Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Advice About How Much To Pay For a Car

Posted by

If you watched the Super Bowl yesterday — or at least some of the commercials — you may have caught the RAM ad featuring a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. Whether it was appropriate or inappropriate for a truck brand to use the words of a slain civil rights leader is up for debate. What we do know for sure is that within the sermon that the ad’s quote came from, Martin Luther King, Jr. had some pretty pointed advice about buying cars.

The sermon is called “The Drum Major Instinct,” one of the last King delivered before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. King’s sermon — and its inclusion in the RAM Trucks ad — was certainly timely, given today’s political climate, and the controversy surrounding non-violent player protests during the National Anthem. The date — February 4, 2018 — also marked the 50th anniversary of the speech.

“The Drum Major Instinct” contains 155 words that RAM Trucks’ ad agency — Highdive— used along with the imagery in the 30 second advertisement, which we’ve quoted from the speech in its entirety from Stanford University’s catalog of MLK’s sermons and public speeches:

If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.

That’s a new definition of greatness.

And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. 

You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.

You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.

You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.

You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve.

You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.

You only need a heart full of grace,  a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.

That 155 words is just a tiny slice of the sermon as a whole, though. The entire sermon is 4,989 words.

The piece of the speech that RAM used was about service: receding from the spotlight and delivering anonymous, unheralded service to your community. It’s the opposite of what King describes as the “drum major instinct” in the speech:

It’s a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.

Deep within “The Drum Major Instinct,” King manages to narrow right down to exactly the product that RAM is selling:

[T]he drum major instinct is real. And you know what else it causes to happen? It often causes us to live above our means. 

It’s nothing but the drum major instinct. Do you ever see people buy cars that they can’t even begin to buy in terms of their income? You’ve seen people riding around in Cadillacs and Chryslers who don’t earn enough to have a good T-Model Ford.

But it feeds a repressed ego.

King goes on to lay out the economics of what a car should cost, and why:

You know, economists tell us that your automobile should not cost more than half of your annual income. So if you make an income of five thousand dollars, your car shouldn’t cost more than about twenty-five hundred.

That’s just good economics. And if it’s a family of two, and both members of the family make ten thousand dollars, they would have to make out with one car. That would be good economics, although it’s often inconvenient.

But so often, haven’t you seen people making five thousand dollars a year and driving a car that costs six thousand? And they wonder why their ends never meet. That’s a fact.

A current RAM 1500 in its lowest, 2WD, unadorned form is $26,495. At the top of the heap is the RAM 1500 Limited Crew Cab in 4×4 form runs $56,395, before you’ve put a single option on it. And that’s not even close to the limit. RAM hasn’t released pricing on its latest luxury pickup, the 2019 RAM Laramie Longhorn, but you could expect that truck to easily extend to $80,000 in the heavy duty configurations.

A seven-year loan on a RAM 1500 Limited Crew Cab 4×4 would have payments — as suggested by the Build and Configure tool at — of $710 per month with a 10 percent down payment.

For the King family’s part, the King Center tweeted today that it doesn’t control the use of Dr. King’s image or voice recordings. Instead a company called Intellectual Properties Management does.

IPM is a for-profit company. Its CEO is Dexter Scott King, the son of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at