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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: Traded in ($500) for a 2014 Toyota Camry after it hit 256k miles with another costly repair about to happen.
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.
By now I had set my sights on becoming a capitalist and have my money work for me rather than the other way around.
Through alternative investments I created a “Capital Snowball” and my net worth rapidly skyrocketed because of it.
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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A land rover just for trash haulin’, that’s an expensive trash receptacle!
It is true. I was considering a pickup but my girlfriend promptly shot that idea down with “you’re not a pickup type of guy (whatever that means. Lol)” I am glad I got a nice SUV though because I have taken it on longer trips than to the dump and it is a nice ride.
I did a triple take when I first read that as well… All I can say is, that’s the sexiest garbage truck I’ve ever seen!
LOL. It is a shame that a Land Rover has been reduced down to weekly jaunts down to the dump but I couldn’t help myself when I saw it. It has helped out with moving stuff as well for my girlfriend so it does serve a higher purpose some times.
I often wonder if that first car sets the expectation for all that follow. My first was a Chevy Caprice Classic, a big red station wagon with a bumper sticker that read, “I’m the Mommy, that’s why!” Since that baby set the standard, my current used Kia is both the coolest and most luxurious car I’ve ever owned. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
I think you are right on the money with that sentiment. I have seen some colleagues buy their kids first car as a new luxury vehicle (BMW, Mercedes, etc) and I often wonder if they get used to that right from the beginning it creates a automobile hedonic treadmill from the start.
As someone who has had four cars in the driveway more then once I’m not the person to judge…
Honestly other then the Tesla what you currently have serves a purpose and is fairly cheap. And I see nothing wrong with splurging on one vehicle if that’s your desire.
I don’t get the Tesla thing personally. Most car guys feel it lacks soul even if it’s scolded cat quick. A fast washing machine. But different strokes for different folks.
Yeah, it was my splurge luxury vehicle. I like it for practicality (no gas station trips anymore, very cheap running costs) and the looks/performance. It doesn’t have the growl of a gas engine of course, but honestly that never mattered much to me.
Just upgraded my tires which needed replacing to Michelins with foam inserts to reduce noise and now the only thing I hear when driving and radio off is slight wind noise. That in itself is a pretty cool way to drive 🙂
Thanks for the comment. 🙂
Very interesting! I’ve been talking with my husband about our financial wins and fails over the years and cars are a repeat offender in the fail category for sure. My husband used to own an Alfa Romeo that he used to take to the Italian car dealer….repairs were crazy. Oh well, live and learn, right?
I heard Alfa Romeos are very expensive repairs and they happen frequently 🙂 They are pretty cars though. 🙂
It is amazing what having car actually costs someone, goes way beyond the initial sticker price. Would be interesting to compare cost of driving in your daily commute versus having Uber do it every day.
I got the Mercedes bug as a second year resident. I couldn’t aford the car, but I thought I could aford the payments. Took it for a test drive. Then I thought of all the things I could do with that money and bought a one year old Ford Taurus for 1/3 the price. Drove that car for about ten years.
Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
Prescription for Financial Success
Kudos Cory on resisting that temptation. You probably jump started your path to where you are now by several years compared to what I did.
Delayed gratification from medical training really makes you want to go buck wild at certain points of your young career. Most fall into temptation, but the lucky few who don’t really set themselves up well for the future.
That’s quite the litany of cars! I’ve owned exactly three vehicles. One was gifted to me by my mom when my ex-husband and I moved to Phoenix. It was totaled in an accident (not our fault) because it was worth so little. Which was a shame because it still had years left in it. Then I indulged my husband’s desire for a V6, so we got a used Mercury. It wasn’t worth the money we paid, but we did pay it off with a bonus I got from my bonus that year. So at least we didn’t pay a lot… Read more »
Sorry you had so many accidents with your vehicle. I too feel uncomfortable driving something that has had an accident history because you never know if the frame was compromised and not detected till it’s too late.
With a newly minted teenager I am a bit worried about how she will drive and what she drives in a few years (not to mention the hit to insurance rates that will come along with it).
Now that was a fun post. A Range Rover trash truck. I’d venture to say no one else owns a Range Rover that’s a trash truck. Well played.
Where I live, it seems like every other car is a Tesla. I doubt many of them paid cash as you did. The way I see it, you’ve worked your butt off for nothing for a dozen or so years. If you can pay cash for that car and it provides you pleasure with no impact on your financial condition, more power to you.
