Why are Most Car Interiors Black?


If you’ve been shopping for a new car, truck or SUV lately, it can’t have escaped your notice that most interiors appear to be black. It might not seem odd to you at first, but haven’t you ever wondered why are most car interiors black these days and lighter interiors appear to be a thing of the past?

Most car interiors you’ll see at dealerships are black because it’s the easiest color to sell. Even though it’s not as practical as most people think because black car interiors attract dust and scratches, more people want black interiors and automakers are in the business of supplying what consumers demand.

Why black interiors are good

One of the best things about a black car interior is it won’t frighten buyers away when you try to sell your vehicle. It’s a safe bet, and you’ll have to go through an awful lot of potential buyers before you’ll come across a single one who will say they love the car and they’d buy it, but only if it didn’t have a black interior.

Just stop and think about it for a moment. When was the last time you owned, sat in or even saw a vehicle with a really light interior? Automakers don’t produce vast numbers of new vehicles with black interiors because it’s their personal preference. They’re in the business of selling cars, and to sell cars you have to build what people want.

Many cars are still offered with light interiors, and when dealers are configuring their new vehicle inventory they have the option of specifying light interiors. Most of the time they don’t though, and that’s because they don’t want to be stuck with something that might be hard to sell.

Black interiors are also good in parts of the country where it can often be cold as black is a color that absorbs heat, and that’s not a bad thing when you want to keep warm. Black upholstery also lends itself well in styling terms when it comes to matching with all different types of trim, such as wood, carbon-fiber, aluminum, etc.

A lot of people also like black interiors because they believe they don’t show dirt and marks as much as lighter interiors inevitably do, and that can be an especially big deal if you have kids or dogs in the car on a regular basis.

Why black interiors are not so good

Just as a black interior can be good in a cold climate because it absorbs heat, the opposite is true if you live somewhere warm and sunny. Black interiors are not great in hot climates, especially if we’re talking about black leather upholstery. When they’re left in the sun they absorb the heat so efficiently that they actually get hot, and they can even get so hot that they can be too hot to sit on.

Although a black cloth interior will probably show wear a little less than a light cloth interior, it’s quite the opposite when it comes to leather upholstery. I used to sell cars to a professional vehicle upholstery company that used to buy a base model, rip out the standard cloth interior, and replace it with their own leather upholstery so they could show it off to potential customers.

The owner of the company told me that when it comes to leather, lighter colors will wear much better than black, which I have to admit surprised me a little at the time. He told me the reason for this is that tanners could get away with using much lower quality leather if it was going to be colored black than if it was going to be a light color. Light colors were much less forgiving, so better quality hides had to be used and that had the added benefit of making them more durable.

The next time you look inside a used vehicle that has a black leather interior, check out the wear on the driver’s seat. If you’re going to be keeping a vehicle for a while and you’re going to be doing a lot of miles, a light leather interior will show the wear a lot less than a black one will.

Blame red and orange

Most people know and appreciate why vehicle exterior colors can be polarizing, but interiors can be even more polarizing. In my time working for luxury vehicle brands, I’ve seen some truly hideous interiors that made me wonder why anyone thought ordering them was a good idea.

Our group used vehicle buyer once sent me a black Range Rover Sport to sell, which was one of the most desirable models in the most desirable color at the time. Unfortunately, the leather upholstery was a color I can only describe as orange. I seem to remember it was officially referred to as “tan,” but I’ve seen plenty of tan interiors and this one certainly wasn’t tan.

I feared I was going to make a big loss on this one, just as I had done with a couple of others he’d sent me that had Rimini Red exteriors, which was a color that was more like burgundy than red. To be fair, and to my utter amazement, another dealer in the group saw the vehicle on our website and asked if we’d let them have it. I couldn’t have organized the transfer quicker of that vehicle if my life had depended on it.

To be able to offer these outlandish interior colors, manufacturers have to purchase at least some of the materials in those colors. If nobody orders them they will either be stuck with them, or they’ll use them up anyway and dispose of those vehicles how and wherever they can, possibly at a loss. We can probably, therefore, blame interiors in colors like orange and red in the past for the fact most people play it safe these days and opt for black.

Who doesn’t want a black interior?

Actually, there are a lot of people out there that like light interiors, especially those living in places where it’s hot a lot of the time. It also appears to be the case that buyers of luxury vehicles are more likely to choose a light interior, possibly because they’re not as concerned about resale values as those buying cheaper, mass-market models.

If you look at the cars of mega-rich sports, music and entertainment stars, a lot of them will have light interiors. Even if a lot more regular car buyers like light upholstery than are prepared to admit it or pay their hard-earned money for it, they, along with manufacturers and dealers, know black is a much safer bet.

There is a certain opulence about white, cream or even beige interiors, and you’ll often see them used to show a luxury interior off to its best in a brochure or an advertisement. However, walk into a showroom to look at one in the flesh, and you’ll probably find the showroom model and any demos will have been ordered with black interiors.

Get what you want

When it comes down to it, shouldn’t you really just ask yourself who you’re buying a new vehicle for and why you’re buying it? Are you really buying it, first and foremost, with a view to trading it in and how well the resale value will hold up? I know some people do, and if you’re on a tight budget I can probably see why.

You may also be buying for the family, and if you’ve got kids and dogs a cream cloth interior is probably a terrible idea, even if it will be a lot cooler in that red-hot summer sunshine and you really do like light interiors.

However, if your main reason for buying a vehicle is because you just want one, you really should go out and get what you want and what you can afford. And even if you are concerned about the eventual financial consequences of going for a somewhat polarizing color combination, there is a way you can get exactly what you want without worrying about such things.

That solution is to go and lease your next new car instead of buying it. When you lease a car you simply hand it back to the finance company once the agreement comes to an end. You don’t have to give a hoot how much the color combination and specification you chose affects the resale value as that’s not going to be your problem.

While the eventual resale value is estimated and taken into consideration by the finance company at the time of offering a lease deal, it’s only things like the model, trim level, optional extras and the proposed mileage that are considered. If you decide to go for the model quoted in canary yellow with a bright orange leather interior (if such a hideous combination was available), it won’t make a blind bit of difference to your monthly payments.

If you want to know more about leasing and if it’s a good idea for you, make sure you check out my blog on leasing here.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and now an automotive writer and journalist for the last 7 years

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