By: Emily Struzik

Photos of Deloreans in a parade

What makes a car really cool?

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab, a car’s color is what makes it cool—literally, when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. Cars of a lighter hue, such as white or silver, stay cooler because they reflect up to 60% of sunlight. On the other hand, darker colored cars reflect only 5% of sunlight, absorb more heat — and consequently use air-conditioning more often.

The payoff of going lighter in the U.S.

A car’s color is what makes it cool—literally.

If we all suddenly switched to light-colored “cool cars,” the implications would be huge. Here’s why:

Cool cars use less A/C: since they’re not as hot, a cool car’s A/C system can be built 13% smaller (for lower capacity) than a dark-colored car.

Less A/C used or a smaller A/C system means less fuel used: choosing a white or silver car over of a black one improves fuel economy by about 2%. That may not sound like much, but at scale it’s staggering. Considering the U.S. consumes 400 million gallons of gas per day, we’d save 8 million gallons of gas per day just by driving a lighter-colored car.

Less fuel consumed means fewer carbon emissionsa gallon of gasoline produces about 19lbs of CO2 emissions. Not burning that 8 million gallons of gas each day remove 28.5 million tons of CO2 emissions each year!

The icing on the cake? With gas at $4 per gallon, light-colored cars would save the U.S. population $12 billion each year.

Now let’s take this global

The entire planet uses 900 million gallons of gas per day, so if everyone traded up their car for a light-colored one, the 2% improvement in fuel economy would:

  • save 18 million gallons of fuel per day and 6.5 billion gallons per year
  • save $26 billion spent on fuel (at a mere $4 a gallon)
  • cut annual CO2 emissions by almost 62 million tons

The quick, beautiful conclusion

Light colored cars = less fuel consumed = billions more dollars in our pockets = less CO2 emissions = a better world. Small, seemingly inconsequential decisions we make have big effects.

Think about the color of your car.