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Car Color Facts and Fictions

Does Color Affect Safety, Tickets, Theft or Insurance?

Lined up right outside the front door of the Ellis Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep dealership in Glendale, California, are four 2014 Jeeps in a range of colors meant to tempt as many buyers as possible.

There's a Jeep Cherokee in Bright White, a Jeep Wrangler in a smoky gray called Anvil, another new Jeep Wrangler in Flame Red and a Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit in a rich brown known as Deep Auburn Pearl.

This colorful lineup would get a big thumbs-up from car color experts. By offering that palette of hues, the dealer may lasso the play-it-safe buyers as well as the more adventuresome types who seek a car color that says, "Notice me!"

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Fact is, most of us are play-it-safe types. In 2013, white was the world's most popular car color — again. After white, buyers like black, silver and gray, according to reports from PPG Industries and Axalta Coating Systems.

But times may be changing. Color experts predict we're about to become more daring.

So while we know what we want (or think we do) when it comes to the color of the vehicle we're buying, there are lots of questions about colors that most of us consider before making that final decision.

Should we really follow the crowd, or is this the year to break out? Is one color safer than another when it comes to avoiding an accident? Are there colors that are likely to get a car stolen? Is a white car really cooler in the desert? Does a red car beg for a speeding ticket? What about higher insurance premiums for scarlet cars? Is that myth or reality? What color requires the least maintenance?

To separate car color facts from fiction, Edmunds turned to the experts.

Follow the Color Crowd or Break Away?
Since 2006, white has been the No. 1 car color in North America, says Nancy Lockhart, color marketing manager at Axalta. It increased another 6 percent in popularity in 2013, she says.

And in the last three years, "white has taken off globally," says Jane Harrington, manager of color styling for PPG Industries, which tracks car color popularity.

People pick a color to express one of two things, says Jim Parker, head of exterior color and trim for the Chrysler Group. "It's either what they feel about themselves or what they think they would like to feel about themselves."

A muscle car in deep black may be giving off a ''badass'' energy, he says.

Those who choose white may feel they need an escape from the 24/7 interactive world, Harrington says. "White is this kind of sanctuary, a simple, less-is-more look," she says.

In his experience, men are less likely to hold out for a certain color than are women, says Larry Hurley, sales manager at the Ellis Family Stores dealership in Glendale, California. "A man might be willing to take a color he's not as happy with," he says, especially if he thinks the resale value may hold or the salesperson lowers the price.

Life issues can affect customers' color preferences, Hurley finds. He recalls hearing: "Anything but a blue car: My ex and I had blue." Other customers say, "No white; it looks like a rental car."

Is 2014 a Daring Color Year?
This may be the year to indulge your inner gotta-have-it color. "The pendulum is swinging back, where people are not afraid to express themselves with color," says Susan Lampinen, group chief designer, color and material, for Ford Motor Company.

The new willingness is tied to people becoming accustomed to brighter color appliances and technology, she says. They are extending that comfort level to their vehicles.

How bright? Oranges and browns will become popular, Harrington says. And while green was at the bottom of the latest PPG color list, Harrington says it will reemerge.

The choices are already pretty bright, including Blue Candy on the 2014 Ford Focus and other models, and the 2014 SRT Viper in Stryker Green. There's also Habanero in the 2014 Toyota Prius C or Gotta Have It Green in the 2014 Ford Cobra Jet Mustang.

If you must have a unique color, it's worth asking yourself how much hunting that will take. If the car you want isn't in stock, you should be able to just ask your salesperson to track it down and get it for you via a dealer trade, Hurley says.

The ''Safest'' Car Color?
Some drivers are convinced that lighter or brighter-colored cars will keep them more visible and thus make them safer on the road.

Research on car colors and crash rates is sparse, however. In an Australian study, white vehicles were about 10 percent less likely to be in a crash during daylight hours than vehicles in lower-visibility colors such as black, blue, gray, green, red and silver, according to a 2007 report from the Monash University Accident Research Centre.

But Russ Rader, a spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, warns not to count on color as a safety feature.

"Color may have some effect on the risk of multiple-vehicle crashes, but it's probably small," he says. He points to other studies that suggest motorists who travel with their daytime running lights (DRL) on are less likely to be involved in multiple-vehicle crashes during the day.

"Institute and federal government studies put the crash reduction for DRLs at 3-5 percent," Rader says. "If there's a small benefit for daytime running lights, it's likely that any benefit from a more conspicuous car color is even smaller.'' By conspicuous color, Rader means ''emergency vehicle'' colors, such as yellows and bright reds.

Which Vehicle Colors Are ''Theft-Proof"?
If you want a vehicle that is less likely to be stolen, avoid mainstream colors, says Dutch economist Ben Vollaard.

Vollaard, an assistant professor at Tilburg University in The Netherlands, looked at vehicle theft data in the Netherlands from 2004 through 2008 and in his 2010 research report found that cars painted two popular Dutch colors (blue and silver-gray) were stolen nearly 40 percent more often than cars in less popular colors.

Resale value explains it, Vollaard says. That's important to thieves, so they pick the popular colors.

A very bright color such as yellow is probably as effective as an expensive security device in discouraging thieves, Vollaard says. Red, orange, brown and green vehicles are probably less likely to be stolen, too, he says.

Vollaard also suggests checking vehicle theft rates. Alas, here in the U.S., you can check by model and year (but not color) at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's theft index.

What Colors Are Cooler?
Conventional wisdom says people living in hot climates would do well to buy white cars if they want to keep their cool. This is another area of sparse research, but a lighter-color car may be a bit more comfortable than a darker one in a hot climate, says Michael Duoba, a research engineer at Argonne National Lab's Center for Transportation Research.

"We have yet to do a side-by-side study," he says. However, he cites another research report suggesting it may be true.

In that study, scientists parked two Honda Civics, one black and the other silver, in the sun. After an hour, the silver car had an internal temperature about 10 degrees cooler than the black one, according to a report in Applied Energy in 2011.

What's the Story With Red Cars?
Although many drivers believe ''red cars equal tickets," it's another area of sparse research but rich automotive urban mythology. Likewise, some people who love red vehicles wonder if their insurance rate will increase if they buy them.

Charging owners of red vehicles more for insurance is another urban myth, says Jeanne Salvatore, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute.

"The color of the car is not a typical underwriting criteria," she says. She hesitates to use the word never, but couldn't cite an example of an insurance company charging more for red.

"What really matters is your driving record and the car you drive," she says. ''The company will look at the make and model of a car, the accident rate, how protected the car is in a crash and how expensive it is to repair and replace."

So go ahead and buy that red car. And you can paint your nails to match. Nail polish maker OPI and Ford are introducing a limited-edition color, Race Red, to commemorate the Ford Mustang's 50th anniversary.

Low-Maintenance vs. High-Maintenance Colors
So, which colors require more work to look good? Darker ones, according to car care experts.

"The darker the color, typically the more types of scratches and swirls you will begin to see," says Mike Pennington, director of training and consumer relations for Meguiar's, which produces car care products. There may be scratches on the white car, too, but they're just not as noticeable.

"You can neglect a lighter car more — a light silver, light gray," agrees Jim Dvorak, a product specialist for Mother's, another car care products company. Dark reds or dark metallics show more wear and tear, he says.

But extra maintenance effort pays off on cars in more dramatic colors, they say.

"When you get that black car shined up, there's nothing wetter, deeper or more stunning," Pennington says.

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