going to be working in the same place, as she was starting a (short-lived) residency in radiology, we decided it would be wise to add another car to the household for convenience sake.
Rather than buying a used affordable car, I thought I would be generous and buy her a brand new vehicle.
Given some previously brutal winters experienced in Ohio, I thought a 4×4 would be a good option.
On recommendations from a fellow radiology resident, we went with a brand new 2003 Jeep Liberty Sport.
This time I did some shopping around and found the lowest price on Ebay from a dealer in North Carolina.
Even so, the price tag still came in at close to $22k (again bank financed).
I do feel this vehicle was cursed:
- Sustained moderate damage in two separate incidents
- Appeared to be a magnet for rodents out in the country where I now live.
- In a period of 2 weeks had two separate $2k+ electrical issues because of wildlife.
- A couple of years later was hit again by rodentia (at this point I paid the $1k+ repair and then turned around and sold it to the service guy for $200).
Like my ex-wife, I was quite happy to get rid of it, even for a financial loss.
Car: 2003 Jeep Liberty
Purchase Price: $22k
How It Was Paid For: Bank financing
Could I Afford It?: Not at all
Disposition: Sold it as repairs started making it too expensive to keep.
“I’m A Doctor Baby! (Benz), The Sequel”
Longtime readers have already been introduced to this particular car as part of my “I Have Pretty Much Made Every Mistake In The Book” 5 part series, more specifically it was classified as Mistake 6a.
You might be shocked that I went right back into a Mercedes as my next primary driver especially after my not so pleasant experience with the previous one.
However in my head I still equated Mercedes with prestige and luxury.
Because I was about to be a freshly minted “big time” attending it seemed like the the perfect choice.
I thought perhaps that it was because the previous one was used that I had so much trouble and thus wanted to give this brand one more shot with a new one.
Although this Mercedes was still a bit expensive to maintain just through routine maintenance and normal wear and tear, in the end I minimized the financial mistake by holding onto this car for 11 years as my main driver.
I ended up logging in over 230k miles on it before upgrading to my current vehicle.
Car: 2004 Mercedes C320
Purchase Price: $42k
How It Was Paid For: Bank financing
Could I Afford It?: Not on your life. Did pay the 5 year note off in about 3 years.
Disposition: Still own as a secondary vehicle.
2015 was drawing to a close.
I was 4 years removed from my awful divorce.
I had finally paid of my student loans and mortgage, and became debt free for the first time in my adult life.
After 11 years of driving my first “Doc car” I decided that I was really going to loosen the purse strings and reward myself for putting me in this financial position.
Enter the Tesla Model S.
I was a big fan of Tesla ever since they put out the original roadster.
Throughout the following years I would occasionally go onto their website and configure a car just for fun.
At this stage there were no local dealers in my state and it just did not seem practical to get one because of lack of a service center nearby.
Finally a dealership came into town which eliminated that problem.
A retired radiologist from my group had bought one and had raved about it a year earlier so I decided to casually drop in and give it a test drive.
It was not quite an impulse decision but I fell in love with it on the spot and placed my order within the week.
The hardest part was waiting for the car to be built and delivered (was around a 2 month waiting period).
I was handed the keys on Christmas Eve and it was by far the best stocking stuffer I have ever received.
With it being almost fully loaded the sticker price came to $109k.
With tax as well as an after-market film paint protection (Xpel) for the entire car ($5k), I was out $120k when all was said and done.
- I was able to take advantage of both federal and state incentives which returned $10k to me.
It was my most expensive vehicle purchase to date and I was very proud of myself that I could just write a check for it all.
I’m not going to lie, it was a little sad to see my net worth drop (probably 8% or so) but that quickly disappeared each and every time I pressed on the “go” pedal.
Over 3 years and 80k miles later, I still get moved by this car both literally and emotionally.
The fact that I get a free pass into the HOV lanes as well as having autopilot makes the commute to and from work that more pleasurable.
Car: 2015 Tesla Model S 90D
Purchase Price: $109k (federal and state rebate: $10k)
How It Was Paid For: Cash
Could I Afford It?: Finally yes!
Disposition: It is my main driver
“Luxury Garbage Truck?!?!?!”
I decided to add a 3rd vehicle to my household more so out of necessity.
Living in a very rural locale, I do not have access to a trash collection service.
There is a very well kept trash collection site about 3 miles from my home.
This required me to make a “trash run” when needed.
This was all fine and dandy when I had the Jeep Liberty which could either take the trash by itself or tow a 4×6 covered trailer I own for the larger jobs.
However when I dumped that vehicle, I was in desperate need of a utility vehicle that could handle these periodic trips to the dump.
I scoured the classifieds and found a used 2006 Land Rove LR3 in a striking deep metallic red color.
There was a time I considered buying a Range Rover or Land Rover and therefore thought here’s my chance.
I bargained the seller down to $6k and made it mine.
It really is primarily used for transporting trash but has come in handy when moving large items or towing a trailer when needed.
There was some initial surprise expenses when I took it to the dealer for service and found out a couple of major repairs were necessary.
Those expenses plus some accessories I wanted added $4k to the cost.
Since that time, however, it has no longer been a major money drain, primarily because of the low mileage put on it.
Car: 2006 Land Rover LR3
Purchase Price: $6k
How It Was Paid For: Cash
Could I Afford It?: Yes
Disposition: Current 3rd Vehicle, primarily Trash Hauling duties
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