Solar Reflective Paints Can Make Your Car Cooler, Cleaner

photo cool cars heat island group
via. Courtesy of the Heat Island Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Courtesy of the Heat Island Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory/via

We've all heard that wearing white on a hot day will keep you cooler than if you're wearing black. So it makes sense that the same would hold true for your car. But that doesn't mean that you have to be stuck with a white vehicle, or something equally light. A new government study finds that even darker colors can be cool, as in reducing air conditioning use and auto-related emissions along the way.

How? Solar reflective paints, my friend. The study comes from researchers at Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division in sunny California. They found that cars painted with solar reflective paints stay cooler in the sun and are easier to cool to a comfortable temperature.

This happens because reflective coatings can decrease the "soak" temperature of the air in a car that's been left in an asphalt parking lot, for instance. Using these types of coatings on cars could allow manufacturers to install smaller air conditioners, improving fuel economy and reducing related emissions, according to Ronnen Levinson, scientist in the Heat Island Group, and lead author of the study.

So what colors should you look and hope for?

White, silver, and other light colors are best, reflecting about 60% of sunlight. But, dark "cool colors" that reflect primarily in the invisible "near infrared" part of the solar spectrum also can stay cooler than traditional dark colors, according to the Berkeley researchers.

The research was published in the journal Applied Energy under the title "Potential benefits of solar reflective car shells: Cooler cabins, fuel savings and emission reductions."

According to an abstract, the soak air temperature in a cool (solar-reflective) silver compact sedan is 5-6 degrees C lower than in an otherwise identical black car. And, a silver or white car requires 13 percent less air conditioning capacity to cool cabin air to 25 degrees C.

Would a "cooler car" influence your buying decisions? Should all cars come standard with cooler colors? This type of change could make life more comfortable in more ways than one, beginning with getting into a car that isn't so horribly hot.