2011 Nissan LeafEnlarge Photo
If you’re in the market for a new car, the chances are you’ll want a car which gets the very best gas mileage possible. Normally, this means looking at the EPA ratings of each car -- but a recent study has confirmed that the color your car is painted can also help save you money and improve your gas mileage.
According to scientists at the University of California, Berkley, choosing a lighter-colored car over a traditional black colored car could reduce your car’s carbon dioxide emissions by 1.1 % other tailpipe emissions by 0.5%, and improve fuel efficiency by around 1.1 %.
The science behind it is simple. As we’ve told you before, darker cars tend to absorb more visible and invisible radiation from the sun’s rays than lighter colored cars.
As a consequence, darker colored cars tend to get hotter when parked in direct sunlight than their lighter colored counterparts. In fact, in the study, the researchers discovered that the roof on its black Honda Civic test car reached as much as 45 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the roof on an identically built but silver-painted Honda Civic.
A hotter car means that more energy is needed to cool the car back to a comfortable temperature, meaning more work for its air-conditioner and by association, its engine.
How much more energy? According to the researchers, the black colored car required an air conditioning system with 13% more cooling capacity than the silver car in order to bring its interior back to a comfortable 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
The key to better fuel economy? Increase the car’s solar reflectivity, which translates to using a lighter color, or one which reflects more of the sun’s energy away from the car.
2012 Toyota Prius V station wagon, Half Moon Bay, CA, May 2011Enlarge Photo
In reality, that means white and silver cars are more energy efficient than their darker-colored counterparts, but metallic and pearlescent paint may also help to reflect the sun’s energy rather than absorb it.
Although you might not know it, there are already cars on the market which try to minimize the effects of solar absorption inside cars.
For example, the 2012 Nissan Leaf contains a light interior -- and in some markets tinted rear windows -- to help keep the interior of the car as cool as possible, reducing the demands on the car’s air-conditioning system and consequentially improving its all-electric range.
Of course, if you aren’t buying a new car soon or don’t have a choice about your car’s color, there are some other things you can do to ensure that your car keeps its cool and helps to keep your gas mileage high -- make sure you park underground, inside or in direct shade where possible, and avoid parking in direct sunlight in the middle of the day.