Mar
20
2009

What’s the best color for a car?

Photo by Jan Tik - CC-BY

Photo by Jan Tik - CC-BY

The best color for a car depends on your needs. Are you most concerned about safety, comfort, appearance or other factors? Where do you live, and where do you drive?

The best automobile color for safety is controversial, although every study seems to agree that the most dangerous colors are black and dark blue, which in a Swedish study were five times more likely than average to crash. The Swedish study found that pink was the safest color, and other Scandinavian studies have favored orange and yellow.

Bear in mind that there’s lots of snow in Scandinavia, which may tilt the balance away from white, which tops many other safety studies. White cars are readily visible day and night, in good and bad driving conditions (snow excepted).

Emergency vehicles used to be red (because of our emotional response to this color) but now in many countries they have lemon-yellow detailing as this has been found to improve visibility.

A New Zealand study (pdf) from 2004 found that silver cars (metallic gray, really) had fewer accidents than white cars, but this may simply reflect the conservative kind of people who buy and drive silver cars.

The most comfortable color for a car is without a doubt white. Each square meter of the top of a car is exposed to about a kilowatt of heat from the sun on a summer’s day. A white car that reflects 90% will absorb only a hundred watts per square meter. A black car that reflects 10% will absorb nine times as much – 900 watts – and will feel like an oven inside. A mid-gray car that reflects 50% will still absorb five times as much heat – 500 watts per square meter – compared to a white car.

And when the weather is cold, the white car still wins because a dark car will lose heat faster by radiation. The difference isn’t much, but it’s real.

The most attractive color for a car is of course subjective, but what probably counts isn’t the showroom appearance but the “on-road” appearance. In muddy or dusty areas a brown car won’t show the dirt as much as other colors, and on freeways a silver-gray car will hide the motorway grime.

There are other reasons to choose a particular color of course. Those who want to attract attention to themselves would do well to select red or bright yellow. Those who want to remain inconspicuous might go for a demure brown or green. Those who want to look like a gangster will certainly go for black, as will those who want to impersonate a hearse.

And if resale value is important to you, your chances are best with white and silver. Or even black if you can keep it accident-free until you sell it.

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