I always say that if you can’t look back at your car and smile as you walk away, you chose the wrong car. While many of us just need a car to get from Point A to Point B, when you have the opportunity to get a ride that makes you happy, you should. A key part of finding that smile generator is the paint color.
My very first car was a 1988 Nissan Pulsar NX, painted a lovely champagne gold. More recently, I had a 2014 Focus ST in a dull shade of silver and a 2020 Mustang GT in Twister Orange. I’ve had cars across the visible light spectrum, but should I have gone with milder hues?
When shopping for vehicles, buyers consider vehicle color because they’ve likely heard from their friends, neighbors, and randos in the supermarket checkout line that your car’s color affects its resale value. I’ve never purchased a ride based on how the color might affect resale value, but I’m a unique unicorn when it comes to cars.
That said, does it? The Drive’s Guides & Gear team wanted to get to the bottom of this potential myth so that you can make the best-informed car purchase the next time you start perusing the used-car market. So, let’s answer this age-old question.
Does Car Color Affect Resale Value?
The short answer is it depends. There are variables to paint color affecting resale, including location, type of car, make and model, paint color rarity, model year of the vehicle, vehicle spec, and if your vehicle was properly maintained.
One example is a Dodge Challenger Hellcat finished in Plum Purple. It will hold its value better than a purple Chrysler Pacifica. Why? Because the Challenger’s customer base desires bolder colors, as evidenced by the car’s color options, while the Explorer’s customers tend to be more conservative and low-key. The same is true for Porsche GT car’s array of colors or BMW’s conservative tones. Make, model, and even year are all factors when it comes to a car’s color.
The same goes for geographical location. Certain colors play better in certain locations, such as red, green, gold, or orange in Southern California versus the same colors in the Midwest. Paint condition and whether or not you’ve properly maintained your ride is a factor. A dull or scratched Ferrari 458 Italia in Rosso Corso might seem like a safe bet until you pop the engine bay and find a rat’s nest. Then the shiny Giallo Modena 458 looks like the better purchase.
There’s a popular idea that white, black, and silver cars depreciate the slowest of all cars, but that might be more of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Car buyers see those three colors as a safe bet on long-term value, so they purchase cars in those colors, and the myth becomes a reality. This is why paint supplier PPG’s most popular colors continue to be white, black, and silver.
The car search engine iSeeCars did an analysis of automotive paint colors and resale value. It found that while white, black, and silver don’t depreciate as much as others, bolder colors like yellow, orange, green, and red actually fared better during the company’s three-year snapshot of values.
Unfortunately, this knowledge hasn’t reached the general public. In 2020, white was the most popular once again with 34 percent of the global market. Black came in second at 18 percent, and silver and grey each hit 12 percent. We’re very boring. Yet, while the demand for your lime-green Tiguan might be statistically less than if it was black, that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out there looking for your car in that exact color. So, you have our permission to go psychedelic on your next whip.
How Do Special, One-Off, or Matte Paints Affect Value?
Offbeat, unique, special, one-off, and matte colors actually tend to do well in the used market, too, as they add distinction. Even though they make up a small percentage of total new and used sales, there’s always demand for something special.
To that end, there are many automakers that retire colors after specific model years or models, which adds a bit of exclusivity to your resale success. Certain manufacturers also spend more on specific colors, which can also help resale value. The extra initial cost mostly comes down to the paint process, such as metal flake, tricoat pearl, and matte. Acura, for example, uses a 15-layer process to apply its gorgeous Valencia Red Pearl paint, so naturally, those cars are going to cost more.
A handful of manufacturers will even create new colors for your car, given the right number of zeroes on the check you hand them. Some will add value, some won’t. They will add personality to your car, however, and that could be enough to stave off most of its depreciation — hello, Porsche’s $97,000 Python Green ChromaFlair. It’s going to depend on a host of factors, but you’re pretty well insulated if you want to forgo black, silver, and white, and choose a nice blue, yellow, or green hue.
Paint Color Terms You Should Know
Before you head off to the dealership and drop your life savings on a Lamborghini Urus in Verde Mantis, you should know some of these paint terms, right? How else are you going to look like an expert and not get rooked for the optional matching underbody paint trim? Here are some of the most common terms you might come across.
Most fancy paint jobs have some sort of metallic flake. ChromaFlair, however, uses aluminum flakes coated with magnesium fluoride embedded in semi-translucent chromium. If you didn’t get all that, it basically ends in a glasslike paint that can shift color based on the lighting. You may remember the MystiChrome Cobra back in the day or the TVR Tuscan from the movie “Swordfish.”
First of all, there is no such thing as matte paint. Two-stage paint isn’t usually shiny by nature. It’s the clear coat over it that creates a bright, reflective surface. The topcoat on matte-finish cars has small dimples throughout so that the car isn’t nearly as reflective as normal paint.
Metallic paint is infused with metal flakes. The metal creates that sparkle effect you have seen on custom hot rods and all of the coolest bass boats.
Pearl paint jobs also use flakes mixed into the paint, but they are usually special iridescent pigments also known as pearls. Many are still applied using the typical two-stage process, but the paint costs a bit more than metallic paint.
Two-stage paint has a clear coat applied at the end to protect the actual pigmented paint. If you see tintcoat in a paint name, it means a clear coat with a slight bit of color is applied over the base coat — usually the same color as the base coat — and then another clear coat is sprayed over that. Most manufacturers use a two-step process where the tintcoat is the final step.
Most car manufacturers these days use two-stage paint, which means the pigmented paint application is followed by a clear coat. Tricoat means that another stage has been added between those two.
Even with car paint, there’s always more to learn. Since some of us learn better by observing, we thought we’d drop a video about car paint from our friends at Donut Media.
FAQs About Paint Colors
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.
Q: So, which color has the best resale value?
A: Funnily enough, it’s yellow.
Q: No way.
Q: But I should still buy black, white, or silver, right?
A: Do whatever makes you happy. Color-based depreciation isn’t as big of a variable as people make it out to be.
Q: Are there downsides to upgraded and one-off paint?
A: You mean besides the initial price? Sure, if a painted section of the car is damaged, you’re gonna pay through the nose.
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