Published January 16, 2014
What your car color says about you
Does your car "color" your personality? Car color can act as a psychological shortcut that expresses how we want the world to think about us. Gender and age influence choices, along with what colors are available on the lot.
Of course, that's not all there is to choosing a color.
"Color preferences change throughout time and may differ by region or vehicle type," says Nancy Lockhart, a color marketing manager with Axalta Coating Systems (formerly DuPont), a global car-coating business in Detroit. "The personality of the vehicle is as important as the personality of the buyer. The vehicle style, design and branding can influence color choices.
"A luxury sedan is more popular in black and white colors, but a small and sporty version is widely associated with red and colorful shades."
You can take these observations with a grain of salt, but here is what our experts say your car's color says about you. The rankings in this story are based on the Axalta Automotive Color Popularity Report for 2013.
If you're driving a white vehicle, you like to present a fresh, young, modern face to the outside world. Environmental psychologist Sally Augustin points out that many contemporary brands -- Apple, for example -- are drawn to white for the same reason.
White suggests that you have taste and elegance, says Marcie Cooperman, a professor of color theory at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City. White is also associated with honesty and purity.
Or, it could be that you live in a desert climate and white doesn't absorb heat like black, and you want a car that won't bake you like a human Pop-Tart.
"However, white can be hard to keep clean in some regions," Cooperman says. "It's a high-maintenance color." Perfect for high-maintenance people, perhaps?
"Black became the number one color for luxury," Lockhart says. According to Axalta report of 2013, black was the most popular color for luxury vehicles.
Black is the sophisticate's color, Augustin says. Just think of the little black dress and black-tie dinners. You'll see diplomats (or rather, their drivers) maneuvering stately black town cars through the urban landscape, and royalty riding through the night in midnight-toned limousines.
"Black is a power color, for sure," Cooperman says. Black declares itself as important, classic and in control.
The metallic gleam of silver shines bright with innovation. Think stainless steel appliances and silver technology. It's the color of security and style, Cooperman says.
A silver car color indicates that you're a high-class lady or gentleman with an eye on the upscale, Augustin says. Your status is higher in the world, and you're not afraid to show it.
"As a fallback color, it's nice," Cooperman says, because it doesn't get as dirty as a white car or as hot as a black car. It seems most Americans would agree with that assessment, as it's the third most popular car color.
"Overall, neutral colors (white, silver, black and gray) have dominated the market the past few years," Lockhart says.
Is there really a difference between silver and gray? Yes, Cooperman says.
"The gray car driver doesn't want to stand out," Cooperman says. And between silver and gray, the latter is more nondescript. Gray doesn't need (or want) to be as flashy as silver, projecting more dignity, tradition and maturity.
The driver of a gray car cares less about status and more about the status quo. As the fourth most popular car color in the U.S., gray is another neutral tone. It's just not as loud as the first three colors.
"Gray is popular on all types of vehicle sizes and brands," Axalta Coating Systems' Lockhart says. "Light grays, dark grays and grays with a slight hue offer a nice variety in this color space."
"Go-getter types may pick a red car," environmental psychologist Augustin says. Red projects action, power and masculinity, she says.
A red car for a man may declare great status in his world, whether that's finance or law. If it's a sporty red car, it's a way of "flexing muscles on the road," Cooperman says. However, for women, red often just represents confidence and fun.
The red sports car screams, "Look at me!" in every way.
That driver might think he has something impressive to show you -- the freeway equivalent of an exhibitionist, Cooperman says.
Picking blue doesn't lead to The Blues. Blue is a practical, happy color for many. The cars almost act like flashes of blue sky on gray roads.
In fact, blue projects stability, truthfulness and serenity, Augustin says. She points out that the minivan mom may choose blue, which projects a nice, stable family appearance.
Blue cars haven't been popular for a while, Cooperman says. However, she says to look for that to turn around in the next few years, particularly with female buyers.
Lockhart agrees: "The forecasted trend is to see more color hit the roads as reds and blues rise in interest."
Like the solidity of a mountain range or reserve of a monk's robe, brown exudes a quiet peace.
A preference for brown or beige also may speak volumes about your penny-pinching ways. "Someone who prefers brown doesn't really want to buy anything new," Cooperman says. "He just wants to live his life. He doesn't care about style and might keep a car until it drops."
A brown-car buyer wants value and a long life in his or her purchases and doesn't care about trends or fads.
If you're driving a yellow car, you may be the human embodiment of that "don't worry, be happy" smiley face we remember from the 1980s. Yellow exudes joy and a positive attitude.
Young people are drawn to yellow, Cooperman says. "Kids in their 20s like brighter colors and welcome trends and color," she says. They like small, bolder shapes and vivid hues. "Bright color doesn't feel like a risk to them."
However, it feels risky to many other people. Yellow or gold cars made up only 1% to 2% of car colors.
For the past 10 years, green has been closely tied to nature, Augustin says. Maybe you brake for arboretums and fuel up your sedan with biofuel.
But Cooperman says that green's popularity peaked in the 1990s and now we're in the midst of a backlash against green, with fewer green cars in showrooms and on the road.
Because of the anti-green sentiment, if you still drive a green car, you may be OK with being a fashion laggard and in no rush to catch up to current trends. Hey, at least you're not recycling your car yet.
There's a reason why places like Home Depot display orange logos. Bright orange declares that you're quite comfortable with value and saving money.
If you're driving an orange Mini, you're saying, "I do a good job of minding my money," Augustin says. You might skip doing things for yourself (no spa treatments or expensive hair appointments) just so you can focus on value-rich investments.
An orange BMW? You pinched pennies to buy that head turner. "You're sort of tipping the world on edge," Augustin says. You're also not afraid of going against the tide. Orange is one of the least favorite colors of new car buyers in the U.S.