Do Cars With Dark Interiors Get Hotter in the Sun?

The difference between dark and light interiors might not be as substantial as you think

Interior of car seat with dark fabric Photo: Getty Images

There’s a common belief that if you live in a warmer climate, you should opt for a lighter interior when buying a car because a lighter interior will help to reflect ultraviolet rays and keep you cooler. But how much hotter are dark interiors vs. light interiors?

“Consumer Reports’ test engineers took two cars, one with a light colored exterior and light colored interior, and the other with a dark exterior and dark interior, and parked them both outside,” says Mike Monticello, CR’s road-test manager. “The temperature initially inside both cars was 78° F. Within an hour, they were both over 100° F. The darker car did get a little bit hotter, but only by a few degrees. And that was only after an hour, so think about how hot these cars would get for an even longer period of time.”

A light-colored interior is going to be slightly cooler, but when you’re talking over 100° F inside, it’s really hot either way. Parents and pet owners should be aware that a car can heat up to dangerous levels even when it isn’t the middle of summer. 

“Children should never be left unattended in a car for even a short period of time,” says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at CR’s Auto Test Center. “Even when it’s not that hot outside, our test results show how quickly temperatures inside the car escalate, regardless of whether your car is light or dark.”

A car has a lot of glass area, and with the sun beating down, it’s going to heat up no matter what color the interior is or how mild the outside temperature may feel. The difference isn’t enough to be a determining factor in your choice of car or interior color.

One reason you might want to opt for a black interior is that it doesn’t show dirt as much as a lighter interior. A gray, beige, or tan interior is going to show any smudge, stain, or grime, which can be difficult to get out.

This article has been adapted from an episode of Talking Cars.