March 11, 2008

Car question

Cars these days come in boring colors, which would suggest that much of the public shares my indifference to choosing a car color based on aesthetics or self-expression. And yet, I'm having a hard time finding hard data that would let me make a functional decision on color.

In 1998, I bought an Accord in black because I thought it looked cool. Not surprisingly, it turned out to be hot anytime the sun shone. Now the paint is coming off the roof from baking for ten years, so it's time to get the Accord repainted so I can limp it along a few more years.

From a non-aesthetic standpoint, what's the best color for a car?

I see four goals:

1. Heats up the least in the sun.

2. Most visible for safety.

3. Shows dirt the least.

4. Not gaudy (i.e., not pink or purple or anything else that, as Oscar Wilde would say, might expose me to comment at the stoplight).

The EPA finally improved their Miles Per Gallon ratings about a year ago. Ever since the 1970s, they had been based on a maximum speed of 55 mph, so they were absurdly optimistic. Because car color affects gas mileage (hotter cars lead to the air conditioner being run more), perhaps the government should publish heat absorption figures for every color. (Of course, it would probably take the EPA decades to get it right.)

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

41 comments:

Don, the Rebel without a Blog said...

Silver. It doesn't show dirt and it looks classy.

Anonymous said...

Silver is probably the best all-around color for a car. It reflects heat, and in temperate areas where it snows in the winter, road salt doesn't look as bad splashed on it.

- Fred

Te said...

White probably fits the bill on all points except visibility. Red may be the most visible (other than the gaudy colors); it's reputed to attract the most attention from police.

Reg C├Žsar said...

You might consider the "American Airlines solution"-- bare metal. They'll think you're Frank Gehry.

That parody of Hillary's "red phone" ad brought to mind another child actress who got a rude surprise at the cusp of adulthood, and I was going to comment on that post. Instead, this car post suddenly appeared, and it evokes one of the great California car coming-of-age stories I've ever heard-- and which involves the very same child actress:

When Anissa Jones turned 18, she gained access to all the money she earned from Family Affair. So she went to a Ford dealer with her 16-year-old brother, and paid cash for a humble new Ford Escort. Then she drove said little bro' over to a Chevy dealer and, to his shock, bought him a fully-loaded new Camaro. Is that a great sister, or what? (And, unlike many desperate child-actor hasbeens, she walked away from the industry while still in demand.)

Today, March 11, she would have turned 50.

william said...

A off-white - or vanilla. That or tan/metallic 'champagne'. Flame decals on the sides might be nice.

Truth said...

A sexy, maverick risk taker like yourself never looks bad in a fire-engine red playboymobile.

J. said...

Off white is the best.

Anonymous said...

Scientifically, white is the most visible in just about all driving circumstances including fog.
Any paint that is metallic colored has a lot of metal in it and oxidizes more rapidly than a solid color, which you might want to consider more since the paint job you're getting is different (inferior) than the factory process, and doesn't last as long to begin with.
For safety, longevity and sun reflectivity, white or some slight variation of it is the best value.
Ask if you can see one of the cars they've painted at the price range you can afford. Look for "orange peel" texture, that's bad, also look for flaws in evenness and conformity.
Make sure they'll guarantee quality the job, and do it over if you find the above problems after your car is done. Let them know you're serious about a potential redo before they get started.

Regards,
Guy Who Used to Sell Cars

ps I'm assuming you're willing to pay around 800 bucks or over. If you're planning on paying below that, you kind of have to take what they give you quality-wise.

simon newman said...

Apparently yellow cars have the least accidents; black have the most. Apart from the kind of person who buys a black car, visibility is likely a factor. The AA (UK) livery is yellow.

Anonymous said...

White shows the least amount of dirt from intermediate distances believe it or not (I know it goes against instantaneous logic, but its still true). White also heats up the least in the sun because it reflects more of it than other colors.

The smartest people buy green cars according to one article I read, but I didn't take the piece as gospel.


Black shows dirt the most, especially that brownish dust. Its a sexy color though when the car is all cleaned up, especially in the evenings. Yellow is probably the most visible, they stand out.


