I can still remember the day. I was lucky enough to be stooging around in an Alfa Romeo, a Giulietta Cloverleaf hot hatch. It was a brisk, fun to drive car but what I remember most about it is the colour. A deep, rich Italian racing red – Rosso Corsa – and it not only looked achingly pretty, it really made the car stand out.
What hammered that point home was a stop made at a motorway services. Parking the Giulietta up, I nipped inside for a coffee and a sandwich and upon my return to the car park, the contrast could not have been more spectacular. Every other car in the place, and it was busy, was black, blue or silver-grey. Every one. Only the Alfa, in its blood red, was different and it sat in the car park like a lighthouse beam in a shop full of candles.
Why silver and black?
And it got me thinking. Why don't we buy more colourful cars? Silver makes up the vast bulk of Irish car colours. So far this year, almost a quarter of all the cars we have bought were silver. Black is not far behind and if you combine black and dark grey into one colour (hardly a stretch) then you're looking at close to 40 per cent of all our new cars. Blue and red have around 10 per cent each and white, which has made something of a fashionable comeback in recent years, has around eight per cent. Funkier colours like purple and yellow barely warrant a mention, garnering only a fraction of a percentage point each, as does green. Now green gets something of a bad rep in Ireland and is still, deep into the 21st Century, still regarded by many as something of an unlucky colour. It's often suggested that green cars blend in too easily with our mossy, grassy background, making them harder to see and therefore more likely to be involved in an accident. Which seems to make sense until you remember that other colours could, by the same measure, be just as dangerous. Have you tried picking out a silver car in heavy fog? Or a black or dark grey car at night? Apparently the only truly safe colour is bright orange, which Saab tried to popularise as a car colour in the seventies for precisely that reason of safety, but it never really took off. Shame; I like orange.
There is an interesting psychological dimension too and it has to do with how we perceive other drivers and how we feel they perceive us. A recent survey in the UK by car dealership network Trusted Dealers found that 45 per cent of people selected at least one specific colour which they associated with reckless driving. The most common colour chosen was red, which received votes from 21 per cent of all respondents. The statistics also shows that the likelihood of choosing red as a colour for reckless drivers increases with age; while one-quarter (25 per cent) of those aged 55 and over felt that red was linked with careless driving, just 15 per cent of those aged between 18 and 34 agreed.
Meanwhile, the colour black was the second-most voted colour, with 17 per cent of respondents associating it with reckless driving (odd when you consider that a majority of buyers both here and in the UK actually choose black or something like it when they buy…). Pink was the colour most likely to be avoided during purchase, with 70 per cent stating they would not consider buying a pink used car despite very few people citing irresponsible connotations - just three per cent of people saw any association between the hue and a driver's lack of sensibility on the road.
Colour and driving habits are mutually exclusive
Myths around the correlation between car colour and insurance rates are widespread, but Trusted Dealers is quick to bust the urban legend. Neil Addley, Managing Director at Trusted Dealers, says: "It's fascinating to see how our customers respond to something as simple as the colour of a car - there's no correlation between reckless driving and car colour that we know of, but the fact that people hold these emotional associations shows that there's a real connection in the way different cars are perceived - whether that's through the media or elsewhere.
"Older people have seen enough trends come and go to develop a stronger association with different car colours, and their response in this survey has given us a fascinating glimpse into the cultural impact that car colour can have on the industry as a whole."
Of course the real reason that we choose mostly silvers, greys and blacks is two-fold. On the one hand, it's because those are primarily the colours that car makers offer us. You see, car makers are very conservative creatures and when they've spent all those billions on developing and carefully styling a new car, they don't want someone going and speccing it with a hideous colour. Silvers, greys and blacks, for all their predictability, look classy and their predominance on the options lists of the premium badged German car makers is no coincidence.
Leading on from that, we car buyers too are rather conservative and cognisant of course of the fact that the day you buy is the day you sell, we'll usually play it safe when it comes to colour. After all, if everyone is buying cars in silver, your car surely has a better chance of holding on to its value if it too is silver, right?
Well, actually it’s not that big a consideration. Yes, choosing a deeply oddball colour, particularly on a prestige model, can me mildly ruinous to your retained value, but overall colour is not actually all that significant. In fact, colour comes a distant fourth to condition, history and mileage when it comes to resale value. So perhaps it's time to throw off our silver shackles and embrace a bit more colour in our lives? Someone pass me the Dulux catalogue. I fancy a bit of Film Noir Purple for my new hatchback...