By on March 28, 2009

Do you ever feel trapped in Monty Python movie?  The B&B discussion following Edward Niedermeyer’s post, CARB So Crazy: California To Ban Black Cars, made me think so. First soldier: What? A swallow carrying a coconut? King Arthur: I could grip it by the husk! First soldier: It’s not a question of where he grips it! It’s a simple question of weight ratios! A five ounce bird could not carry a one pound coconut. King Arthur: Well, it doesn’t matter. First soldier: Listen. In order to maintain air-speed velocity, a swallow needs to beat its wings forty-three times every second, right? King Arthur: Please! First soldier: Am I right? I’m no Michael Palin or Graham Chapman, but I’ve got an idea or two about white and black colored cars.

I track mpg with the fortitude of a deranged obsessive-compulsive disordered person checking to make sure the front door of his house is locked. Each time I top off my tank, I record how many miles I’ve driven since my last fill-up. I note whether that tank of gas was expended running about town or on the highway, whether I predominantly used the A/C, and I calculate the fuel efficiency. My ’05 V6 Jeep Liberty has about 58K miles on the odo and I have mileage readings for 54,478 of ’em. I’ve also tracked the mileage of my ’01 4-cylinder Honda Accord over the last 35K miles. Both of my vehicles are metallic black.

The California Air Resources Board proposes to regulate the reflectivity of car paint and windows to increase fuel efficiency. They theorize that lighter colored cars get better gas mileage because the roof reflects more sunlight, so the air conditioner doesn’t have to run as often due to lower interior temperatures. This is great news. Overall, my Jeep gets 16.35 miles per gallon.  All I have to do is paint her white and my fuel efficiency will jump . . . how much?

Don’t know. Although CARB’s public presentation contains all sorts of numbers, charts and graphs, they neglect to reference a single study that validates their claim. Come on! All they have to do is get mechanically similar cars painted white or black and compare fuel consumption. Why the rush to take away a woman’s right to choose [the color of her car] (in my family, I chose the hardware and my wife picks the color) when we don’t know whether or not there will be a meaningful savings in CO2 emissions?  After all, I thought most Californians were Pro Choice!

Living in north Texas, I am all too familiar with climbing into mobile solar ovens after a long day at work. When it’s really hot outside, everyone has their A/C on.  So CARB’s savings claims are based on the fact that four months of each year evening commute temperatures range between 62° F and 77° F—mid-range temperatures where non-reflective cars would need the A/C on after a long soak in the sun but “cool cars” would not.

However, the very Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) study that CARB uses to support their proposal debunks this assumption. The Cooling Load Reduction chart (page 14, “Cool Coatings for Cool Cars: A measure to cool the globe”) shows that by 5 p.m. there is NO difference in air temperature measured at the anterior-heading compartment (i.e., where the driver’s head would be). The “cool car” soaking in the sun heats up slower, but by about 2 p.m., the gap has closed and the interior temperatures remain virtually identical the remainder of the day. Therefore, the only sun soaked vehicles that would see a decrease in A/C usage would be those that leave work at lunchtime, not the masses in evening commute.

When I drive with the A/C on, I get 1.13 (Jeep) and 1.16 (Accord) fewer miles per gallon. There would be no change in A/C usage during the morning since solar soak would not yet be a factor.  Additionally, as the LBNL study shows, the proposed “cool car” protections would be of no help during my evening commute. However, over the protestations of my cholesterol clogged arteries, I make a run for fast food about four days a week at lunchtime. Using CARB’s dubious assumption of four months’ savings per year, I could satisfy sixty-nine more Big Mac attacks without switching on my A/C each year.  But I don’t travel far—about (generously) six miles round trip.

So what would my annual savings be? 0.68 (Accord) to 1.96 gallons (Jeep).

Ladies and Gentlemen, let the debate carry on.

First soldier: Am I right?

King Arthur: I’m not interested!

Second soldier: It could be carried by an African swallow.

First soldier: Oh yeah, an African swallow, maybe, but not a European swallow. That’s my point.

Second soldier: But then the African swallow’s not migratory . . .

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8 Comments on “Editorial: The California Air Resources Board Says Ni!...”

  • avatar

    Again, the proposed rule says nothing about banning black cars. It’s saying that the automakers would need to change window glass and paint formulations in order to increase reflectivity, and that R&D would be required to make this work with “jet black” paint as it is currently formulated.

    To claim that this is a color ban is akin to arguing that mandates for catalytic converters were equivalent to a ban on internal combustion. The proposal is pushing for research and development to make it work, not for a ban.

    If this follows the usual pattern, the industry will whine and complain, work out a deal, and then comply with it. Same stuff, different year.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    Additionally, there are many times when your car only soaks up 2-4 hours of sun, not a full day.

    This is one of those cases where there is a hidden benefit, but the only way it will get deployed is regulation, as there is no way for a customer to really “see” it on purchase.

  • avatar

    If this follows the usual pattern, the industry will whine and complain, work out a deal, and then comply with it. Same stuff, different year.

    FWIW, you left out the whole “passing the cost onto the customer” bit.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    There is another major factor that affects heat soak: the deeply slanted windshields, side windows, and rear windows. My ’05 xB stays much cooler than most cars, but then all its windows are almost perfectly vertical. Of course it’s white too. The difference compared to my wife’s dark Forester is very dramatic. In the summer, I rarely use AC for around town errands; she always does.

  • avatar

    What about dark colored interiors? Should they be banned too?

  • avatar

    I’ve been following this post (mostly because of how ludicrous the subject is)and believe we’re all just picking the fly-shit out of the pepper as we line up and take sides.

    This what-color-car crap all boils down to one simple issue: Big Government yet again forcing a decision down the public’s throat.

    I tell ya, all these little issues are coming to a head. The sooner the better.

  • avatar

    This what-color-car crap all boils down to one simple issue: Big Government yet again forcing a decision down the public’s throat.

    As a consumer, you could buy whatever color that you want and that the manufacturer wishes to provide. Nobody would be banning anything.

    Unless you feel oppressed by being forced to pay for things such as headlights and seat belts, it’s a non issue.

    That being said, orange and yellow should be banned, if but for the sake of good taste. Whoever is responsible for the recent yellow revival needs to be executed (and California does have capital punishment.)

  • avatar


    I agree. I suspect the interior color is more important than the exterior color. It is the dark interior that absorbs the rays coming though the glass instead of reflecting them. I doubt the outside color of the engine compartment or the trunk have much relevance. The top and the doors might matter, but the interior not being able to reflect out much solar radiation has got to matter when in comes to air conditioning.

    By the way, I hate black interiors. IMO the default colors for interiors should be light tan or light gray with the exception of the top half of the dash which should be mat black.

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