Choosing the right car colours

Car paint colours: how to make the right choice and the worst combinations available

BuyaCar team
Nov 23, 2016
Art Konovalov /

The colour you paint your sitting room won’t affect the value of your house, but the wrong colour could easily affect the value of your car, or even make it impossible to sell.

Imagine a luxury car such as a Mercedes S-Class in pink. You can’t? Neither can Mercedes, which is why it doesn’t sell one. Instead, the colours it offers are all sober greys, blues, blacks and silvers. New S-Class buyers wouldn’t be seen dead in anything other than a serious colour that reflects their status. Neither would those buying a used S-Class. The fact is, buyers of used cars are even more sensitive to car colour, often because it’s just another reason to haggle down the car’s price.

New car buyers, on the other hand, are a little more swayed by the heart than the head. These days, many new cars are bought on personal contract purchase, a scheme that guarantees the new buyer a future price for their car at the end of the term. As a result, they can choose the most extreme colour without fear of financial consequence.

However, that might be about to change, at least for those PCP customers who, at the end of the contract, try to part-exchange their pink motor for a new one.

Philip Nothard, retail and consumer specialist at Cap HPI, a vehicle research company, says that car makers have got better at creating attractive car and colour combinations but there are still some poor ones that dealers need to take account of when valuing PCP part-exchanges.
“Dealers need to start taking account of the effect a poor colour has on the car’s future appeal and saleability, and factor that in when considering how much money over and above the car’s contracted value they are prepared to offer customers,” he said.

You have been warned. While you are guaranteed a price for your old car under the terms of a PCP deal, the additional allowance a dealer may offer to win your business on its replacement may, if Cap’s advice is heeded, be reduced if he thinks its colour will affect his chances of selling it on.
Colour trends ebb and flow. In 2010, black was the most popular colour, followed by silver. By 2015, white had become the most popular, followed by black. Silver was sixth in popularity, trailing in the wake of grey, blue and red.

Car makers sometimes use bold colours to help establish a new model in the public’s mind. One example is the Toyota Aygo Orange Twist. It’s actually a very popular colour but when buying a just-launched car, don’t be carried away by what seems exciting but is just a marketing gimmick; it could be passé in three years’ time.

Experts believe there is a link between colours and personality. Leatrice Eisman, a colour consultant and trend forecaster, says that black is the ultimate power colour, white reflects a fastidious person who likes things just so, silver suits those who consider themselves to be cool and elegant, and red, outgoing personalities.

As if choosing the right colour weren’t hard enough, there is the issue of what finish to have it in: metallic, pearlescent (this finish uses ceramic crystals or ‘mica’ to give a deep, lustrous and sparkling finish) or solid (non-metallic). A solid finish is the simplest and cheapest, although some car makers such as VW charge extra for some solid whites.

Metallics are best and suit most cars but cost around £600 as an upgrade from a solid colour. Pearlescents can give a car a real lift but can cost from £1000 as an option, although are often standard on high-value cars. Matt finishes are gaining in popularity, too, but are expensive. Daytona Grey matt on the Audi RS6, for example, costs £5675.



10 popular colours and the cars they suit

White (21.4% market share, 2015): Popular and fashionable but beginning to look unimaginative, and sheer numbers of used cars in the colour could spell softer used prices in future. Not all whites are equal. VW Group does the classiest one; others can look a little too bright and cheap. Suits quality small to medium cars in particular such as VW Polo, Audi A3 and A5, and Mercedes A and C-Class.
Suits: VW Golf (Pure White)

Black (19.4%): Once the clear market leader but beginning to wane, squeezed by white on one side and grey (as distinct from silver) on the other. Suits ‘statement’ cars such as prestige cars. These also have a deeper, richer and more durable finish. It’s high maintenance, though, since it can show scratches and is hard to keep clean, as well as to colour match after an accident.
Suits: BMW 5 Series (Black Sapphire)

Grey (15.6%): Rapidly gaining traction among buyers who consider themselves straightforward and no-nonsense. That’s probably most of us, so it has strong appeal as a used car colour, too. It’s a sober, neutral hue that suits premium and executive cars rather than more up-tempo family models.
Suits: Mercedes S-Class (Selenite Grey)

Blue (14.7%): From the boring dark shade of years gone by, blue has morphed into a 1001 different tones ranging from the Porsche 911’s in-yer-face Miami Blue and Mini Cooper’s Electric Blue to the Citroen Cactus’s Blue Lagoon. In between, the Audi A4’s vivid Scuba Blue. With the exception of darker, more serious executive car shades, these new blues manage to tread that fine line between the tasteful and the extreme.
Suits: Renault Clio (French Blue)

Red (12.1%): Like blue, red, too, is available in 1001 different shades. The fire engine red of old still persists on some cars and does them no favours (for example, some used, current-shape VW Passats – the colour is no longer available on new cars). It’s a bit obvious on sports cars but done properly, can make a surprising impact on family cars such as the Nissan Qashqai (Magnetic Red). It suits small cars and sporty versions of executive cars. Cheaper, solid reds of yesteryear used to ‘bleach’ with age but new formulations appear to have cured this.
Suits: Audi RS6 (Misano Red)

Silver (11.2%): Like grey but with a touch more elegance. For years, the default choice among car buyers but now on the back foot as bolder shades take centre stage. Still a safe bet from a future value perspective since fewer new cars being ordered in it, but risks making you looking dull and unimaginative. Still a popular choice in the premium and executive car sectors.
Suits: BMW 7 Series (Pure Metal Silver)

Green (1.07%): Superstitious used car dealers used to avoid green cars like the plague and until recently it was never a popular choice. It’s still a rare shade but slowly finding favour either as a discreet colour, as in Mercedes’s Emerald Green on the S-Class (not ideal), or as a bold statement colour such as the VW Scirocco’s Viper Green. The colour will always polarise opinion but is probably at its best as a statement shade on a performance car.
Suits: Corsa VXR (Lime Green)

Brown (1.0%):
This colour is sold in even smaller numbers than green. It conjures up memories, for those old enough, of Morrises and Austins of the 1970s, and even Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow IIs of the early 1980s. However, today’s browns are much richer and more sophisticated (witness Almandine Brown on the BMW 7 Series).
Suits: Audi Q3 (Tundra Brown)

Orange (0.7%):
Like Green, orange is a statement colour that’s very much of the moment. It especially suits lifestyle cars such as the Renault Captur (Arizona Orange), Mini Cooper (Volcanic Orange) and sporty cars such as the Jaguar F-Type (Firesand). It’ll always polarise opinion but if you want to be seen, few colours are more noticeable.
Suits: Toyota Aygo (Orange Twist)

Mauve (0.5%):
There have always been purple cars, sought after by very particular buyers with a passion for the colour, and who often make sure they’re colour coordinated to match. It’s a rich, stylish shade which is why the DS 4 (Whisper Purple) is available in it, as well as the Nissan Qashqai (Nightshade). Like other polarising colours its scarcity and well-judged suitability should mean used values do not suffer.
Suits: Nissan Qashqai (Nightshade)



Worst colour combinations

Jaguar XJ – Polaris White All you need is a peaked cap and a blushing bride

Dacia Sandero – Glacier White Makes it look cheap rather than a bargain

Seat Leon X-Perience – Adventure Brown Looks dirty – and that’s after you’ve washed it

Vauxhall Zafira Tourer – Lava Red Makes this people carrier look like a fire chief’s car

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