Thanks Fred. Glad you enjoyed it.
I live out in the country (I have cows across the street from my home) so until very recently I was the only Tesla here for miles (now there is a model x and model 3 I see occasionally).
Was I the only one who thought that your model car set was actually your car garage/museum?
I’m not sure if I was relieved or disappointed when you wrote that it was indeed a photo of model cars.
Fun post! I hear you on the Tesla. My Model 3 makes me super happy.
I actually added that caption after the post went live because my radiology partner didn’t realize they were model cars of every car I have owned (I’m not sure if he thought they were real or just a stock photo of cars). Figured I would clarify that for everyone else 🙂
My daughter thinks I’m nuts collecting these toy cars but when I first started I thought it was pretty cool 🙂 The Tesla model is by far my favorite (and most expensive) and it truly is an exact replica.
Thanks for stopping by 🙂
I’ve owned a honda civic, then honda accord, and finally a honda odyssey when we had children. Should have gotten a honda pilot but just recently bought a Tesla Model 3. Have to say I love my Tesla. I love the autopilot, electronics, and smooth acceleration. I also love not getting gas. Thanks for the great post.
Thanks VP. Glad you are part of the Tesla family. Yeah, it is amazing what technology has advanced to. Your car probably runs circles around mine with autopilot (I’m just version 1.0 and even that is pretty impressive to me). Waking up to a “full tank” every morning spoils me for sure. Don’t have to plan a gas trip anymore and it also has resulted in me driving more because, why not? LOL. Hope full autopilot is available by the time my daughter hits 16 (3 years)
I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. My daily driver is a sporty Infiniti EX35 with 180,000 miles on it that I bought last year for $7,000. It runs like new but if I bought the comparable new Infiniti model it would cost nearly $50,000. And it would not be any faster or corner with any more g force. I could afford Tesla’s or a new Mercedes for relative pocket change, and I am kind of a car guy but I like finding well worn bargains, because it is fun!
That sounds like a steal with your Infiniti. Finding a great car bargain is a great feeling, you let someone else eat the major upfront depreciation. I think once my daughter is out of the house and an adult I may look at a 2nd hand Tesla Roadster 2 (they haven’t come out yet but they look absolutely gorgeous, 600 mile + range with a 2+2 seating arrangement).
Awesome post. Gave me an idea on a post on the cars I have drive . My first car was a slant six Plymouth Valiant my mother loved that was given to her by my Aunt. She gave it to me in college, I drove the heck out of it and banged the car up. My brother repaired vehicles so when I was done with it. I gave it back to my brother. He repaired it and sold it back to my mother for 700 bucks. My nephew recently bought a Tesla he loves but commenting on your 120K Tesla.… Read more »
Thanks so much for stopping by and giving a great comment.
I am glad that this may have inspired you to create your own post.
As for self driving I hope it won’t be long either, especially hope it is before my daughter starts driving (3 yrs away).
Thanks again and have a great day
Wow! It’s great to hear your experiences with your car-buying journey. I’ve never ventured outside buying Hondas or Toyotas so I’m pretty vanilla when it comes to buying cars. Though, I’ve always wanted a Jeep Wrangler. Interesting to hear about your luxury garbage truck. Seems to be a need for cars that just haul stuff. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for stopping MHG. There definitely is nothing wrong with vanilla cars and honestly you have done yourself a huge financial favor by doing so as they are reliable and less expensive to repair.
Hope you do get your wish of a jeep wrangler. I didn’t have a great experience with the jeep liberty but it probably had nothing to do with the brand.
Nice collection of the car journey! It’s making me want to get another car…
I had my car for 5 years. Paid with cash (SHOULD have financed) with 40k miles in it already, 74k miles now. I’m thinking I want to run it into the ground with 230k miles just like you. However, to do that, I think it’ll take like 20 – 25 years to do that so… it’s time to figure out when I will be trading in my car for another one!
34k miles for 5 years worth of driving is great. I pay with mileage for where I live (if I don’t drop my daughter off at school it’s 74 miles round-trip to work each day. Becomes 90 miles a day if I do drop my daughter off on way to work).
I just hit 140k on my tesla which will be 6 years old in December.
Best of luck on getting a new ride.