Are White Cars Really Better For The Environment?

Judging by the scorching temperatures in some of the (formerly) coolest states in the U.S., many of us are scrambling to find any source of smart relief from heat possible with the smallest carbon footprint.

One low carbon output option is the color of your car.

There has been on-going discussion and an increasing level interest in whether a car’s color has any impact on its ability to absorb heat.   After some pretty hot days here in the nation’s capital, we have to say, its noticeably cooler and takes much less time for the AC to cool it down initially and keep it cool.

Wikipedia, Myth Busters, and practically every Joe and Jane have tackled the car color vs. heat issue.

The U.S EPA is tackling the color of rooftops for this same reason.   But from what we read, the jury may still be out of the true impact a car’s color has on heat absorption. But what’s the science behind it?

Does the color of a car really make a difference in how it absorbs heat?  Many say white cars are at least 10 degrees cooler than black cars. 

Cooler cars mean less need for AC and less engine demand and fewer greenhouse gases. It’s a scientific fact that darker colors absorb light at a faster rate than lighter colors, which is why the difference in heat absorption is more noticeable during the daytime when the sun is out.

It doesn’t matter if the object is a car or a popsicle, the fact remains that dark colors absorb light – and therefore heat – faster than their lighter peers. However, car color doesn’t matter during the nighttime when the sunlight is absent. 

If the temperature outside is 100 degrees during the nighttime, there won’t be any noticeable difference in heat absorption between dark and light colored cars.  

This fact also holds true for car interiors (and at times the material used for the interior play a big factor – like all leather vs. fabric, dark and light materials).

Ever try to grip the steering wheel after its been baking in the summer midday sun? Given that lighter colors reflect more light than they absorb, it’s a good idea to buy cars in light tones. White and yellow cars will give you the coolest possible temperatures outside and inside your car – again note that interior car colors along with the material used also play a role in heat absorption.  

In early 2009, the California Resource Board, when developing new measures to combat heat, included a measure require new cars to have reflective paints that absorb less solar heat, effectively banning “black” color cars.  After the initial flap, it never materialize and the Resource Board retracted this idea.

We found that these links offered interesting and different points of view on the topic of car color. The Truth About Cars, Short Sharp Science and the Tech Crunch

Be sure to also see Nissan Leaf 2016 Carbon Footprint

After you buy your next white car, do you want to know how to build a new green house to park your new hybrid in? Learn how to build a green house with:

daniellejOur Editor’s picks on some other Green Blizzard articles about getting around town while lowering your carbon footprint….Hybrid Logic  and Top 10 Worst Carbon Footprint Sports


About the author

Danielle Jappah

Danielle brings a touch of southern US charm to our writing team.Since points of view on climate change vary depending on resources, economies, and political viewpoints of the region, we wanted a southerner to expand our point of view. The U.S. South has its own unique POV on climate change and Danielle writes from her office in Atlanta inspiring southern naysayers to wake up and recognize what happening everywhere.