The ultimate car-buying guide for doctors

By Physician Sense, for MDLinx
Published March 28, 2019

Key Takeaways

The vast majority of you likely became doctors to make a difference in people’s lives. Let’s be honest, though: The trappings of a doctor’s lifestyle likely helped sweeten the deal. Look at the physician section of any hospital parking lot, and you’re likely to see a glistening line of the latest luxury and sports cars.

For the gear heads among you, the prospect of owning your dream car made medicine an attractive career choice. But just how much car can you afford?

Perhaps you’re familiar with the money blog, Financial Samurai. One of the blogger’s more popular posts succinctly answers the car question with the 5 percent rule. Using this rule of thumb, you can afford a car that costs 5 percent of your net worth. Financial Samurai argues that this rule is superior to the traditional 10 percent of annual income, because if you’re a mid-career doctor living in a $1 million home with no mortgage, your situation differs from a doctor making the same salary but paying a mortgage on the same home.

So, start by calculating your net worth. Don’t know how to do it? Here’s a handy calculator. With that number in mind, let’s take a look at how much money you can devote to a car, whether you should be buying new or used, and what car is a good fit for your budget.

Net worth: $0 or negative

Sorry, no car for you using this model. Do what Physician on FIRE advocates and get a bike. You’ll be getting exercise and fighting burnout on your daily commute. Public transportation is also your new best friend.

That said, not all doctors live in climates where they can bike year-round, or in places with public transportation. Your options might be a bit limited. Perhaps you could borrow a car for a few years from a family member. Or maybe you and your fellow residents can go in on a beater together.

Net worth: $100,000

Using Financial Samurai’s model, the $100K net worth milestone gives you $5K to spend on a car. You won’t be riding around in style by any stretch, but you will be mobile. So, what can you get for $5,000 that won’t break down and leave you stranded when you’re on call?

  • Kelly Blue Book likes the 2006 Mazda 3. Look around you the next time you’re on the road, and likely you’ll notice that there are still more than a few of these sporty sedans still kicking. There’s a good reason for that. They tend to be reliable, good on gas, and they can be fun to drive.
  • Let’s say you live where it snows. You need to get to work no matter what, and a Subaru will get you there. Trusted Choice likes the Subaru Outback, model years 2005-2009. All-wheel drive comes standard, and so does Subaru’s renowned reliability.

Net worth: $400,000

You’re finally able to buy a new car, according to Financial Samurai! But don’t get too excited. At this point, your budget is $20,000, so you’ll be looking at some reliable, but decidedly un-sexy economy cars.

  • S. News & World Report likes the 2019 Kia Forte. Don’t cringe at the brand. Kia has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the U.S. For just shy of $17,000, you get a comfortable car with a decent entertainment package. But you better learn how to drive stick, unless you want to pay extra for an automatic transmission.
  • Nothing says sensible like a 2019 Honda Civic — also a favorite at U.S. News & World Report. The drive and handling will be slightly better than the Kia, but the price comes in closer to $19K.

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