To what extent does the type of car someone drives impact their professional image?

I have become aware that the type of clothes and appearance completely impact their professional image and am trying to slowly update my wardrobe accordingly.  However, I am wondering the extent to which the type of car a person drives impacts their professional image.  I tend to be rather frugal and do not enjoy spending money.  By way of example, in 2008 I replaced a 1995 Ford Escort with almost 200k miles with a 1998 Lincoln Continental.  I liked the freedom of not having a car payment.  As I begin initially thinking about replacing the car I am wondering the extent that a car impacts a person's professional image.  My natural tendency is to find a car for $5k-$7k that is reliable.  I simply prefer to save and invest money rather than spend it.  However, for the sake of an "image" should I consider spending more for a car.

I am not wanting this forum to serve as an excuse to spend more money on a car and do not want the response to tempt other people to spend money they cannot afford. 

jhack's picture

Where do you work?

Wall St? An environmental agency? Foreman at a Ford plant?

Your vehicle should reflect your role and your firm, and the "right" car is relative.

These are universal: it should be clean, free of interior clutter, and well maintained.


John Hack

JosephAsher's picture

I cannot share my employer, but to provide more detail I work as corporate attorney for a large multinational corporation.  Our team is housed in a smaller building with the parking lot steps from the buildilng, where it is obvious who owns each car.  Common brands include: Lexus, Infiniti, BMW.

jhack's picture

I can't be of much help, unfortunately, as I'm in high tech.  My gut tells me a classic Lincoln Continental is, well, classy.  But your firm's culture may be more or less tolerant of variations.  And location matters: Detroit is very different from NYC. 

Would a used BMW or Mercedes (even a 15 or 20 yr old one) be feasible?  They could save you money, and could be considered "appropriate."   

John Hack

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Don't spend more money on car to help with image. First off, you don't carry it around.  Your professional image in terms of dress changes daily, and is with you always.  Further, clients and vendors see it.

I know CEOs who drive minivans, because they have kids.  NOT a power move.

One small caveat: if you transport work associates once a month in it, keep it clean. I don't like sitting in someone else's car that's dirty because of kids (sorry, but that's usually what the problem is, and I HAVE kids).

But don't upgrade for your image.  Investing is smarter.



wendii's picture
Admin Role Badge

you never ever ever transport colleagues in your car, keep it clean.

The first time I was asked to give someone a lift (after 4 years) ... it was a board member of a FTSE 100 sized company.

I'd claim I learnt my lesson, but Mark will be able to tell you I didn't :-(


mmann's picture
Licensee Badge

 Skip the new car... drive something you can buy with cash.  Debt is dumb.  Put the money towards paying off your mortgage instead.  A paid-off home mortgage is infinitely more impressive than a BMW.



mtietel's picture
Training Badge

Paying off your 6% mortgage when you have credit card debt at 18% is dumb.

Keep in mind that in the US, if you're in the 25% tax bracket your 6% mortgage is effectively 4.5% when you itemize.

Also, the $1 you apply to your mortgage principal today is worth far more than the $1 you pay in 25 years (assuming  a 3% inflation rate, that future $ is only worth 50 cents).

I'm with Mark - as long as your car is clean and presentable (i.e., has all its parts in working order) you're fine.  Invest the car payment instead (and your home isn't an investment - any extra principal is a dead asset).

I apologize for the diversion - my wife is a Financial Planner...

waynef's picture

Ride a bike and chain it as close to the front steps as possible.

Tell your colleaugues what you are doing for the environment/community

Remember the days when you might need the car. It can be hard to double up on the bike with a colleague or client though!!!!

Keep the Lincoln and invest your money in what you want. Your 'packaging' at work is important but if the car isn't the huge part of that packaging requirement, don't worry about it. You are working on the wardrobe and that is part of the package people see.




JosephAsher's picture

Thank you to everyone for their responses.  This is all music to my ears.  Making smart financial decisions may very well allow me to wave good bye as I leave my retirement party in my 10-15 year old car to my colleagues who are 10 years my senior!!!!!!

eastbayrider's picture

Buy a motorcycle.

Just kidding.
I have a neighbor who buys a 6 or 7 year old Mercury Grand Marquis and keeps it until it's 10 years old then sells it and buys another. By the time they're 6 or 7 years old they're value is much lower and since they're generally regarded as 'old folks' cars they are usually garaged, well serviced and driven cautiously. The fact that it's only one model year old means that it won't be an outcast in the parking lot and draw unkind attention from your peers.
You don't have to spend a lot to drive a car that looks professional, serves your needs and doesn't draw unwanted negative attention.
The most important thing is that it's rust free, clean and well maintained. Frugal is great but a weekly car wash and tire dressing is as necessary as ironing your shirt because coworkers form opinions both inside and outside of the office.

tedtschopp's picture

I do know someone who will remain nameless who is a C-level employee at a bank and was told to upgrade the car they were driving.  Then again, they were driving a 15 year old car.  This individual pushed back and said that the car was a sign they were being frugal, but the person giving the feedback insisted that major bank customers had commented on the car.

I think the advice you see above is good, but there are some very rare cases that it might be necessary.

Ted Tschopp
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stephenbooth_uk's picture


I think the differential there might be what the car is being used for.  If you are just driving from home to work, parking up in a non-descript , working through the day then going home, what car you drive probably doesn't matter.  If you are also driving to customer sites or have a clearly labelled parking space right next tot he entrance where customers will enter your business then something a bit more prestigious might be in order.

If the last of these (parking near to the entrance) is the issue then there may be an out of the box solutions for the person you know.  Find a more junior, but promising, employee with a 'good' car and who's route to work passes near to them.  In return for use of the prestigious parking space and 'gas money' they agree to drive the CxO to and from work.  The company get a prestigious car in the CxO's parking space, the junior but promising employee gets some kudos and a good parking space and the CxO gets to ride in the back and get a head start on their networking phone calls and reading (as I recall in one cast M&M recommended that rather than splashing out on an expensive car a more effective decision would be to buy a cheap car and hire someone to drive you so you can read, make phone calls and listen to podcasts int he back). Win-Win-Win!




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