White or black: Can the colour of your car make the UAE summer feel even hotter?

Research shows lighter colour cars stay four to six degrees cooler than black - but the issue still prompts debate

As the UAE summer arrives, many residents have started reaching for sun reflectors to protect their parked cars from searing midday heat.

The common perception is that the darker the colour of the car, the hotter it becomes in sunlight. As far as thermodynamics go, this is true.

Black absorbs all visible parts of the spectrum and turns light energy into heat. The more energy it absorbs, the more heat it emits.

However, white and silver reflect light, resulting in less energy absorption and smaller heat emissions.

The general feeling is that dark cars get a lot hotter when exposed to the sun. Scientific studies have proved this to be factual

Imad Hammad, CarSwitch.com

Despite this, car experts in the UAE said the most in-demand colours for buyers in the used car market are white, silver and, interestingly, black.

“In 2019, our team conducted an experiment to put to bed the question of whether darker cars absorb significantly more heat than lighter models,” said Imad Hammad, founder of car classifieds platform CarSwitch.com.

“The general feeling, anecdotally, is that dark cars get a lot hotter when exposed to the sun. Scientific studies have proved this to be factual.

“During our test, we took two similar cars, one black and one white, and left them in the sun for one hour.

“When we checked the temperature afterwards, they reached the high 30s, but the black car was four degrees hotter than the white car.”

Mr Hammad said the simple experiment proved that lighter colours reflect more sunlight, therefore absorbing less heat.

However, this did not seem to factor into the buying decisions for darker cars.

CarSwitch deals with 4,000 used car sellers each month and 75 per cent of its cars are black, white or silver.

Imad Hammad, founder of CarSwitch.com. A company experiment showed that whiter cars were cooler than darker ones. Pawan Singh / The National 
Imad Hammad of CarSwitch.com says whiter cars are cooler inside - but dark grey is still among the most popular choices. Pawan Singh / The National

“From a temperature retention perspective, our test proved darker model cars do get hotter and need more air conditioning to cool down,” he said.

“Despite that, people still choose dark models as the majority of our cars are not colourful. [At least] 43 per cent are white or silver and 32 per cent are black or grey.

“In terms of what you can do to reduce exposure, you can tint windows, use sun reflectors, park in shaded areas and for a more invasive but affordable solution, wrap your car a different colour, which costs about Dh3,000.”

Depending where the colour of the car falls on the light spectrum will determine its heat absorption.

Those on the outer edges, including, darks reds, browns and purples, would get slightly hotter than those towards the middle of the spectrum, such as light blues and yellows.

Aside from a rise in temperature, research published a few years ago in the Applied Energy journal found that lighter colour cars were better for the environment.

Scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California carried out an experiment leaving two cars - one silver and one black - in sunlight for one hour.

Results showed that the silver vehicle’s interior temperature reading was five to six degrees cooler than the black car.

In a cooler interior, drivers were less likely to crank their air conditioners to maximum, saving on fuel and cutting pollution.

The study concluded that this represented an two per cent improvement on fuel economy.

Sonny Bains, general manager for Expat Motors, a used car company in Dubai, said the difference between dark and light coloured cars was marginal.

“The way the cars are designed mean they are heavily insulated,” he said.

“Car roofs have sound deadening, which is layers of material between the metal exterior and material interior, which buffers some of the heat.

“Yes, common sense tells you that a darker car will get hotter if left in the sun for long periods, but I don’t think it’s a hugely noticeable difference.”

He said the colour of the interior can play a factor in the amount of heat a car absorbs, and lighter materials would help to reduce the temperature in the vehicle.

As with CarSwitch, Mr Bains said the bulk of Expat Motors' stock consists of white, silver, and grey models, meaning demand was still high for dark colours, despite the peak temperatures.

Updated: May 18, 2021 12:23 PM

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