Don Levy, of Birmingham, Ala., had one rule when he car shopped this year. Like the game-day shirts at his beloved University of Alabama, the car had to be crimson, white or gray.
"I'm an avid fan," said Levy. "So every car I've had and every car I will have is one of those colors." His 2010 Ford Fusion is gray.
Although financial analysts suggest you shop price, condition and mileage, many car buyers consider color crucial.
"Our studies show that up to 40 percent of buyers will change their vehicle choice if they can't get the color they want," said Karen Surcina, color manager at DuPont Performance Coatings in Wilmington, Del.
Meanwhile, manufacturers spend a bundle researching buyers' color preferences. Their offerings have come a long way since Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford said, "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black."
Now, Ford's color choices, which include Lime Green Squeeze and Passion Orange, sound more like smoothie flavors than descriptions of 5,000-pound machines. Ditto for Honda's blackberry, dark cherry and mocha.
Color my worldGlobally, according to DuPont, silver, black, white and gray are top car color choices, in that order. Blue and red follow.
In North America and Japan, white is No. 1, said DuPont. In Europe, it's black. Silver wins the color race in China, India and Russia.
Local preferences abound. Blue is the top car color in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., said Ford. Boston and Seattle like green.
Red is the embraceable hue in Cincinnati and Minneapolis, while gold shines in Miami and Orlando. Sun-reflecting white reigns in Dallas and Phoenix.
Black cars sell better in cold climates and white in hot climates. The exceptions are models often used for livery, such as Cadillacs, where black rules.
Age mattersThe buyer's gender and age affect color choice too. "Color is a higher priority among women than among men," said Michelle Killen, color and trim designer for General Motors Co. in Detroit. "Everyone thinks younger buyers want brighter colors, but not necessarily."
According to Honda, buyers ages 16 to 29 prefer black. Buyers in their 30s and 60s want silver, while those in their 40s and 50s go blue. Some colors increase in popularity as buyers age, like green, said Honda. Gray cars, on the other hand, decrease in popularity as its buyers' hair grays.
More than age of the buyer, said Killen, the type of vehicle affects color choice.
"People tend to want color on a smaller scale," she said. "Not everyone wants a big, bright yellow pickup."
Edmunds.com factors color and region into its appraisals, which are based on current sales. It appraises the 2010 BMW convertible in Illinois, for example, for more in Sepang Bronze Metallic than in Alpine White. The 2010 Cadillac sedan in Tuscan Bronze ChromaFlair is appraised for more than the same car in White Diamond.
Extra-long lead timeCompared with industries such as fashion and home decor, car manufacturing has a longer color-development cycle, explained Killen.
"We're designing three years in advance," she said. "Designing the color doesn't take that long, but tests such as chipping and fading take time."
Car designers look to products with faster turnovers for color trends and identify those with staying power.
"Used to be, fashion was the Holy Grail for color trends," said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of Pantone Color Institute in Bainbridge Island, Wash. "Then Apple introduced color to technical products."
In the color world, said Eiseman, "history repeats itself. There are no new colors. You have to give a color a rest. No one wanted to see avocado after the 1980s. But now you have a younger generation who hasn't seen avocado, and it's new."
Certain color truths are time-tested, though, said Eiseman.
"The color you choose says something about you," she said. "Red is sexy, speedy, dynamic. Orange is fun-loving, fickle. Dark green is trustworthy, traditional. Black is empowered, not easy to manipulate. Taupe says you don't want undue attention."
The economy affects color preferences, added color experts.
"During boom times, people are more likely to lease a new car and take the risk of a bright color," said Killen. "They know they won't have the car that long. But during a recession, they want a safer color like white because they know they may have that car for a long time."
Not your grandmother's whiteAlthough basic colors such as white remain staples in the car industry, they are not the whites of yesteryear.
"Thanks to technology, we add ' effects' to the paints so you see different colors in different lights," said Surcina.
Key ingredients include aluminum or pearl pigments. This gives new life to dull colors such as beige and brown, she added.
Paint supplier PPG Industries in Pittsburgh said some of its new paints include glass flakes that sparkle, mica that turn an otherwise white car into a Chaos Sky White or tints that give silvers a copper cast.
Pigments of your imaginationColor does not affect insurance rates, said the Insurance Information Institute in New York.
"That's an urban myth," said its spokesman, Michael Barry. "The red sports car may be in more accidents, but that's because it is more likely to have a young driver. The insurer looks at the policyholder's record, age, etc., not the car color."
Nor does color affect safety, say the experts.
Although the Internet is rife with allegations that gray cars have more mishaps in foggy weather, for example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety have no data to support such links.
Following the yellow brick roadWhat car colors will buyers see down the road?
"More fuchsias and oranges," predicted Killen. "And more global similarities, thanks in part to the Internet."
PPG forecasts colors that will do more than entice buyers; they will reflect solar rays so cars stay cooler.
But die-hard sports fans will continue to buck all trends and match their car colors to their teams. Come football season, Madison, Wis., is a sea of red cars, while the parking lots in Ann Arbor, Mich., turn blue. Maroon is one of the least-favorite car colors nationwide, but you wouldn't know it if you joined the Aggie tailgaters in College Station, Texas.