Why all the boring car colors?

Ray Magliozzi

Dear Car Talk:

A casual look at traffic shows you that almost all cars are either gray, black or white – with a few red sprinkled in. OK, some people call their gray cars “silver,” but we know better.

My second car was a two-tone copper and cream 1956 Bel Air. A later one was a two-tone Buick Regal. Such imaginative color combinations were the rule as much as the exception.

What happened? Why are our colors so boring and washed out? Are the manufacturers cheap, or have they lost their imagination? – Paul

RAY: I’m actually color blind, Paul. So no one’s listened to a word I say about car colors since that time I came home with a purple AMC Pacer in 1976. The answer is fashion, Paul. Fashion is something that’s so ridiculous that we have to throw it out every six months and start all over.

And when it comes to less expensive purchases, some people can throw stuff out every six months. You can buy a powder-blue leisure suit with white piping one day because it seems fashionable. And then, six months later, when you realize you look like a budget pimp in it, you can leave it in the closet and go buy something else.

But as we go up the expense ladder, people tend to get more conservative. So you might take a chance on a loud shirt for $50 and see how you like it over time, figuring you can always stop wearing it. But when you’re buying a house or a car, you’re likely to feel more risk-averse.

You’d hate to spend $30K on a new car and decide it looks ridiculous six months from now, with 78 months of payments still to make. So people tend to stick with (a) muted colors and (b) colors that lots of other people have already chosen, because that makes them feel that they’re making a safe choice. Safety in numbers, right? We can’t all look ridiculous.

The truth is, if people wanted to buy lime green cars, the carmakers would be happy to paint them that color. It’s more or less the same to them in terms of cost. But what they don’t want is a lime green car sitting on the lot for two years waiting for a color-blind idiot like me to think it’s gray and buy it.

Still, you can find some fringe colors out there. You just might have to special order them. Dodge, in fact, makes a Day-Glo lime green Charger. Honda makes a bright orange Fit. You can get a Ford Transit Connect in school bus yellow. You can order your Jeep Renegade in metallic aqua. And you can get pretty much any Mini you want in two-tone paint.

As for me, I drive a “silver” car. But in my closet, just waiting for it to come back into fashion, I have a spectacular, double-breasted, pin-striped suit. Any day now it’s going to be stylish again. I just have to hope it’s actually black, and not dark purple.

Reader is on the right track

Dear Car Talk:

I’ve had the blower motor replaced on my 2013 Nissan Altima. Then a fuse blew. A new fuse was put in. The new fuse blew. I took the car to a place to check the electrical system. They said the electrical system was fine. They replaced two fuses and said it shouldn’t happen again.

My blower motor, when driving, goes from high to low without me adjusting anything. I think it needs a new resistor, but the shop says the fuses should take care of it. They say just wait to see if it blows again. But that means another trip to the mechanic. I don’t know what or who to believe. I just need to know if I’m on the right track or not. Should I go someplace else? – Donna

RAY: I think so, Donna. Fuses don’t just “blow” for no reason. And whatever is causing it will eventually cause the fuse to blow again.

Was the poltergeist fan speed the reason you had the blower motor replaced in the first place? If so, I’m afraid they may have sold you a blower motor you didn’t need. But let’s assume the fan speed gremlins arrived after the new blower motor.

Normally a fuse blows when an electrical device is drawing too much current. The whole purpose of the fuse is to sacrifice itself and cut off the power to that device before the device can draw so much current that it overheats and starts a fire. Although maybe a fire sounds like a good solution to you at the moment?

So the fuse is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. The question is, why? Normally, it means that something is forcing the blower motor to work too hard. What could that be?

Well, it could be that they sold you a rebuilt blower motor, and it’s simply no good. It could be that the guys who installed the blower motor accidentally dropped something into the housing, like a burrito supremo. Or maybe some twigs or debris got into the fan housing and are making the blower motor work extra hard to turn the fan.

Another possibility is that the blower motor relay could be bad. And finally – and most likely – it could be exactly what you suggest, Donna; a bad resistor.

The resistor is the part responsible for changing the speeds of the fan. So if your fan is pulling a Friday the 13th, the resistor would be the first thing I’d suspect. If you came into the shop, I’d probably get you a new resistor for $35 and a blower motor relay for $25. After all, I want to make sure you don’t come back!

To install the resistor, I’d need to remove the glove box, so there’s a good hour or more of labor involved. And while I had the glove box out, I’d pull down the blower motor housing to make sure your fan is turning easily and freely and that there’s no debris in there getting in its way.

So I’d take it to someone you have more confidence in, and be sure to tell them about the issue with the fan speed. That’s a flashing red light that says “RESISTOR.” Good luck, Donna.

Got a question about cars? Write to Car Talk write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.

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