If it doesn't mean that much to you, you might get some satisfaction out of letting the kids decide, especially if the car is going to end up belonging to one of them in about six years.

Danindc said...

If you get a white car I will no longer feel bad for going to Andrew Sullivan's blog before yours.

braindead said...

1. Heats up the least in the sun.
white

2. Most visible for safety.
red

3. Shows dirt the least.
navy blue

4. Not gaudy (i.e., not pink or purple or anything else that, as Oscar Wilde would say, might expose me to comment at the stoplight).
not pink, purple, yellow or red


OK Steve, you are not going to fulfil all your requirements.

CK said...

A Harley.
Cars are so last year

yumhuyk said...

much of the public shares my indifference to choosing a car color based on aesthetics or self-expression.

Which is why hummers and aftermarket rimz never became popular.

Anonymous said...

the british used to paint their jeeps pink during the desert campaign of wwii...

Nothing really to add, just a worthless fun fact.

yeah, white, maybe a light green.

Les Elkins said...

When I bought my last new car they only had silver in the model I wanted. My two comments are a) I feel I've been invisible much more driving around in silver than any other color car I've driven, and b) the first time I tried to find it in a parking lot I realized how many other silver cars there are out there.

So if you get a silver car, drive with your lights on so other people can see you and prepare to drive more defensively, and also be sure to get one with a remote that will make the horn honk so you can find it in a bit lot.

Jeff Burton said...

This study says silver is safest. This guy says silver is bad. Might be a Kiwi/Koala thing.

Anonymous said...

I've got to go with silver as well on this one. I'm i NJ and even with all the salt, sand and other shit on the roads in the winter, silver still manages to look pretty good

"Apparently yellow cars have the least accidents; black have the most. Apart from the kind of person who buys a black car, visibility is likely a factor. The AA (UK) livery is yellow."

Maybe that is because yellow cars are pretty rare and black cars are common?

agnostic said...

Cars these days come in boring colors, which would suggest that much of the public shares my indifference to choosing a car color based on aesthetics or self-expression.

Throughout the '90s and early 2000s, almost all fashionable clothing came in boring colors (especially black), but that was an aesthetic choice. Just goes to show that cars too go through quick cycles of fashion.

Markku said...

Metallic/silver. Fairly visible, classy, and doesn't dirt too much.

Dark colors are not so bad in cold climates.

Ian Lewis said...

What is interesting about the Silver/Grey color is that multiple car manufacturers have made it there de facto color:
- Chrysler
- Mercedes
- Audi
- Porsche
- Cadillac

A few others.

Anonymous said...

Get a maroon colored one. Well one in the rust/maroon/red/burgundy area. It hides dirt, it's unobtrusive. It's popular.

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere a few years ago that although red shows up better than some other colors, it results in more accidents because brake lights don't show up as well.

Anonymous said...

red

Anonymous said...

Yellow or light green for low heat absorption and visibility. Silver (light gray) or tan shows dirt less, but not significantly, and their visibility is lower.

A light yellow would be a good balance of factors. White is even cooler, but shows dirt from close up. From a distance it just makes it look grayish.

Anonymous said...

Yellow or light green for low heat absorption and visibility. Silver (light gray) or tan shows dirt less, but not significantly, and their visibility is lower.

A light yellow would be a good balance of factors. White is even cooler, but shows dirt from close up. From a distance it just makes it look grayish.

Audacious Epigone said...

I second the guy who sells used cars. White reflects the most light and is thus both the coolest and the most visible in the midday sun and during a downpour and shows the least dirt.

Anonymous said...

Yellow is best.

White is brightest but not safest because of fog and rain (I assume you're not worrying 'bout snow) AND the psych of colour perception.

Orange is better but too funky.

See: http://www.ltsa.govt.nz/fascinating-facts/safe-vehicle-colours.html

Anonymous said...

I read an article years ago that said that dark green cars were the LEAST visible at night.

I think yellow is a good color due to air conditioning costs, visibility, combined with being a little less common than white, so the car is easier to spot in the parking lot.

dearieme said...

