If there's one thing we've learned while watching the auto industry scramble to increase the fuel efficiency of its vehicles, it's that there's fuel to be saved everywhere you look, if you look hard enough. But would you have ever thought that fuel savings could be found in a car's color?
Researchers in Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division have published a new study that suggests cooler-colored cars could be up to 2 percent more fuel efficient than darker-colored ones. Their research shows that cooler colors like white and silver can reflect as much as 60 percent of the sun's rays, while darker colors like black only reflect around 5 percent. This means that after sitting in the sun for an hour, a silver car's roof is a full 45°F cooler than a black car's roof, which, according to the researchers, would equate to a 9 to 11°F difference in cabin air temperature.
Here's where the fuel savings come in. If a cooler-colored car stays 9 to 11°F cooler inside on a hot, sunny day than a dark-colored car, it should require a smaller, more efficient air conditioning system to cool the cabin down to a comfortable temperature of 77°F within 30 minutes, which is an industry standard for vehicle air conditioning performance. The researchers then used a vehicle simulation tool to estimate the potential energy savings of using more reflective-colored paint to downsize air conditioners and found that switching from black to white or silver would increase fuel economy by 0.44 mpg, or 2.0 percent.
Armed with this information, automakers could choose to limit the availability of darker colors on their eco-themed models and trim levels. Likewise, consumers looking for the most gas-thrifty options could steer towards lighter-colored cars to give their climate control systems a break. After all, every MPG counts.