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Australia Isn’t A Pink Car Nation – It’s A Black And White Issue

They used to say that a good horse is never a bad colour.  The same probably also applies to cars – or does it?  While a car’s colour doesn’t really affect its performance or handling, colour certainly has a psychological effect on the buyer and the beholder, and it can also affect safety.  It might even affect the price of the car, in the case of second-hand vehicles, especially.  And if you’re buying a new car, you tend to get a choice of colour, so it pays to be informed!

White:  This is one of the most common car colours on the road, and with good reason.  Roads tend to be black, so a white car stands out more and can be seen easily.  It can even be seen during difficult light conditions, such as dusk (not so good in fog or in a blizzard, though).  From a safety perspective, white makes sense, which is why most car makes and models include a white version.  However, white 4x4s that are going to be used off road are less popular, as white shows every bit of dirt.  White also makes a good “canvas” for company logos, so it is also a good choice for commercial fleets.  If you’re buying a car with practicality uppermost in your mind or safety uppermost, then white makes a good choice.  However, because it’s common, white can be seen as a little bland and boring.

Black:  This is a prestige colour, being the colour of business suits, briefcases and New Zealand rugby teams (shoot me later). It’s dark, sleek and mysterious, like sunglasses or black panthers.  From an image perspective, black is sexy and savvy, and it can be seen as either tough or smooth, masculine or feminine.  It’s also very traditional – we all remember Ford’s famous line about “any colour as long as it’s black.”  From a safety perspective, though, black isn’t so hot, as it makes the car harder to see in poor lighting conditions.  Black also makes a reasonable canvas for company logos, especially if your logo involves white, yellow and red, or other colours that stand out against a dark background for impact.

Red:  Another popular colour that has plenty of appeal.  Psychologists tell us that red is stimulating and alerting, which is why the half-joking myth that red cars go faster has sprung up.  It’s also a cheerful, friendly colour that seems to attract children, making this a good colour for a family car – if you can tolerate endless repetitions of “Toot-toot, chugga, chugga, Big Red Car…”  From a safety perspective, red doesn’t stand out much from the background in dull light, but is one of the “attention – look at me” colours during daylight.  It’s less practical as a background for a company logo, unless your logo is black and white.

Dark red deserves a mention here.  This colour tends to be found on 4x4s, especially those of the late 1990s and early 2000s.  It’s a better background colour for logos but has less stand-out impact.

Reds also seem to be a bit more vulnerable to fading in sunlight.  This may be something to do with infra-red light.  Is anyone able to shed some light on this mystery?

Green:  This colour is associated with the environment, so you would think that it would be the top choice for hybrids and bio-fuel vehicles.  Oddly enough, it isn’t particularly.  Greens come in two types: bright apple and lime tones, which tend to be associated with small, fun hatchbacks; and dark greens along the lines of British Racing Green, which is more sophisticated and is often found on Jaguars.  Both colours make reasonable canvasses for company logos – blues, reds, yellows and whites stand out quite nicely against both types.  From a safety perspective, the bright greens tend to be quite eye-catching in daylight, mostly because it’s not a common colour. 

The darker greens (often combined with minty tones) and the olive greens are often found on 4x4s, harking back to the military background of vehicles like the Jeep.  However, don’t let a salesman fool you into thinking that a green 4×4 will camouflage you better, allowing you to get closer to wildlife for a better shot (either with a camera or with a rifle): the noise and smell will have given you away long before that. However, darker green combines quite honourably with the dirt of off-roading without looking sleazy.

Yellow:  This is another bold colour that ranks second to white for ability to be seen. The fluorescent yellows possibly stand out even more in daylight. Yellow seems to have some of the cheerfulness of red but is more of an extrovert. As a canvas for company logos, it’s not so hot, unless your logo is in red or black.  Black, red and yellow is a high-impact combo that is used in nature as a warning.  It’s also a patriotic colour, especially combined with green.

Yellow can also include the back-to-nature sandy beige tones of late 1970s vehicles (good canvasses for logos) and the champagne-gold tones of early- to mid-1990s models (sophisticated and subtle, tending to fade to greyish as they age; also good backgrounds).

Blue:  Blue is proven to be a calming, soothing colour – unless you happen to see a blue light flashing behind you alongside a red one, which could mean you’ve been clocked speeding and are going to be hit in the wallet.  From a safety perspective, blues are neither here nor there, but blue-greys are dodgy.  Navy blues are sophisticated, but are more subtle than black.  Cobalt, peacock and butcher’s blue are modern and trendy (at least at the time of writing).  Pale blue is friendlier.  All of the blues combine reasonably well with other colours as a logo canvas, though whether you prefer the darker tones or the lighter ones depends on what colours are involved in your logo. 

Grey:  Grey is subtle and mysterious, but in a less in-your-face way than black.  It’s a natural colour, being the tones of rock, cloud and smoke, giving the colour an eco-friendly overtone.  It handles the dirt well on 4x4s but looks equally stylish on an executive saloon trimmed with chrome.  Grey makes a first-class background for logos, as both black and white show up well against it.  Grey, however, absolutely sucks from a safety perspective, as it’s harder to see against a grey background no matter what time of day. Grey is damn near invisible in dusk, which is why wolves and cats are that colour.  If you choose a grey car (I had one once, but before you ask, it didn’t get written off in a crash at evening), be one of the first to put your lights on as evening draws on.

Brown:  This colour is less common these days, so it’s unlikely to be seen on new cars.  Think of old Fords and Holdens.  It’s a warm, eco-friendly colour that doesn’t show the dirt much.  it may be due for a comeback, unless it is frowned upon from a safety perspective, as it’s not a high-impact colour.

Purple:  Another rarely seen colour, but one that has more sophistication than brown.  Purple tends to be associated with creativity and quirkiness (towards the violet and lavender end of purple) or with royalty (towards the dark eggplant tones).  Purple cars tend to be noticed, but this is because they are rarer.  Another colour that could well be fashionable in the future.

Orange:  Bold, warm and stimulating, orange tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it colour.  It’s even more stimulating and energetic than red, which may be why it’s one of the colour choices for the latest selection of HSVs.  From a safety perspective, a bright orange is up there behind white and yellow for visibility.  However, it’s not a good canvas for company logos, as nothing much seems to stand out on it except for black.  It’s something of a retro colour, as it was popular during the 1970s (and that’s an understatement!).

Pink:  This colour is considered to be sweet, soft and feminine, which is why it isn’t a very popular car colour.  While most women are happy enough to drive around in a red, grey, white or any other colour of vehicle, most men would rather be seen dead than driving a pink car.  Even if you’re a woman, pink cars can tend to be a bit too Barbie-doll. When it comes to cars, pink possibly stinks – to the extent that a (male) friend of mine was able to buy a second-hand magenta van super-cheap: no other commercial contractors would touch the thing.  But the van fitted all his gear and the more muted magenta carried his (white and yellow) logo reasonably well – and it certainly stood out from the ranks of white vans other contractors drove.  Bright pinks tend to be rather visible – probably on a level with yellow from a safety perspective – and it is a rather fun colour.  While this won’t be the most common colour in the world, it has potential as vehicle manufacturers tend to target women buyers more. Expect to see this on VW Beetles, small hatchbacks, convertibles and, of course, Cadillacs.