White for cool, yellow for visibility and no-one stealing it.

david Davenport said...

Steve,

An appropriately iSteve-y sociological question to ask is, why have boring, somber colors such as black or grey, excuse me, silver become popular car colors?

Black formerly = the color of hearses, old people's suits, etc.

NFersen said...

What the former used car salesman was saying about metallic tinted paints makes sense, but on the other hand almost every lexus from the early 90's on has some metallic shade of bronze or silver. I can't remember ever seeing a lexus or mercedes with a bad paint job. Is that just a matter of a better car == better quality of paint? Also, I'd second the opinion that red cars are accident prone, and the most visible color in the spectrum is supposed to be that nasty yellow color that cyclists wear.

Personally, I like those creamy blue, orange and green tints that they used on cars during the 50's/early 60's.

simon newman said...

anon:
"Maybe that is because yellow cars are pretty rare and black cars are common?"

Accidents-per-car, not total.

Anonymous said...

http://www.aaafoundation.org/pdf/CarColorAndSafety.pdf

'Nuff said...

Anonymous said...

Forget all this nitpicking, what you need a pink 1959 Cadillac.

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

My dad, a lifelong "car guy", has always told me that gray/silver paints oxidize more than others, which results in a dull finish.

The one gray car I had bore this out. Took pretty good care of it, and it looked like crap. I have a white car now that's twice as old as my gray one was when I got rid of it, I've washed & waxed it less, and it looks twice as good as the gray one did at the end of its run. Maybe the paints are just improving.

FWIW, black cars do show dirt easily, but if you're willing to do the constant washing & waxing, no color comes to a better shine.

Roger Chaillet said...

Pick whatever color you want, Steve, but see about getting a clear coat over it.

My 10-year-old red car has yet to oxidize in the Texas sun because it's parked under a carport much of the time, and it has a factory clear coat of paint.

Plus at least once a year I use elbow grease and put a coat of pure carnauba wax on it. I use the paste.

Right Wing Hippie said...

I can tell you NOT to get red. In spite of it being my favorite color for just about everything, I found much to my dismay that aftermarket paint jobs in candy-apple red and blistering South Carolina sunlight do not a happy combo make. I imagine your California sun is of similar strenth.

Made me understand why Bondo-gray is such a popular look for cars in parts of the South ;)

Anonymous said...

nfersen, while it's true that Lexus uses relatively premium product to cast their cars in luxurious shades of metallic grey that seems to last, this would have to do with the quality of clearcoat and the fact that many Lexus owners tend to keep their cars garaged, which undermines accelerated oxidation.
Further, even though the clearcoat still shines, oxidation will reduce the luster of a new silver Lexus over the years. If you park a 5 year old, well maintained Lexus next to a new one of the same color, this will become apparent.
The best way to hasten a cars trip to the junkyard it to park it outside as much as possible so that corrosion and oxidation can work it's magic throughout the car carriage, and metallic paint with metal particles show off this effect more effectively than a flat paint.
Going from what I've seen demonstrated in the past, the color white, even in fog, will be more visible than any other color.
However, if I can see yellow a foot farther than I can see white, it's not going to make a lot of difference in whether I have a collision or not.
If it's so foggy out that this becomes a serious matter for debate, it's probably a good idea to not be driving in it in the first place.
That is, just because you want to drive your car, doesn't always mean you should. Even if it's florescent lime green, with xenon strobe lights accentuating the under carriage.
Finally, much of the debate on this matter can be mitigated with fog lights.
To Roger, carnauba wax is one of the least durable types of protection you can use for your car's finish, and will disintegrate within 12 weeks, at best. If you want better protection, consider a paint sealant. Again, keeping it garaged and clean, as you do, is the best protection.

Regards,
Guy Who Used to Sell Cars

Anonymous said...

Silver cars are the safest on the road.

Black cars are the most expensive to detail, and they need it the most often.

CGHill said...

I used to have a Mazda in what they called "Mojave Beige." I've been to the Mojave, and it ain't beige, exactly, but this car was almost precisely the color of local dirt, which meant that it could go a long way between washings. I doubt it was especially visible around twilight, though.