Can Choosing the Wrong Color Lower Your Resale Value?

By Kelsey Mays  on Mon Sep 24 02:52:00 GMT-06:00 2012

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The Cars.com test fleet recently took loan of a certain Chevrolet Spark whose paint job is, well, peculiar. We might characterize it as something between a dry rosé and half-chewed bubble gum. Chevrolet calls it Techno Pink, and it's just one of several shades for GM's latest urban runabout. Others include Jalapeño, Lemonade and Salsa.

As adventurous as they may look on the lot, trendy colors — from the Spark's Techno Pink to the Scion xB's Hot Lava orange — run the risk of becoming passé when it's time to sell. Should that factor into your buying decision?

Well, yes and no. Black, white and silver dominate the landscape — no surprise, given BASF Automotive Coatings says those three still make up the majority of all car colors. But no clear downward correlation exists for the more adventurous choices. We crunched hundreds of listings on Cars.com among three popular late-model used cars: a 2009 Honda Accord, a 2010 Ford Focus sedan and a 2011 Kia Soul. Even the Focus' sea-foam-like green — Ford called it "Natural Neutral" — and the Soul's paler green, which Kia dubbed "Alien," average similar listing prices as their traditional counterparts.

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But automakers still offer many of those colors today. Ford phased out Natural Neutral with the Focus' 2012 redesign, but the Soul still comes in Alien — and others, from our Spark to the Ford Fiesta and Mini Cooper, boast colors like Lime Squeeze and Spice Orange. What's more, BASF predicted last July that earthier tones like brown, blue and green would make a comeback: "There is a rich diversity of potential shades that is returning to the market," Paul Czornij, who manages the firm's Color Excellence group, said at the time.

Colors that don't stick around, however, may cost you. Remember teal? It graced a lot of cars from a bygone era — mid-1990s Honda Civics, Chevrolet Cavaliers and the like. Search for teal in Cars.com's Research section, which catalogues available colors back to 1997, and you won't find too many carmakers that offered the color past the early 2000s.
A handful of them did, however, and one in particular suggests that a color no one wants anymore can hurt resale value. The Chevrolet Equinox had a teal paint option until 2008, with more than 100 examples of similar vintage. Teal cars listed for nearly $500 less than the average listing for silver, black and white:

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Eric Lyman, who oversees automotive residual values at ALG, put it best: "Traditional colors like white, black and silver won't hurt your future value," he said. "But if you're choosing a color that's a little more trendy, keep in mind that finding someone like-minded can take time. Just because a color is popular today doesn't mean it will be popular in a few years."

In the end, the wrong color could hurt resale value, but only if it carmakers dropped it en masse — and even the zaniest choices today probably won't land in tomorrow's recycle bin. Take our pink Chevrolet Spark. I drove it all weekend near Cars.com's Chicago offices and got a lot of looks plus a chuckle or two. Would the Spark's color prove a hard sell down the road? Maybe, but for all the shoppers who reject a certain color, a few fans will seek it out — even when it's pink.

Ask Alan Afshar, the sales manager at A&A Auto in suburban Denver. He has a pink 2000 Volkswagen New Beetle GL in stock. I asked Afshar if the color made his VW a hard sell. Not really, he said. In fact, this is A&A's second pink car.

"We sold [the first one] right away, so that's why we bought another one," Afshar said. Since then, he's already fielded a few calls for it.

"We buy oranges and yellows," he said. "There's always somebody looking for those colors."

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Senior Consumer Affairs Editor Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price.  Email Kelsey


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