What Car Color Fades Fastest in the Sunlight?

Close up of the bonnet hood of a blue car with peeling clearcoat worn out paint due to the sun

If you walk down the aisles of a junkyard, you might notice that some cars look more faded than others. This might change how you shop for a car — you might want to choose a color that fades slower, so it looks better for longer. This begs the question: what car color fades the fastest in sunlight?

No car color fades faster than others. Technically, there’s no way to explain why one color would fade at a different rate than another. As humans, we notice when vibrant or dark colors fade sooner than light colors, but that doesn’t mean that they’re actually fading faster. It’s just easier to notice when a car stops being so bright or vibrant, like a red or black car.

In this guide, I’ll start off by explaining the science behind fading and how it’s connected to your car’s paint color. From there, I’ll answer your question and give you some helpful tips to prevent fading altogether.

Why Car Paint Fades

Before talking about specific colors, I should explain why car paint fades in the first place. There are a few major reasons.

Exposure to the Sun

One of the biggest causes of fading is exposure to UV rays from the sun. These are the same rays that lead to sunburn and cancer in humans. When your car is parked outside during the day, UV rays from the sun will beat on your car’s paint and cause it to fade.

Tesla car parked on the side of the street with the rising sun in Munich, Germany

Another problem with direct sunlight is the additional heat. Car paint does not like to be heated up, and the paint particles will start to break down with enough heat or enough exposure to higher temperatures.

This is why you’ll notice a car fades quicker in Arizona than it does in Maine.

Oxidation

Fading paint is actually a byproduct of oxidation. For reference, this is the technical term that refers to rust forming on your car.

When rust forms, your car’s paint will chip, bubble, fade, and flake off. In a lot of cases, it’s often too late to save your car from oxidation once you notice this.

Chemical Damage

If you use the wrong chemical cleaners on your vehicle, you can cause your paint to fade. I’ve had experiences in the past where I chose the inexpensive cleaning option, then I damaged my truck’s paint and couldn’t restore it.

Corrosive Materials

Finally, your paint might be dulling thanks to exposure to different corrosive materials. You might be surprised to learn that you run into a lot of these materials on a daily basis. Some examples are bird droppings, pollen, salt from the road, bug guts, and acid rain.

Bird droppings shit stains close up of the roof of a red car with the splatter causing corrosion and clearcoat decay

It might be obvious, but the reason it fades your paint is that the acid can break down your topcoat and attack the pigments in your paint. In simpler terms, it’s a chemical reaction that causes your paint to fade.

The Relation Between Color and Fading

After understanding what causes fading, I should explain the relation between fading and the color of the paint pigment. After all, you’re here to learn which car color fades the fastest in the sunlight.

The question itself is a good hint towards what’s going on. Out of the fade-causing list I described earlier, sunlight is the only category that can be changed thanks to your paint color.

The color of your car is due to the pigments used in the base coat of paint on your car. On top of that coat, you’ll find a few layers that come together to make the topcoat — a protective barrier between your car’s colorful paint and the environment around you.

Close up of auto car color paint samples mounted on a wall

UV rays don’t care about your topcoat, since it’s transparent by design. Instead, the UV rays will go through the topcoat and start attacking the colored pigments of your car’s paint.

It dulls the paint by breaking down the pigments that give the paint its color. Scientifically, there is no pigment variation from one color to the next. In the modern era, creating color is a strictly chemical process and involves the same group of materials from one paint color to the next.

In ancient times, you would use a redberry if you wanted to get red paint, but today every paint comes from the same base materials. This idea is going to come in handy in one second.

Also, just to be clear — oxidation, chemical damage, and corrosive materials do not depend on paint color at all. These will have the same effect across the board.

What Car Color Fades Fastest in the Sunlight?

So, which car color will fade the fastest with the same exposure to sunlight? On paper, there is no winner — every paint will fade at the same rate.

Scientifically speaking, there isn’t any tangible proof to explain why one pigment would fade faster than another since they all use the same base chemistry.

