Dear Car Talk:
A casual look at traffic shows you that almost all cars are either gray, black or white — with a few red sprinkled in. OK, some people call their gray cars “silver,” but we know better.
My second car was a two-tone copper and cream 1956 Bel Air. A later one was a two-tone Buick Regal. Such imaginative color combinations were the rule as much as the exception.
What happened? Why are our colors so boring and washed out? Are the manufacturers cheap, or have they lost their imagination? — Paul
I’m actually color blind, Paul. So no one’s listened to a word I say about car colors since that time I came home with a purple AMC Pacer in 1976. The answer is fashion, Paul. Fashion is something that’s so ridiculous that we have to throw it out every six months and start all over.
And when it comes to less expensive purchases, some people can throw stuff out every six months. You can buy a powder-blue leisure suit with white piping one day because it seems fashionable. And then, six months later, when you realize you look like a budget pimp in it, you can leave it in the closet and go buy something else.
But as we go up the expense ladder, people tend to get more conservative. So you might take a chance on a loud shirt for $50 and see how you like it over time, figuring you can always stop wearing it. But when you’re buying a house or a car, you’re likely to feel more risk-averse.
You’d hate to spend $30K on a new car and decide it looks ridiculous six months from now, with 78 months of payments still to make. So people tend to stick with (a) muted colors and (b) colors that lots of other people have already chosen, because that makes them feel that they’re making a safe choice. Safety in numbers, right? We can’t all look ridiculous.
The truth is, if people wanted to buy lime green cars, the carmakers would be happy to paint them that color. It’s more or less the same to them in terms of cost. But what they don’t want is a lime green car sitting on the lot for two years waiting for a color blind idiot like me to think it’s gray and buy it.
Still, you can find some fringe colors out there. You just might have to special order them. Dodge, in fact, makes a Day-Glo lime green Charger. Honda makes a bright orange Fit. You can get a Ford Transit Connect in school bus yellow. You can order your Jeep Renegade in metallic aqua. And you can get pretty much any Mini you want in two-tone paint.
As for me, I drive a “silver” car. But in my closet, just waiting for it to come back into fashion, I have a spectacular, double-breasted, pin-striped suit. Any day now it’s going to be stylish again. I just have to hope it’s actually black, and not dark purple.
Got a question about cars? Write to Car Talk write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.