Do red cars cost more to insure? Busting 3 myths about car color

Allie Johnson

You go car shopping and fall in love with a racy red coupe. But you worry that buying a car the color of a fire engine might cost you sky-high car insurance rates or make you a target for cops.

The good news is that experts say many common beliefs about car color are myths. So, go ahead and buy that car in any hue that suits you – from lipstick red to taxicab yellow to eggplant purple. Or, if you’re like many consumers, you might want to go with a more common color.

New color-trend data from paint company PPG Industries reveals that although the company is mixing up new colors like Sunshine, a “bright high-sparkle intense yellow,” car buyers favor less flashy hues. PPG says the three most popular vehicle colors in 2012 are white (22 percent), silver (20 percent) and black (19 percent). Trailing those are gray, red, “natural” colors (beiges, tans, browns, oranges and yellows), blue and green. Only 1 percent of cars are “other colors.”

But whether you lean toward brights or beige, experts say you should weigh several factors about color before you drive off the lot. First, let’s separate car-color fact from fiction.

Myth 1: Red cars cost more to insure

This myth is repeated so often that, in a 2012 survey commissioned by PEMCO Insurance in Washington and Oregon, 36 percent of people questioned thought car insurance premiums for red cars were higher than for vehicles of any other color.

“The urban legend is that since red is a sporty color, people who buy red cars drive more aggressively,” PEMCO spokesman Jon Osterberg says.

Of course, if a driver does have a record marred by crashes, DUIs or speeding tickets, that will hurt car insurance rates – but it has nothing to do with the color of car, Osterberg says. 

Car color typically does not affect insurance rates at all, experts say. In fact, color matters so little to PEMCO that the company doesn’t even ask for that information on its car insurance application, Osterberg says.

However, automotive expert Lauren “The Car Coach” Fix, who offers advice at LaurenFix.com, says premiums will be higher for a car that costs more. So, for example, if you paid $2,000 extra for a custom color with a crystal effect, you’d need to tell your insurer. The upgrade typically would mean higher rates, Fix says. Call your insurance company, give it the specific make and model you’re looking at and ask for a separate quote for each color you’re considering, she says.

Myth 2: Drive a flashy car and get stopped by cops

This common belief is more of a half-truth, experts say.

“Just buying a red car doesn’t mean you’re going to get a traffic ticket,” says Carroll Lachnit, features editor at automotive website Edmunds.com.

But if you buy a sporty car in red or any other color, you might be more likely to speed and get caught, she says. She points to a 2010 by Quality Planning, a company that verifies policyholder information for car insurers, that found drivers of certain types of cars – especially sporty foreign models – were more likely to be ticketed than drivers of other types of cars. For example, the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class convertible got four times more traffic violations than average.

Sports cars are built to go fast – and if you have that capability, the temptation to drive fast is there,” Lachnit says.

Fix says this belief about car color and tickets arises from the fact that a red car speeding through a sea of beige and silver cars is apt to catch a cop’s eye. “If you’re in a red car doing 80 and everyone else is doing 65,” she says, “you’re going to stand out in the crowd.”

Myth 3: Car color plays a big role in traffic safety

A few studies have been done on how vehicle color affects safety, but experts say color probably isn’t a big factor. One study by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), for example, found some evidence that yellow fire trucks were more visible to drivers than red ones.

However, IIHS spokesman Russ Rader says, it’s unlikely that vehicle color plays much of a role in traffic safety. Instead of focusing on buying a bright yellow car, a safety-conscious driver might want to look at a vehicle with daytime running lights – headlights that are on whenever the car is in use. These lights are a low-cost way to reduce head-on and front-corner crashes during the day, IIHS says.

Anecdotal evidence about car color and safety abounds, but there’s a lack of evidence to back it up, according to a 2004 report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

For example, the report mentions a woman who drove a silver-gray car that blended in with the road and experienced several near-crashes at dawn and dusk. The report says weather conditions such as snow, rain or fog and the landscape all play a role in visibility; a white car stands out more at night while a lime green one pops on a cloudy day, for instance. However, the report says there’s no clear scientific evidence regarding which color is safest.

So, if you don’t need to worry much about car insurance rates, tickets (as long as you stay within the speed limit) or safety when you choose a car color, what should you consider? Experts say you should keep these three factors in mind:

  1. Maintenance. If you tend to be lax on washing and waxing, you might want to choose a color that doesn’t show dirt easily, such as silver, experts say. “Black cars look great when they’re fresh and shiny, but it only takes a few days of driving in the dripping rain to make one look awful,” Lachnit says.
  2. Resale value. You want to choose a color that makes you happy, but it’s a good idea to think about how easy it might be to sell or trade in that car. Lachnit says: “If I’m a car dealer looking at a trade-in and it’s a screaming purple car, I’m going to think, ‘I’m gonna have trouble selling that.’”
  3. Personal tastes. You’ve got to look at your car every day, so the color should make you smile, says Fix, who always custom-orders her car color so she’s not limited to the dealer’s on-the-lot palette. One of her favorite cars was a bright orange Audi. Drivers of red cars love attention, she says, while those with orange cars are outgoing, those with white cars are quiet, and drivers of blue cars tend to be loyal. “Colors that appeal to you will tend to match your personality,” she says. “You are what you drive.”

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