The only differences between colors are their wavelength and what colors they absorb. Neither of these factors comes into play when you talk about sunlight or UV-related fading.

However, I should point out the caveat here: just because a certain color of paint doesn’t fade faster than another, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t look like it’s fading faster.

If you have a white car and a red car, you’ll notice fading in the red car much sooner. It has to do with how we perceive color and the vibrance of red. The same is true for any of the bright colors you might see on a car: red, yellow, lime green.

A red Volkswagen VW car in the mountains of Europe pulled over on the side of the road

On the flip side, you’ll also notice dark colors fading quicker, with black being the best example. The faded paint involves more whites and grays, so fading will stand out more in a dark landscape (namely, on a black car).

Due to this phenomenon, a lot of people will say that red paint fades faster. I’m here to assure you that there’s no scientific reason behind this. People will argue that since red has the lowest wavelength on the observable color spectrum, this has something to do with how quickly it fades. The color’s wavelength has no interaction with the fact that sunlight is breaking down the colored particles at a uniform rate.

When you’re painting a mural, does the red paint dry faster than the black? No.

No color fades the fastest, but when vibrant or bright colors fade, we’ll notice it sooner.

Ways to Prevent Fading Car Paint

The best way to deal with fading is to prevent it in the first place. Repairing faded paint is a very expensive and time-consuming undertaking. For older cars, it’s almost never worth the thousands of dollars you’ll need to spend for paint restoration. Here are some easy ways to prevent fading car paint.

Park in a Garage

The best advice I can give you is to park in a covered garage. This will keep your car away from the great outdoors for most of the day. Since your car won’t be exposed to sunlight, then you don’t have to worry about UV rays fading your paint.

A two car garage with blue siding on a bright sunny day

Parking in a garage has a lot of benefits, and keeping your paint healthy is just one of them.

Get a Car Cover

If you don’t have access to a garage, the next best thing is a car cover. This is a canvas or fabric cover that stretches over your car and completely covers it. The material used will not let UV rays in, and it will protect your car’s paint.

A car parked during a bright sunny day with a car cover installed

Make sure you understand how to apply a car cover before using it. Incorrectly covering your car might lead to rust, but it’s easy to avoid by correctly putting on the cover.

Park in the Shade

Whenever you run errands or park at the office, you should look for a shady area to park. This is a bit of a catch-22 because parking under a tree exposes your car to more tree sap and pollen — both of which are corrosive and known to fade car paint.

A car parked under a carport for public transportation in a parking lot in front of a multi-residential apartment building

However, shielding your car from sunlight and UV rays will prevent fading in your car. Sunlight will fade your car faster than pollen will, so I think it’s worth it. The best option is to park under a covered parking spot or near a tall building (whenever possible).

In the past, I’ve had coworkers who cover their car during the working day, so you can consider that as well.

Get a New Paint Job if it’s Too Faded

If you have a car that’s been parked outside for a decade, there’s a chance that the paint will be too faded for a simple DIY solution. The best option is to prevent fading in the first place. If you can’t prevent it, then you’ll have to get a new paint job if it’s too faded.

One of these paint jobs from a professional could cost thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, the only option is to use a professional. It requires stripping down topcoats, repainting cars, and reapplying the topcoat — a process that a DIYer can’t do well.

An auto body professional car painter spray painting a car inside the paint booth with a mask and suit on

An alternative to painting your car is to get a wrap on it. This is a layer of film that covers your paint and topcoat. Instead, you’ll just see the wrap.

If a wrap fades, then you can just remove it and put on a new one. The pricing for a professional wrap is pretty close to a paint job, costing a few thousand dollars.

Conclusion

Now you know more about how paint color reacts to sunlight. As I mentioned in this guide, the color selection doesn’t change how quickly or slowly a paint fades. With that being said, you can happily pick any paint color you’d like for your next car.

If you have more car questions, explore the rest of my blog. I post content weekly, so keep checking in to see my newest guides. I also have a list of professional-grade Car products that can help you out a lot.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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